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Indonesians Concerned About Bailout

November 2, 1997

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) _ Shoppers in downtown Jakarta worried about their savings Sunday and fretted over government austerity measures planned under an international economic bailout plan.

Indonesia has closed 16 insolvent banks and will announce more changes to its fragile economy Monday to comply with demands on $33 billion in foreign loans put together by the International Monetary Fund.

``It’s like a nightmare,″ said Christian, 27, a garment maker who goes by one name. ``Everybody’s waiting. We don’t know how many more banks are going to close down.″

Christian, having lunch at a shopping mall where sales have plummeted along with Indonesia’s currency, said he was debating whether to shift his money from an Indonesian bank that was spared liquidation to a foreign one.

The bailout for Indonesia, which once was one of Asia’s fastest growing economies, is the second-biggest put together by the IMF. The largest loan, $50 billion, went to Mexico in 1995.

In exchange, Indonesia is expected to cut government spending and lower trade barriers, which may doom some inefficient state monopolies.

Indonesia’s economy has been battered by the spectacular falls in currency and stock values that have swept across Southeast Asia.

Thailand’s ruling coalition parties plan an emergency meeting Monday after a dramatic drop in the Thai currency. The baht has fallen by more than 50 percent over the past four months and the economy has needed an infusion of $17.2 billion in international loans.

And after speculators decided the Hong Kong dollar was overvalued and went on the attack, government moves to defend it led to rising interest rates, triggering stock market selloffs in Hong Kong and throughout the world.

The bailout failed to soothe middle-class investors in Indonesia, who have cut back on entertainment and other expenses.

Mira Setiawan, a 35-year-old accountant looking at blouses at the state-run Sarinah shopping center, also said she might take her money out of a local bank.

The Indonesian government, anxious to avoid a run on the banks, says it will reimburse depositors and that Indonesia’s 224 other banks will open as usual on Monday.

``The problem is how to manage in order not to make the small depositors panic,″ said economic analyst Christianto Wibisono, who hailed the closings as good economic shock therapy.

Analysts fear a mix of austerity measures and grave economic ills will provoke social unrest. Up to 40,000 construction workers have lost their jobs in the last few months in the capital alone.

Some of the closed banks have links to the government of President Suharto. Critics complain that the nation’s economy is dominated by a small group of Suharto family members and close associates.

But Udin Alamsyah, a fruit vendor, seemed confident about his economic future as he lounged outside a tin-roof mosque in the shadow of a five-star hotel.

He believes his $1,400 in savings is safe in Bank Central Asia owned by Liem Sioe Liong, a Chinese tycoon and a close friend of Suharto.

``I don’t worry,″ Alamsyah said.

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