Reformer's drive to change Indonesia state firms hits roadblocks

Thu Feb 21, 2013 10:05pm EST
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By Janeman Latul

JAKARTA (Reuters) - On an overcast Saturday in early January, the man in charge of modernizing Indonesia's state companies suddenly lost control of his prototype electric sports car and ploughed into the side of a mountain in East Java.

State-Owned Enterprises Minister Dahlan Iskan was unhurt, but the $300,000 bright red "Tucuxi", dubbed "Indonesia's Ferrari" by local media, was a write-off.

It looks like his chances of pulling off an ambitious reform of the bloated state sector are heading the same way.

More than a year after his appointment, most of Iskan's initiatives to fix state firms have either been revoked or blocked by parliament or remain stuck in ministries, according to government and parliamentary documents obtained by Reuters.

"The political challenge is still huge," said Iskan, who started his career as a journalist and still writes a regular column in his newspaper, in an interview. "Life is like that. It's difficult to make this country better."

Iskan has abandoned plans to start mass production of the privately funded Tucuxi, named after a type of dolphin.

But criticism over the crash -- he is being investigated by police for driving an unlicensed car on public roads, although no charges have been filed -- dented his reputation and further sapped his political capital, making it even tougher for him to battle powerful vested interests.

It is a frustration that, according to those close to him, is motivating the media mogul to consider standing as a candidate in next year's presidential election despite being viewed as a rank outsider.   Continued...

Indonesian State-Owned Enterprises Minister Dahlan Iskan speaks in an interview in his office in Jakarta February 2, 2012. REUTERS/Supri