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The most influential person in Indonesia?

As Indonesia dodges the global economic crisis bullet, Sri Mulyani, a woman educated in America, has become a star.

Indonesia's Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati holds a media briefing Aug. 1, 2007. (Mick Tsikas/Reuters)

JAKARTA — The impact Sri Mulyani, Indonesia’s current finance minister, has had on the country in the last few years is difficult to overstate.

Mulyani has, for starters, steered the country through the global economic crisis. Indonesia’s economy is growing — at a rate of 4.9 percent — faster than any of its regional counterparts and looks poised to come out of the crisis in a better position than it went in.

This is in no small part a result of aggressive reforms Mulyani pushed through the finance ministry, most notably the customs and tax offices — two institutions that for decades were the most striking examples of how corruption can destroy a nation.

Indonesia has always ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, but has improved in the last five years — during Mulyani’s tenure. Corruption here is so widespread that there was little expectation that Mulyani, a career technocrat with no political experience, could make any real difference.

“You can really see how much of an impact one person can make,” said James Castle, an American economic and political analyst living in Indonesia. “The president gave her a lot of latitude and she has used it very well.”

Six months after Mulyani took over the Finance Ministry in 2005, foreign direct investment leaped almost 70 percent compared to the previous year. That kind of growth was maintained up until the economic crisis hit this year, a testament to the confidence foreign investors have in the minister.

In the process Mulyani has embraced fiscal and bureaucratic reform, both of which have consistently pitted her against powerful politicians and a resistant parliament — a group that is still considered one of the country’s most corrupt.

In a wide-ranging interview with GlobalPost, Mulyani said she is guided by simple principles and believes that she has now become one of the most trusted ministers among the notoriously suspicious parliament, which has enabled her to push through reforms. (The full interview with Mulyani is available to GlobalPost Passport members. For more information about Passport, click here.)

“The economy will never develop as long as the society does not trust the government,” she said. “So this has become quite an obsession for me. I want to be part of a government where the people trust you. It is not easy of course. But this idea has guided my decisions.”

In one of her more famous shake-ups she made herself the subject of ire from the country’s mining executives. Among them was Aburizal Bakrie, one of the country’s wealthiest men and the minister for people’s welfare. He was also a major contributor to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyno’s campaign in 2004.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/indonesia/090625/the-most-influential-person-indonesia