17 February, 2017

Arcandra Tahar: Indonesia’s Man of the Hour


It is probably not too melodramatic to liken ARCANDRA TAHAR to the mythical phoenix. Having risen from the ashes of a controversial citizenship scandal in a nationalistic country like Indonesia, it is clear that this man has something to bring to the table for Indonesia. The newly-reappointed minister, this time as the vice minister of Energy and Mineral Resources, sits down for an exclusive interview with Millionaireasia Indonesia.

Arcandra Tahar knows the reason why the President wants him back on board.

But before we get on to that, a back story is required to put things into context. Arcandra, 46, was the subject of a headline-dominating citizenship controversy just months ago. Then newly appointed as the Energy and Mineral Resources Minister in a much-anticipated cabinet reshuffle, Arcandra was dismissed by President Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, just 20 days after taking office. The issue of his citizenship has since been resolved.

What makes this narrative even more interesting is his reappointment to the cabinet in October — this time, in the same ministry, but as the vice minister. Former transport minister Ignasius Jonan now helms the ministry. While media has referenced this surprise move as President Jokowi’s way of asserting his political authority, it is clearly not all political: the Texas A&M University PhD holder evidently has plenty to offer for the country. And Arcandra knows what it is he can contribute at a time when Indonesia stands at the cusp of realising its potential: his technical knowledge and expertise.

In our interview, Arcandra comes alive when talking about how engineering can be used to improve Indonesia. But he gets reticent about the the term, ‘politics’. Much as he is in it, Arcandra is a reluctant politician. “Many Indonesians do not want to return home because of the politics here,” he wisecracks. “It’s like the old truck in my childhood days that uses the manual starter — it’s so old and difficult.”

Born in Padang, Arcandra studied in the prestigious Institute Technology of Bandung before leaving for his postgraduate studies in Texas in 1996, where he studied ocean engineering. After graduation, the father-of-two took on key roles in the deep ocean engineering sector in US, and worked in various projects before his last job at Petroneering, an offshore technology development company in Texas.

During his time in the US, Arcandra also obtained patents for several deep-water oil and gas technologies that he invented. The patent application process for these strategic technologies were what led to him to take up naturalised citizenship in the US, he had revealed in another interview.

In our two-hour interview session with him, Arcandra strikes one as a stately man. His demeanour is calm, and he speaks purposefully. But there is also a lighthearted side to this technocrat, especially when he is around his wife, Fauline Tahar, who was also present at the interview.

Arcandra recounted to us with a laugh, “Pak Jonan always makes fun of me when he sees my wife. She looks like a litle girl.” This led to an embarrassed Fauline quickly retorting, “It’s because I’m petite!” as the whole room lightens up from the joke.

It is easy to see that he is a man who can inspire loyalty — on our Saturday appointment, he was accompanied by two special staff Prahoro Nurtjahyo and Jaffee Suardin, both of whom are US-trained and highly-qualified private sector experts. Both of whom are also his good pals. Beyond his technical expertise, it is not hard to see why he inspires confidence enough for the President to show him exceptional favour.

Arcandra is the right man for the job — his temperament, intellect and expertise work in his favour. The Indonesia of the future will undergo huge technological advancements, and an experienced man familiar with engineering technologies needs to be at helm — even in a vice minister role and even if he is politically inexperienced.

Bapak Arcandra Tahar shares a light-hearted moment with his wife, Frauline Thahar.