Angela Dewan | November 11, 2010
Bangkok. From her prestigious new position as a World Bank managing director, Sri Mulyani Indrawati has taken another stab at old enemies, without naming names, an art she mastered after her ousting as Indonesia’s finance minister in May.
“Corruption remains intertwined with politics, and there are brazen attacks on those fighting corruption,” she said at the 14th International Anti-Corruption Conference in Bangkok on Wednesday.
Sri Mulyani’s comments echo those she made in May, when she said particular forces were “hijacking” economic reform in Indonesia — comments believed to be directed at business tycoon and Golkar Party chairman Aburizal Bakrie, who opposed many of her reformist policies.
Having lost her post as finance minister after a House of Representatives special committee found her Rp 6.7 trillion ($757 million) bailout of Bank Century in 2008 was illegal, Sri Mulyani appears to be enjoying the extra leg room she has been granted at the World Bank, delivering a frank speech on corruption, pointing to Indonesia without hesitation.
“Sometimes corruption comes in the form of counterfeit drugs, so people don’t get better, or they die,” she said.
“Sometimes corruption is a building that collapses in the face of a natural disaster, because the quality inspector took a payment from the construction contractor to falsify an inspection. Corruption can kill.”
She listed the World Bank’s achievements in improving transparency and fighting corruption, including the six-year disbarment of publisher Macmillan for paying a bribe to try and win a World Bank contract in Africa.
She proved confident in her position when an audience member accused her of touting her personal views rather than those of the institution.
“My own personal ethical values and the bank’s ethical values should match,” she said.
“In this case, I’m not going to entertain that I have my own personal values that are distant from the bank’s. If the bank had a policy that did not reflect the view of anticorruption or good governance, it is the job of the management, including myself, to correct it.”
While Sri Mulyani has reason enough to distrust the Indonesian government’s commitment to tackling corruption, she remains optimistic that progress has been made since 15 years ago, when “the C-word was barely whispered, if at all mentioned.”
“Corruption is an issue we know politicians can’t ignore now in Indonesia, and the KPK, our anticorruption commission, has made huge progress, despite the difficulties they are facing,” she said.
Sri Mulyani’s continued commentary on corruption and politics in Indonesia has observers speculating that she may be planning a return to politics and even a run for president in 2014.
But she said, “I am just concentrating on my role at the World Bank at the moment.
“Of course, the World Bank has many projects in Indonesia, just like in other countries, so it can help Indonesia achieve its national development goals.”
Speculation about Sri Mulyani’s possible return to politics was sparked when the Alliance for Democracy Education launched a Web site in her honor last month.
It carried a picture of Sri Mulyani along with the slogan “I’ll Be Back,” but the NGO says the site was only created to improve public awareness of ethics.
The United Development Party (PPP) has already said it would support Sri Mulyani should she run for president, and if she ends up going head-to-head with Bakrie, she will likely find international support from investors.
But Sri Mulyani has given no clue about whether she wants to return to Indonesia or keep working on a global scale.*