Breakingviews – Indonesia builds sovereign fund with daring design

Indonesian President Joko Widodo gestures during an interview with Reuters at the presidential palace in Jakarta, Indonesia, November 13, 2020. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

MUMBAI (Reuters Breakingviews) – Indonesia is putting its own stamp on investing. International buyout firms and Gulf nations are being wooed to invest into a new sovereign fund, which will back state assets and job-creating infrastructure projects. The structure is a mashup of Singaporean and Indian models. It’s an ambitious effort to finance President Joko Widodo’s development plans, but also faces limits on how much outside money will take the plunge.

Jakarta’s initiative represents a departure from typical national investment funds. They were originally set up by commodity exporters such as Norway and Kuwait or economies with current-account surpluses such as China, and seek to deploy capital overseas and save for a rainy day. More recently, poorer countries have tried to attract foreign cash and support domestic spending.

The planned Indonesia Investment Authority, as it is widely known, will start with $5 billion of taxpayer money and stakes in state-owned enterprises. That makes it a bit like Temasek, the Singaporean fund that was seeded with government shareholdings and whose portfolio includes Singapore Telecommunications and local banking champion DBS. It is praised for managing assets on a commercial basis instead of a political one.

Indonesia also will try to drum up $15 billion elsewhere. Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati told Reuters that foreign investors will be able to inject money into the master fund and specialised industry ones. India’s National Investment & Infrastructure Fund has done something similar: Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, Temasek, the Asian Development Bank and Australia’s largest pension fund all have contributed.

The hybrid design reflects Widodo’s passion for state-led development and tight public finances. His 2021 budget deficit target is 5.7% of the country’s roughly $1 trillion GDP. The president’s infrastructure projects range from the practical Jakarta metro network to an ambitious plan to build a new capital city.

What sounds sensible may be hard to put into practice. The cost of governance lapses and political meddling were laid bare by the money-laundering scandal at Malaysia’s 1MDB sovereign fund. Meanwhile, India established 49%-government-owned NIIF five years ago and has just $4.3 billion under management. That suggests there is only so much that Indonesia can hope to co-opt from its investing peers.


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