STRONGER TIES

DI­REC­TOR OF THE ME­NARA GROUP AS WELL AS THE IN­DONE­SIA MALAYSIA BUSI­NESS COUN­CIL ER­WIN AZ­IZI TELLS US WHY A STRONG MALAYSI­AIN­DONE­SIA AL­LIANCE WILL BEN­E­FIT BOTH NA­TIONS

Prestige (Malaysia) - - COVER -

Aforce to be reck­oned with,” is how Er­win Az­izi de­scribes the power that could emerge fol­low­ing a Malaysia-In­done­sia al­liance. The net ef­fect of both na­tions fos­ter­ing closer co­op­er­a­tion would re­sult in a com­bined pop­u­la­tion of nearly 300 mil­lion, a mar­ket that is too large to over­look.

“It is an im­por­tant mile­stone to achieve,” says the di­rec­tor of In­done­sia’s Me­nara Group, “be­cause if these two coun­tries can work hand-in-hand and if we can rope in other Asean coun­tries, we can give any of the West­ern coun­tries a run for their money.”

To nur­ture this co­op­er­a­tion, the con­glom­er­ate, of which Er­win is a di­rec­tor, has been in­stru­men­tal in the set­ting up of the two bod­ies – the In­done­sia Malaysia Busi­ness Coun­cil (IMBC) as well as the Ex­ec­u­tive Cen­ter for Global Lead­er­ship (ECGL). As one of its ini­tia­tives, just a cou­ple of days af­ter Prime-Min­is­ter-to-be Datuk Seri An­war Ibrahim was re­leased from prison, he vis­ited Jakarta at the in­vi­ta­tion of ECGL where he met with among oth­ers, for­mer min­is­ters, aca­demics as well as heads of Is­lamic or­gan­i­sa­tions, in­clud­ing Ikatan Cen­deki­awan Mus­lim In­done­sia (In­done­sian As­so­ci­a­tion of Mus­lim In­tel­lec­tu­als, ICMI).

The suc­cess of An­war’s trip re­sulted in calls for greater dia­logue be­tween both coun­tries which then prompted IMBC to in­vite Prime Min­is­ter Tun Dr Ma­hathir Mo­hamad to speak in Jakarta. The re­quests came from In­done­sian stal­warts like Peter Son­dakh and Garibaldi Tho­hir. IMBC, headed by Chair­man of In­done­sia’s Per­tam­ina, Tanri Abeng, pro­vided the plat­form for the much an­tic­i­pated dis­cus­sion. The Me­nara Group’s Datuk Seri Chairul An­har is the sec­re­tary gen­eral. When ap­proached, Ma­hathir read­ily agreed, mak­ing his visit to In­done­sia his rst of­fi­cial trip since as­sum­ing the po­si­tion of prime min­is­ter once again.

“IT IS AN IM­POR­TANT MILE­STONE TO ACHIEVE,” SAYS THE DI­REC­TOR OF THE ME­NARA GROUP, “BE­CAUSE IF THESE TWO COUN­TRIES CAN WORK HAND-IN­HAND AND IF WE CAN ROPE IN OTHER

ASEAN COUN­TRIES, WE CAN GIVE ANY OF THE WEST­ERN COUN­TRIES A RUN FOR THEIR MONEY”

The dia­logue lasted a cou­ple of hours dur­ing which Ma­hathir was asked many ques­tions about gov­ern­ing var­i­ous in­dus­tries.

“Off the cuff, Tun (Ma­hathir) was giv­ing them ad­vice,” said Er­win. “I had goose­bumps when Tun was on stage. I was very proud to be Malaysian.”

In­done­sians, he added, have a lot of re­spect for Tun. “They see him like a fa­ther.”

Upon the Malaysian premier’s ar­rival in Jakarta, he was greeted at the air­port by In­done­sian Pres­i­dent Joko “Jokowi” Wi­dodo, a rare oc­cur­rence, an in­di­ca­tion of the sig­nif­i­cance of the visit. At both di­a­logues, the key is­sue that kept emerg­ing was why Malaysia and In­done­sia can’t seem to work to­gether.

