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Muhammad Chatib Basri: Fight of the navigator

Indonesia’s finance minister, Muhammad Chatib Basri, has a clear mission: to make government easier to navigate – for its people, its companies and for foreign investors. His pragmatic approach is paying dividends. So much so that he might even be asked to stay on.

Muhammad Chatib Basri is not a big fan of bureaucracies.

"One of the reasons so many Indonesians have become religious," jokes Indonesia’s 48-year-old finance minister, Jakarta’s ninth in 16 years, "is because they have to deal with the government."

Citing a common gripe of his 250 million compatriots – and international investors too – "you submit a document and you never know when it will be completed. So you wait for everything. And you need to pray for the day they contact you and say everything is settled."

His gentle jest about Indonesia’s notorious bureaucracy betrays a truism about operating in this often-trying country, east Asia’s only G20 economy, one that many investors, local and foreign, invariably fall in and out of love with at regular intervals.

It’s a widely aired riff that echoes in such places as Brazil, India and large tracts of developing Africa: that Indonesia is a nation of enormous economic potential – and always will be. A country with a history of mediocre administrations that succeeds in spite of its government, not because of it.

Chatib Basri knows the criticism all too well. So his mission as a minister is to make government easier to navigate, in a country where such navigation is notoriously difficult.

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