The Leaderboard: Dahlan Iskan

Who is he?

Dahlan Iskan was the CEO of Indonesia’s state-owned electric company Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN) from 2009 to 2011, and currently serves as minister of State-Owned Corporations (BUMN). As minister, he has streamlined procurement processes, and established holding companies in the forestry, pharmaceutical, and plantation sectors. Dahlan is also the owner of influential news conglomerate Jawa Pos Group.

Dahlan’s eccentric persona and unorthodox approach to bureaucratic inefficiencies have made him a controversial figure among politicians and a popular choice among young Indonesians.  He forcibly opened four tollgates in North Jakarta in April, 2011, letting cars enter free after being stuck in traffic. The minister has expressed interest in running for president in 2014, and ranked third in a November 29 Indonesian Survey Institute poll.

Why is he in the news?

Dahlan ruffled feathers in Parliament November 5 by revealing the names of 10 representatives who allegedly extorted state-owned companies during the 2013 budget debate. He initially pointed to representatives Sumartoyo of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle and Idris Laena of the Golkar party, who retaliated with threats of legal action citing the lack of credible evidence.

Dahlan has since announced five more suspects whose initials were released by the ethics council November 9 but apologized November 22 for mistakenly including the names of M. Ichlas El Qudsi and Andi Timo Pangerang of the National Mandate Party, whom he said tried to extort the Merpati Nusantara Airlines director.

Meanwhile, critics have pointed to Dahlan’s repeated absences in parliamentary hearings regarding a $3.9 billion loss at PLN when he was CEO. Energy Commission deputy chairman Effendi SImbolon said Dahlan’s latest absence December 3 showed a lack of seriousness in settling the issue.

What can we expect from him?

The House ethics commission is unlikely to investigate Dahlan’s claims without sufficient evidence. The standoff has nonetheless raised his profile as a political outsider looking to shape transactional politics. State-owned enterprises are considered cash cows for corrupt politicians and their affiliate parties.

As such, the unaffiliated Dahlan will tread carefully while facing pressure from lawmakers looking to preserve transactional House politics. Dahlan will likely urge state-owned company executives to file reports to Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission to defuse criticism for overstepping his legal prerogatives and emphasize his focus on his own efforts to clean up BUMN, which Parliament has been unable to do.

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