‘No harm in Suharto’s children doing business’

A LEADING businessman has defended the involvement of President Suharto’s children in business, saying that as citizens they have the same right as anyone else to engage in such activities.

Antara news agency yesterday quoted Mr Aburizal Bakrie, head of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce, as saying that the Indonesian public should not be influenced by the foreign media which fuelled criticism of the Suharto children’s business ventures.

Mr Bakrie, chairman of the Bakrie Group, was speaking at a seminar in Surabaya, East Java, on Saturday.

His comments came against the background of constant criticism by observers about the success of politically-well-connected businesses in the country.

They allege that the First Family and the children of senior officials have an unfair advantage over competitors in securing lucrative government contracts and projects.

The concerns are reinforced by allegations of collusion and nepotism in the way these contracts and credit from state banks are granted.

Three of Mr Suharto’s six children – Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana, Bambang Trihatmodjo and Hutomo Mandala Putra – have stakes in some of the biggest corporate empires in the country.

Mr Bambang was the first to go into business. In 1982, he set up the Bimantara Group.

Eldest daughter, Mrs Rukmana or Mbak Tutut, went into business shortly after, setting up the Citra Lamtoro Gung Group.

Their business activities include car manufacturing, property development, telecommunications and transport.

Mr Suharto’s youngest son, Mr Hutomo or “Tommy”, founded the Humpuss Group in 1984.

Collectively, the family forms by far the most powerful economic dynasty in Indonesia.

Responding to criticism of such business activities, the government has said repeatedly that it would not bar the children
of high-ranking officials from engaging in commercial activities.

A 1980 regulation bars civil servants from engaging in business. But it is silent on whether their children can do so.

In widely-quoted remarks two years ago, State Minister of Administrative Reform T. B. Silalahi said: “These children are Indonesians with rights similar to other Indonesians. Once they are no longer dependent on their parents, once they have their own family, they are free.”

The President’s children have also responded to the criticism.

Mr “Tommy” Suharto said in 1995 that officials’ children “have legal rights to do business as long as their activities will not deprive the Indonesian community”.

Mrs Rukmana also said in 1995: “The children of officials are human. They have to do something, they have to feed their family.

“Can the state guarantee them a living if they do not work.”

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