Agus Suparmanto: I Need to Create a Friendly Business Climate

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  • TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - SINCE the ‘new normal’ protocol was put into effect, Trade Minister Agus Suparmanto must keep up with the prescribed routine of using hand sanitizers, wearing masks and keeping physical distance every time he goes out.

    “If you hold hands (with a woman), you could be asked to prove that you are married. So, I told my wife, ‘dear, don’t be too close, or they will ask us to show our marriage certificate,’ (chuckles)...” Agus quipped during the special interview with Tempo on Wednesday, June 24.

    Agus, 54, said the government’s new set of regulations was aimed at expediting the control of the coronavirus outbreak in all sectors, from social, health to trade. “So that our lives can return to normal gradually,” he said adding that although the economy is starting to move again with the reopening of shopping centers and markets, public safety will remain the government’s priority and will be safeguarded through health protocols.

    Agus, accompanied by his lawyers Harris Sarana and Sehat Damanik, sat down with Tempo reporters Agung Sedayu, Mahardika Satria Hadi and Khairul Anam at his office for the interview. He explained various matters ranging from his strategy to mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the trade sector, government’s decision to approve the export of personal protective equipment to the need to impose import quotas for several commodities.

    In addition, he also clarified Tempo’s news report that linked him to the fiasco surrounding Aneka Tambang’s nickel mining project in North Maluku. In its March 31-April 6, 2020 issue, Tempo published an investigative article titled Mining Scandal of Trade Minister. The report highlighted Agus’ connection to a series of irregularities in a nickel ore project in Tanjung Buli in remote East Halmahera, North Maluku. Agus himself is an investor in Yudistira Bumi Bhakti which undertook the project during the period 2001-2014.

    Agus has raised objections to the report. He felt his name had been smeared. The press council which mediated the dispute had issued Assessment and Recommendation Letter No. 23/PPR-DP/V/2020 which, albeit calling the title inaccurate, stated that the entire coverage met the standard journalistic requirements. Tempo has already offered an apology to Agus Suparmanto for the title. This interview also partly serves as the right of reply.

    How did your relation with Yudistira Bumi Bhakti begin?

    I received a lot of (investment) offers that time and one of them was from YBB (Yudistira Bumi Bhakti) which offered a nickel mining business opportunity. My position was only as an investor and I didn't handle technical matters. Pak Juandy (Tanumihardja, YBB's chief executive officer) and Pak Miming (Leonardo, YBB's commissioner) asked me to join them. I studied and assessed that it was quite a promising business and I decided to go in. That was around 2000. It was a long process until I finally invested in 2001. I don't have a mining background. It was for investment only.

    Is it true that you invested around US$6 million in the project?

    Yes, US$6-7 million. But I wasn't involved in YBB's internal affairs. Perhaps they also had other partnerships. I have no idea because there were many items. I only looked at the (project) implementation as an investor. That was the extent of my involvement. I just made sure that I got my investment returns. I wasn't a shareholder nor a board member. The bottom line is that I just put my money there. I wasn't involved in any technical matter or in the process behind the project because I didn't have the authority.

    Why did you inject such a huge capital?

    Based on the calculation of the (cost of) the equipment needed. Not of all YBB's funds came from me. The company also has its own resources. After the calculation, they asked me to make up the shortfall in the above-mentioned amount.

    How much did you know about YBB's participation in Aneka Tambang's tender for mining and transporting nickel ores in Tanjung Buli, East Halmahera?

    It was YBB that undertook the process from the start. All I knew was that they needed funds.

    Yudistira won the tender in 2001. However, starting in 2004, the company got projects through direct appointments. Were you aware of these processes?

    I wasn't. That is too technical and only the board of directors and shareholders had the authority over that. I couldn't go in there. I didn't have the capacity as an investor to be involved in the company's internal matters. Say, we have a company and borrow money from banks. Banks can't possibly interfere with our company's business, you see. My position as an investor is the same as that of the banks. When a company applies for loans, they would only look at who the investors and the directors are. It’s not possible for them to see what the content of the project is or what the process is like and so on. That's beyond my capacity.

    Has Yudistira made profits from the Tanjung Buli project?

    Yes, it did. My profit from it is the business between me and YBB and not with anyone else.

    How much profit share did you receive?

    In essence, the company and I shared around 70 percent of the profits. I don't want to discuss on a personal basis because this is a company. So, legally, there was a limited liability company and I joined it as an investor. It's not my business if the company had other deals.

    Read the full interview in Tempo English Magazine