Commentary

Don’t cry for me, Indonesia;
I go for the good of all

The headline may fit the farewell message that Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati  is likely to make when she leaves for Washington within the next week or so to take up one of the second-highest positions at the World Bank.

Although Mulyani’s circumstances are very different from those of Evita Peron, as depicted in the famous musical Evita, the emotion evoked by the tear-jerking lyrics of Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina is also befitting of Mulyani’s departure.

The World Bank’s selection of Mulyani to become one of its three managing directors simply highlights her superb qualifications as a technocrat and acknowledges her unique experience derived during her tenures as former executive director at the International Monetary Fund and minister of development planning and then finance in an emerging economy like Indonesia.

Although Mulyani’s decision to join the World Bank constitutes a really a big loss both to the government and the nation, which badly needs her skills, international experience, credibility and impeccable integrity to continue bureaucratic reform, her move is perhaps the best option for all, at least for now.

Mulyani has been in the proverbial hot seat ever since the parliamentary special inquiry commission voted in early March to fault her decision to rescue Bank Century in November 2008, and ask for criminal investigations to be leveled at her and Vice President Boediono, who was then central bank governor.

We still strongly believe that law enforcers will never find any evidence to implicate either of them
in corruption or other crimes related to the bank rescue, which succeeded to prevent the country from suffering potentially far worse effects from fallout from the global financial crisis.

But instead of allowing the law enforcers adequate time to investigate the case, which would have required months of investigations into complex financial transactions dating back to 2004, the rowdy politicians from opposition parties have continued to attempt to harass Mulyani and destroy her reputation with slander.

Under such pressure, it was difficult for her to focus on properly performing her task as she was constantly hounded by power- and publicity-hungry politicians backed by the partisan mass media. Meanwhile, the indecisive President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono seemed to behave like an innocent bystander unable to provide her with strong political protection.

However, her decision to join the World Bank will not only benefit the quality of her life and improve her earnings, which will rise from US$24,000 a year now to more than $480,000 per year, but will eventually benefit the nation too.

As a World Bank managing director for around 75 emerging and developing economies in Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, North Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Mulyani will have three years to broaden her knowledge and experience of economic development and reform in strikingly different economic and political environments.

Despite the World Bank’s shortcomings, and groundless allegations that it has largely been the purveyor of the policies of developed countries, especially the United States, the multilateral development bank, which controls more than $55 billion in annual lending, has a huge trove of experts from all aspects of development.

Employing more than 10,000 well-paid professionals, the World Bank commands a huge analytical machine encompassing a broad-range of knowledge and experience on technical, sectoral and economic development issues.

The World Bank’s experts possess the wealth of real-life development experience that its lending
operations around the world have generated, especially because the bank has decentralized its decision-making apparatus by appointing country directors with the power
to determine budgets and initiate projects.

The bank’s operations thus not only refer to loans, grants and technical assistance but, often more importantly, to vigorous policy dialogues and advice.

All of this makes up a huge reservoir of knowledge and experience (of failures and successes) in a complex development process that Mulyani will be able to tap into during her stint at the World Bank.

At the end of her three-year term, the body of her knowledge and experiences, combined with the expertise she previously gained as an executive director at the IMF in the early 2000s, would make her a well rounded development economist and leader.

Hopefully the 47-year-old Mulyani will return to Indonesia so that her nation will be able to benefit  from her great talent and experiences.

We could even dare to hope that one of the major political parties, preferably the Democratic Party, might nominate her as a presidential or vice presidential candidate for the 2014 presidential election.

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