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Surya Paloh: What's wrong with being innovative?  
Surya Paloh. TEMPO/Frannoto
Wednesday, 26 November, 2014 | 14:20 WIB
Surya Paloh: What's wrong with being innovative?  

TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Surya Paloh, 63, is never far from the center of power. From the time of the New Order era up to the government of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono which recently ended its term, Surya has managed to be in the orbit of the political elite. Today, at the start of the Joko Widodo-Jusuf Kalla administration, Surya placed functionaries of his NasDem Party in key positions of the Working Cabinet.

Last week, the president appointed NasDem legislator Prasetyo as the new attorney general. Barely five years old, the NasDem Party can now claim to have succeeded in securing three ministries. They are the Forestry and Environmental Affairs Ministry led by Siti Nurbaya, Spatial and Agrarian Affairs Ministry led by Ferry Mursyidan Baldan, and the Coordinating Ministry for Politics, Law and Security, which is led by Admiral (ret.) Tedjo Edhy Purdijatno.

Surya, owner of the Media Group, has also emerged as the business link with the Angolan oil company, Sonangol EP, some of whose shares are held by his old pal Sam Pa, a native of China. Surya it was who initiated the importing of oil from that Angolan company. In 2008, his Surya Energy company received a loan from China Sonangol International Holdings. A subsidiary of Sonangol EP injected US$200 million into Surya Energy to exploit the Cepu Block in East Java.

To Tempo reporters Agustina Widiarsi, Jajang Jamaludin, Gustidha Budiartie and Riky Ferdianto, Surya claimed to have done everything 'for the sake of the country'. He said he did not expect any compensation from the business, explaining at length his role in Jokowi's government. During the two-hour interview, Surya was accompanied by Surya Energi CEO, Rerie L. Moerdijat. Excerpts:

Is it true you introduced Sonangol to President Jokowi?

It was merely to suggest something for the nation's interest without much fuss. I know many people don't believe this but it's up to them. My intention is not to be an oil trader and seek a commission. That would be insane.


What do you want?

I believe the two countries can work together. Angola's population is small but its oil production is high. Indonesia has a big population with a high demand for oil. It is now a net importer of oil. Angola is now president of OPEC (Organization of Oil-Producing Countries). Why hasn't Pertamina been cooperating with Sonangol EP? What's wrong with being innovative?


How did you bring the subject to the president's attention?

We spoke before the inauguration about how the country needs to build up its infrastructure. Singapore has no oil but we are dependent on their refineries. We produce the oil, albeit a small amount, but we have no refinery. Our oil wells are old. This is a grey area which of course should be of interest.


It must be noted that Pertamina under Karen Agustiawan looked into the possibility of collaborating with Sonangol because we want to venture into outside exploration. But that seemed to have failed. By chance, I know someone there, which is why I tried to have both parties meet. Can we get a discounted price? Of course, we could not make a big deal about it because we could incur international sanctions. So, I was in a tough spot, yet my country needed to save money.


How long have you known Sam Pa?

For more than 10 years. I know many world-class investors. I've been a businessman for 40 years. I knew Sam Pa in Singapore, because we share the same barber.


But Sam Pa's reputation is somewhat questionable.

I know Sam Pa to be gentlemanly, smart and funny. I know that the international media has maligned him. That's up to them. I know the US doesn't like him, but he owns property on Wall Street with the Sonangol flag flying. I'm puzzled why Americans don't like him but give him the red carpet treatment.


You introduced Sam Pa to Jokowi. What did Sam Pa ask for?

Nothing, except the hope for consistency. I saw his appreciation when the meeting with the president turned out positively. I reminded him that if he wanted to meet Pak Jokowi, to speak slowly. Usually Sam Pa speaks very fast. After the agreement was signed between the two countries, we no longer had anything to do with it. I remember telling Pak Jokowi jokingly that if all went well, not to forget to give me a medal, because for sure, I had nothing to do with the transaction. He laughed.


The AGO in the Jokowi cabinet is another win for NasDem.

From the time we first joined the coalition we have not expected any specific target. Our commitment is how the Jokowi government can run effectively and those who are in the cabinet should do their duties as best they can. We respect the president's prerogative.


You seem to be very powerful?

Not at all. I am not someone who holds power. What we do is all that we can give to this nation. We have nothing but good intentions. (*)


Read the full interview in this week's edition of Tempo English Magazine


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