“The ques­tion was asked in so many ways but that was ac­tu­ally the main is­sue,” he says. “Right now, In­done­sia is do­ing a lot of things with coun­tries that are fur­ther away,” ex­plained Er­win. Find­ing com­mon ground, he added, would en­able a lot of things to “hap­pen.”

Post-dia­logue, it has be­come clear that it is cul­tural dif­fer­ences that have sep­a­rated both coun­tries. Malaysia re­mains very much in­flu­enced by its colo­nial past whereas In­done­sia has a Dutch legacy.

“Malaysians are British trained,” says Er­win. “In­done­sians tend to do things with heart and as a re­sult, most of the time, they can’t gel.”

Given his fre­quent trips to Jakarta, over­see­ing the in­ter­na­tional port­fo­lio of the Me­nara Group, Er­win has gained an in­sight into why these seem­ingly sim­i­lar na­tions can’t seem to strike a chord. Armed with this per­spec­tive, the Me­nara Group sought the op­por­tu­nity to bridge the gap be­tween both coun­tries.

“We un­der­stand both cul­tures very well,” he ex­plained. “We thought this is where op­por­tu­ni­ties lie, cou­pled with the fact that we have a good net­work here in Malaysia and also in In­done­sia. This good net­work and deal­ing with top peo­ple will get things mov­ing.”

“WE ARE TRY­ING TO OVER­COME THAT OB­STA­CLE AND RE­BUILD THE RE­LA­TION­SHIP. IT MAKES

MORE COM­MER­CIAL SENSE, WHETHER YOU ARE A GLC OR A BUSI­NESS­MAN”

Talks are also on-go­ing be­tween na­tional oil com­pany Petronas and its In­done­sia coun­ter­part Per­tam­ina. In­ter­est­ingly Per­tam­ina was the leader in oil and gas but fol­low­ing the down­fall of Pres­i­dent Suharto in 1998, In­done­sia took on a new style of gov­er­nance which saw many aca­demics as­sum­ing po­lit­i­cal of­fice. The idea, Er­win says may have been good in prin­ci­ple, but with­out the nec­es­sary busi­ness acu­men, things re­gressed, with many pro­jects stalled.

“But this is where we see op­por­tu­ni­ties,” he adds.

Other ar­eas that could see greater part­ner­ship are health­care, trans­port as well as the plan­ta­tion sec­tor. With lead­ers from both sides now call­ing for greater syn­ergy, a new dawn is on the hori­zon for Malaysia-In­done­sia ties.

Thus far, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween both coun­tries has been “hot and cold” and this has posed an im­ped­i­ment to busi­nesses. The meet­ings be­tween both Ma­hathir and An­war with Jokowi, also re­sulted in the lead­ers from both na­tions call­ing for stronger bi­lat­eral ties.

“They are now see­ing eye-to­eye and are aware of what went wrong in the past,” he says. “We are try­ing to over­come that ob­sta­cle and re­build the re­la­tion­ship. It makes more com­mer­cial sense, whether you are a GLC or a busi­ness­man. We pro­duce a lot of prod­ucts which we can sell to In­done­sia and vicev­ersa or we can do barter, which can re­duce for­eign cur­rency risk.”

The de­tails, he ad­mits, have to be worked out, but it is the re­cip­ro­cal as­pect of both coun­tries work­ing to­gether that is im­por­tant.

Through IMBC and ECGL, both ini­tia­tives of the Me­nara Group, steps are be­ing put in place to en­sure that this vi­sion is achieved.

“As a group, we see how we can help,” says Er­win. “Lit­tle things can go a long way.”

“THE QUES­TION WAS ASKED IN SO MANY WAYS BUT THAT WAS AC­TU­ALLY THE MAIN IS­SUE. RIGHT NOW, IN­DONE­SIA IS DO­ING A LOT OF THINGS WITH COUN­TRIES THAT ARE FUR­THER AWAY”

“WE THOUGHT THIS IS WHERE OP­POR­TU­NI­TIES LIE, COU­PLED WITH THE FACT THAT WE HAVE A GOOD NET­WORK HERE IN MALAYSIA AND ALSO IN IN­DONE­SIA. THIS GOOD NET­WORK AND DEAL­ING

WITH TOP PEO­PLE WILL GET THINGS MOV­ING”

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