International Asia Fearless Finance Minister Ready for Next Fight

Fearless Finance Minister Ready for Next Fight

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Sri Mulyani Indrawat—a stylish, 54-year-old economist who combines Indonesian batik with Anne Klein kitten heels—has earned a reputation for toughness.

She’d been finance minister in the 2000s and returned to the job last year, charged with a reform agenda that’s so ambitious it seems audacious.

As she addressed the quarterly meeting of analysts, she likened those who are impatient with the government to her 3-year-old grandson when he got restless during car journeys.

Although such behavior might be expected of a toddler, she said, it was uncalled for from investors who wished the government would just hurry up, jump through the necessary hoops, and get on with the reform agenda.

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“I don’t want you to ask me, ‘Are we there yet?’” she said. “If you ask me that, I would think you’re unprofessional or you’re not competent.”

Indrawati was clearly back in town, and the message was coded but simple: her ministry, her rules. She was going to clean house—and, if she had to, break some glassware in the process.

This is Bloomberg’s featuring the Indonesian Finance Minister who was given the ‘Best Finance Minister’ title in Asia by a magazine.

Bloomberg said bankers mobbed her for selfies.

Since joining Joko Widodo’s “dream team” cabinet in Southeast Asia’s largest economy last July, Indrawati has been the president’s chief instrument in a push to get millions of Indonesians to take part in a tax amnesty.

A former university academic, Indrawati fought graft during her first spell as finance minister from 2005 to 2010.

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She was forced out after making enemies of powerful Indonesians, including Bakrie. Before returning last year, she won praise during six years as managing director of the World Bank in Washington.

Back in her old job, Indrawati has also vowed to clean up the tax office itself, an institution long beset by corruption. It was a challenge she took up with mixed success the first time around. She’s confronting it again: In a country of 260 million people, only about 10 million filed a tax return in 2015. Now Indrawati plans to revamp the overall taxation system and double the number of auditors to widen the tax base.

The tax cleanup is politically crucial for Widodo and therefore Indrawati herself. He won his bid for the presidency in 2014 on a campaign pledging zero tolerance of corruption. Having once run a furniture business, he came from outside Indonesia’s traditional political elite and enjoyed a meteoric rise since entering politics in 2005 to run for mayor in his hometown of Solo, Central Java.

 

 

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