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Take it from the Swiss: Ingenuity and Optimism

NOW! PEOPLE | 15 August 2019

SwissCham Executive Director, Alexander Lumbantobing talks to NOW! Jakarta about the chamber’s early momentum and the importance of positivity in welcoming a bright economic future.

Alexander Lumbantobing, SwissCham Executive Director. Photo by Raditya Fadilla

Now that the national electoral issues are settled, what are your hopes and expectations for the next term of President-elect Jokowi?

First of all, I would like to emphasise here that we, as a Chamber, are non-political. My hopes and expectations here are more aligned to the business perspective. For businesses in general, uncertainty is costly, so much like the other business players—especially the foreign business actors in Indonesia. I would hope for greater certainty. 

To a certain degree, the re-election of President Jokowi provides this sense of certainty although we shall not discount global, external factors that would spill over into Indonesia, regardless of whom the leader is. Looking back into his track record during the first term, I sure hope he continues many reforms that he has started, many of which are aimed to improve the ease of doing business here.

That said, President Jokowi still has some outstanding homework in regards to instilling the greater appeal for foreign business eyeing to continue operations or keen to enter this biggest market in ASEAN. For example, the way Vietnam lures many foreign business entities to establish themselves rather than in Indonesia has been a heated debate for many within Indonesia. Of course, that one example hinges on many variables, too, so I hope the President is set to move forward with a comprehensive plan to keep Indonesia on top of the minds of business decision makers.

On the other hand, his second term means he has less burden to exercise a firmer approach to expedite the reforms that he has laid out or even a greater agility to push forward to his vision towards Indonesia 2045 (the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Indonesia).

There have been talks of a cabinet reshuffle in the future. What are your thoughts on this and what would it mean for the Swiss-Indonesian Chamber of Commerce?

Again, let me reiterate that we are non-political in seeing matters like this one. That said, I think it is important for President Jokowi to orchestrate better, given the many political powers now surrounding him. This time around he has to strike quite a delicate equilibrium. To be frank, political tit-for-tat is still looming, nonetheless it is important to, first and foremost, get capable and willing bright minds to translate the President’s directives. 

Of course, there are many highly capable Indonesians among his circle, regardless of their party affiliation. Now it is more on President Jokowi’s ability to find these sometimes-scattered pools of qualified resources and manage this more colourful blend—it’s a mix of talent scouting and a concert orchestration.

For us, this means we have to reaffirm our so-called “Swiss brand” that has been synonymous with innovation, reliability and transparency. That way, whoever is helping President Jokowi in the next term will realize our consistent intention to be part of the solution, doing it the Swiss way.

In short, SwissCham Indonesia has to continue strengthen its position as a credible voice.

What are some of the major items currently on SwissCham’s agenda? 

Like many of our Chamber counterparts, SwissCham Indonesia deals with non-tariff barriers that keep lingering after all the years of reforms gone by. Despite Indonesia’s ladder-up in the ease of doing business ranking, we still insist on knowledge-based policy process to contribute to better business environment in general in Indonesia.

This is even more so after the signing of the Indonesia-EFTA Free Trade Agreement in December 2018. Together with the Embassy of Switzerland, Ministry of Trade, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, KADIN, APINDO and other stakeholders, we are keen to disseminate the benefits available to our Indonesian business counterparts.

There is a preliminary baseline study available out there on this issue. Of course, all the potential benefits would not materialize without the proper understanding on how to take the most advantage. We shall attempt to translate the umbrella concept into easy-to-digest, more operational chunks of action. It’s quite a work, but it is worth the effort.

Would you like tell our readers about some of SwissCham’s exciting events in the future?

I am glad you asked.

In the future, we are going to continue the efforts to share the knowledge on the FTA. There is a plan to carry out a road show to at least five cities in Indonesia to meet with Indonesian business players in several key sectors to be determined soon. But not to worry, we do not forget to have fun with more socially-inclined programs, too. Within the next few months, we continue doing our business networking events with quality resource persons sharing his/her valuable insights. 

In addition to the “heavier” stuffs, SwissCham Indonesia is rolling out its golf event for first time on 9 August 2019 in Jakarta. So far, the animosity has been tremendous. We didn’t realize that many have been anticipating this fun networking outdoor activity until we start announcing it. So, get ready, folks!

Many of your readers may also a fan to the legacy annual Swiss fondue and raclette dinner in December. This year, we are going to continue such legacy and we expect to receive more guests than last year. Mark your calendar, this year it’s on 6 December 2019. Pay attention, keep your eyes open.

Being a relatively new organisation, would you mind telling us some of SwissCham’s accomplishments that you’re proud of?

I think the greatest accomplishment is SwissCham Indonesia’s warm reception by the key stakeholders despite its relatively new existence. Yes, it is nice to gather at least 86 members just within one year of establishment, yet this goes beyond numbers. 

Of course, it’s important to have a fully functional, well-run organization but in the end its all about serving the purpose in accordance to the mission and vision of this Chamber of commerce.

Do you have any message to our readers?

Everyone is talking about Industry 4.0 with some even paint a gloomy picture about our destiny as human being. I think it is important to keep our ingenuity as intelligent being to stay upbeat and optimistic. Remember, Switzerland is an example in which ingenuity of the Swiss people keeps the whole nation keeps moving forward strongly despite the global hiccups. Of course, it is not always perfect, but this attitude should serve as a foundation to keep moving forward.

Thank you kindly, Alexander Lumbantobing!