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
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”