Minister Luhut defends Jokowi’s push to put more ‘bules’ in charge of state-owned enterprises

President Joko Widodo created some controversy last week when he said that he wanted to put foreigners in charge of some of Indonesia’s state-owned enterprises, stating, “I even want there to be three or four bule professionals leading SOEs so that our people can learn and be motivated and be able to compete with foreigners.”

(And yes, Jokowi did specifically use the word ‘bule’, which caused quite a bit of controversy in and of itself – BBC Indonesia recently did an excellent piece on the term’s meaning and background in this context.)

Given the current climate of paranoia about foreign workers stealing Indonesian jobs, Jokowi’s statement was bound to cause some backlash, and indeed he was criticized by both politicians and netizens for suggesting that Indonesia needed foreigners to run SOEs because there were no Indonesians qualified for the positions.

But despite the controversy, it looks like Jokowi’s administration will continue to pursue the idea of putting foreigners in charge of some of Indonesia’s largest and most powerful companies, with Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Luhut Panjaitan defending the idea to the media on Monday.

“The president said we’re thinking of having bule SOE CEOs. If it was a bule coach for the Football Association of Indonesia (PSSI), then there would be no fuss. So this is a challenge. If the people of Indonesia can not, then yes we’ll give it to bules,” Luhut said as quoted by CNN Indonesia.

Luhut argued that nobody made a big deal about foreign football coaches being hired because they were perceived as understanding the science of the sport better than Indonesians. 

Similarly, he said Indonesia could learn from other countries such as Oman, Bahrain, and the UAE that have seen their SOEs improve under the leadership of foreigners. He argued that even Arabs are not nationalists and that, instead, they’ve focused on making their SOEs world-class.

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