SM talks in Indonesia ‘very frank’

Visiting Singapore Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew got a first-hand account of business and political developments here yesterday during meetings with key Indonesian businessmen and political party representatives.

A spokesman said that in talks with the business leaders, he had very frank and open discussions, exchanging views on the Indonesian situation, and the global and regional economy.

“SM was impressed with their frankness,” the spokesman said. “They were very forthright in their views. They showed a deep comprehension of the economic situation in the country.”

Those present included Bank of Indonesia Governor Anwar Nasution, head of the Gemala conglomerate Sofyan Wanandi, former Land Minister Sony Harsono and Indonesian Chamber of Commerce chairman Abu Rizal Bakrie.

Mr Anwar told reporters after the 90-minute meeting that they were very happy with the outcome and said Mr Lee’s presence here to attend the International Advisory Panel (IAP) would help the economy.

“Lee Kuan Yew has a good name in the region and internationally. This is good for us. His presence in the IAP would raise confidence in Indonesia,” he said.

He added that he had impressed on Mr Lee that Indonesia’s economy was “in deep trouble” and told him that “we need help from the international community and Singapore”.

Mr Sofyan said the businessmen used the opportunity of the meeting to discuss some of the problems facing Indonesia. “We are concerned that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. We don’t want another second crisis to hit us,” he said. He said Mr Lee showed a good grasp of the problems.

“I think he was also happy that we had a certain sense of urgency to the problems we were facing. His views were also very useful to us in understanding what was going on,” he said.

Another businessman, who would not be named, said while Mr Lee was keen to hear their views, he “stayed clear of taking sides or being drawn into politics”.

Mr Lee – making his first trip to Jakarta since former President Suharto stepped down in May 1998 – last visited the country in June 1997. He is attending today’s first meeting of the IAP, whose members include former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker.

President Abdurrahman Wahid invited him to attend and, despite recent anti-Singapore outbursts from the Indonesian leader, Mr Lee accepted. He is scheduled to meet the president for talks today.

Yesterday, Mr Lee also met 10 political party representatives

“Most of the legislators put forward the same view: If Indonesia did not sort out its current problems, things will only get worse,” United Development Party MP Tosari Widjaya said of the hour-long meeting.

National Mandate Party MP Abdillah Toha said: “He refrained from siding anyone. When we asked him what he was going to talk about with Gur Dur, he said the focus of his visit was economics.”

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