Suharto Inc. Probably the biggest family business in all Asia

Richard Lloyd Parry on rampant nepotism in Indonesia

This weekend, whether I like it or not, I will make several small but involuntary contributions to one of the most unsavoury causes in Asia. They will begin when I switch on satellite news on my television and sprinkle sugar on my morning orange. They will continue as I drive to the airport (perhaps in one of the brand new Timor national cars) on one of Jakarta's toll roads, and as I fly out of the city in a plane owned by the private carrier, Sempati.

When I check into my resort hotel (the Bali Sheraton, perhaps), I will be doing my little bit for the cause. These pleasures will have one thing in common. They will all enrich one family - the wealthiest and most powerful family in Indonesia, that of its president, Suharto.

Suharto is a towering figure, a general who came to power in 1965 during a virtual civil war to create a unified country out of the diverse islands, races and languages of Indonesia. Under his rule, growth is running at a steady 7 per cent and the 75-year-old President has established himself as the unofficial figurehead of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean).

Suharto is old now, and as Indonesians become richer and more educated, his government's close relationship with the armed forces, intolerance of genuine democracy, and suppression of political opponents look more and more crude and anachronistic. But the greatest embarrassment - even for the country's elite, for whom authoritarianism is a worthwhile price to pay for stability - is the blatant corruption of Indonesian business. The symbols of this corruption are the First Children.

The Suhartos have an influential presence in most spheres of Indonesian life; a son-in-law is a rising general, a daughter is chairwoman of the ruling party. But it is in big business that they dominate. No one knows their collective worth, though intelligent guesses range from $8bn up to a CIA estimate of $30bn in 1989. It is concentrated in the hands of four siblings: brothers Bambang, Tommy and Sigit, and their sister, Tutut.

These four are among Indonesia's 13 richest indigenous businessmen, and the industries in which they participate range from airlines, telecommunications, hotels and toll roads to sugar and oranges. The advantages enjoyed by the Suharto children surpass those of the President's most privileged cronies.

The President's children are among his closest advisers. One of the secrets of Suharto's 30-year survival has been regularly shuffling his courtiers and banishing those who show signs of acquiring too much independent power. Suharto's children, with their unmediated access to the presidential ear, are in enormous demand as intermediaries for local and foreign firms bidding for contracts. One foreign analyst in Jakarta reckons that among US firms the going rate for a Suharto is 25 to 30 per cent of the value of a contract.

In 1990, the American firm AT&T was competing with Japan's NEC and Sumitomo for the right to sell $300m of telephone equipment. The Americans engaged as their "agent" the President's oldest daughter, Siti Hardijianti Rukmana,known as "Tutut". The Japanese hired Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra, the youngest boy. The unfortunate officials presented with the dilemma of choosing between two of the President's offspring came up with an ingenious solution: they doubled the size of the contract, and awarded the prize jointly.

Nepotism on this scale is a drag on the economy and alienates the foreign investors Jakarta is trying to attract. The nadir came this year with the launch of the Timor, Indonesia's national car, a joint venture with the Korean car firm Kia. The Timor is a pet project of the President, and its award to Tommy was not a surprise. What did cause uproar was the decision to exempt it from import duties and the 35 per cent "luxury" tax. Tommy's Timor sells for about $10,000, almost half the cost of similar imported models.

Underlying the exasperation is a great deal of tension, and a sense that the achievements of Suharto's "New Order" are starting to unravel. The President was treated for a heart condition earlier this year and as he grows weaker, political opposition to his government is becoming more vocal. In July, Jakartans rioted after government-backed thugs raided the headquarters of the opposition Indonesian Democratic Party; dozens of non-violent political opponents were arbitrarily arrested.

Nobody stands out as a successor to Suharto, and the prospect of an uncertain or violent succession terrifies many Indonesians - among them, surely, the President's children. Their enormous greed, and their father's willingness to indulge it, smacks of desperation, a sense that time is running out.

Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth GamesJust 48 hours earlier cyclist was under the care of a doctor
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
arts + ents
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + entsFilmmaker posted a picture of Israeli actress Gal Gadot on Twitter
Sport
Vincenzo Nibali rides into Paris on the final stage of the 2014 Tour de France
Tour de FranceVincenzo Nibali is first Italian winner since Marco Pantani in 1998
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel
arts + entsPrince Oberyn nearly sets himself on fire with a flaming torch
News
Danny Nickerson, 6, has received 15,000 cards and presents from well-wishers around the world
newsDanny loves to see his name on paper, so his mother put out a request for cards - it went viral
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana stars in this summer's big hope Guardians of the Galaxy
filmHollywood's summer blockbusters are no longer money-spinners
Sport
Red Bull Racing's Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo (C) celebrates with Scuderia Ferrari's Spanish driver Fernando Alonso (L) and Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton
sport
Arts and Entertainment
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmComedy was dominated by the romcom at its most insufferable
Sport
Tour de France competitor Bartosz Huzarski’s legs have highlighted the gruelling nature of the race, after he posted a picture on Facebook showing extremely prominent veins stretching from his feet and all the way up his legs
Commonwealth Games
Life and Style
Elle Kaye demonstrates the art of taxidermy
food + drinkFood revolution taken a step further in new ‘edible taxidermy’ class
News
A rub on the tummy sprang Casey back to life
video
Sport
Halsall broke her personal best in the 50m butterfly
Commonwealth GamesEnglish swimmer is reborn after disastrous time at London 2012
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Life and Style
Workers in Seattle are paid 100 times as much as workers in Bangladesh
fashionSeattle company lets customers create their own clothes, then click 'buy' and wait for delivery
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Voices
The Express offices in the 1930s when writers (such as Orwell) were paid around £2 weekly
voicesWebsites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
A cut above: Katy Guest at The Ginger Pig
food + drinkThe Ginger Pig's hands-on approach to primary cuts
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Data Analyst

£30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable software house is looking ...

Application Support Analyst / Junior SQL Server DBA

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established professional services...

Commercial Litigation

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION SO...

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried