The Proportion of Politically Connected Indonesian Firms is Declining

May 15, 2015Indonesiaby East Asia Forum

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Despite top-level turnover, Indonesian businesses remain politically connected.

The financial and political crises of 1998 brought about significant changes in Indonesia’s corporate landscape. The proportion of Indonesian firms with political connections remains relatively high, but it is declining, as modes of political engagement increasingly vary.

A comparison of the largest 200 firms listed on the Indonesian Stock Exchange in 1996 and 2008 shows that although family ownership of the largest publicly listed Indonesian companies remained high in 2008, the identities of the owners changed significantly. Between 1996 and 2008, 50 family-owned firms dropped out of the top 200, replaced by 13 newly listed and 51 previously listed family-owned firms.

In 1996, an individual or family owned over 68 percent of listed firms (whose ultimate owners were identifiable). By 2008, the proportion had fallen to 57 percent. The Indonesian state held a dominant share of 10 percent of firms in the sample in 1996 and 14 percent in 2008. Foreign state-owned firms accounted for nearly 8 percent of the sample in 2008. There was thus no decline in the state-owned sector, instead the value of state-owned firms (both listed and unlisted) increased substantially.

As of 2008, the 10 most prominent business groups — those which had the greatest number of firms in the sample — were: Bhakti, with six listed firms; Astra, Bakrie and Sinar Mas, each with five; Panin, with four; and the Surya family, Djarum, Ciputra, Salim and Lippo Group, each with two.

The dominant family owner by this measure was a relative newcomer, Hary Tanoesoedibjo — the owner of the Bhakti (now MNC) group of companies — who took over and developed Bimantara group assets formerly owned by one of Suharto’s sons. In the next tier, Astra was a leading group in the pre-crisis period. By 2008, the Hong Kong-based Jardine group owned Astra. The Jardine group assumed ownership of Astra companies from some of Suharto cronies, who acquired the group from the Soeryadjaya family just before the crisis.

In the same tier, the prominence of the Bakrie group shows the significant rise in the fortunes of Aburizal Bakrie, the former cabinet minister and recently ousted Golkar party chair, since the 1990s.

Other families that were in the top 10 in 1996 retained this status in 2008, but they were without the banking assets that previously anchored their groups. The Salim family lost Bank Central Asia, the Widjaja family lost Bank Internasional Indonesia and the Riady family lost Lippo Bank. The same is true for formerly prominent tycoon Sjamsul Nursalim’s, who lost the Gajah Tunggal group’s major bank, BDNI.

Many of Indonesia’s largest tycoons have either delisted their companies since 1996 or retained them as privately held companies. Sukanto Tanoto, the owner of the pre-crisis Raja Garuda Mas conglomerate, delisted his major asset from the New York Stock Exchange in 2003. This asset, now known as the RGE group, is privately held, and is incorporated outside of Indonesia. Also taking his wealth largely private was Peter Sondakh, Indonesia’s eighth wealthiest person, who sold his interests in the partly state-owned cement-maker Semen Gresik in 2008 and cigarette manufacturer Bentoel in 2009.

Other owners with their assets largely held privately include the 2014 Gerindra presidential candidate (and the former son-in-law of Suharto) Prabowo and his brother Hashim Djojohadikusumo, who jointly own PT Kertas Nusantara. Hashim Djojohadikusumo’s other companies, including Comexindo, are also privately held. The Arsari group of companies, which is owned by his children, is also all-private.

Similarly, another New Order-era tycoon, Edwin Soeryajaya has kept his largest asset (Adaro) private. His other major company, Saratoga, listed only in 2013. Vice President Jusuf Kalla’s group of companies is all privately held. Indonesia’s fifth richest person, Martua Sitorus is a controlling owner of Singapore-listed Wilmar International, but Wilmar’s Indonesian-listed assets are relatively minor.

So what political roles do Indonesia’s wealthiest corporate owners have? The proportion of firms with political links remains relatively high, but it has dropped — from 52 percent of the largest listed family-owned firms in 1996 to 47 percent in 2008. The new pattern of corporate ownership suggests increasingly varied political patrons and modes of political engagement.

The political roles of business players such as Aburizal Bakrie, Jusuf Kalla, Surya Paloh, Chairul Tanjung, Hary Tanoesoedibjo and the siblings Prabowo and Hashim Djojohadikusumo have attracted attention. Indonesia’s largest business owners do not characteristically take on public political positions. Many have discontinued the practice of placing state-sector power-holders on their boards of directors. Most maintain their political links by funding electoral campaigns, informal patronage ties and the need of all politicians to engage with the country’s largest economic actors.

Overall, the picture of who owns what since the financial crisis and democratisation reveals some important changes: the state has increased its position as an owner of corporate assets, there has been considerable churning in the identities of the owners of Indonesia’s largest listed companies, and the modes of political engagement by business owners are more varied.

The changing landscape of who owns what in Indonesia is republished with permission from East Asia Forum

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