The Indonesian state oil firm now has its third CEO in two years, as Nicke Widyawati was confirmed as the new CEO and President Director of the company last week. Widyawati – the second female head of Pertamina after Karen Agustiawan – replaces Elia Massa Manik, who himself replaced Dwi Soetjipto in February 2017. In ascending to the top post, Widyawati is an example of female empowerment in Indonesia, but the position itself is a bit of a poisoned chalice. How long will she last?
Widyawati’s predecessor Manik came in with the best of intentions – promoting transparency and promising to overhaul Pertamina’s creaking upstream and downstream operations. He mostly failed, perhaps not through a lack of willpower but political reality, where the government is caught between a quixotic need to promote a nationalistic policy on resources yet in dire need of foreign investment. Worse, the state has no patience, demanding immediate results. An energy industry in terminal decline requires a long time to turnaround, and balancing that with the government’s demands will be Widyawati’s greatest challenge.
What has Pertamina achieved over the past week years? Well, there is some sign of progress – after repeatedly reaching out and rebuffing investors over refining downstream investments aimed to reducing a chronic dependence on fuel imports, some small steps forward seem to be emerging in the Bontang, Cilacap and Tuban projects, partnering with Saudi Aramco, Rosneft, Oman Oil and Cosmo Oil. That isn’t enough to please the government, though, which is dealing with a downward spiral of the Indonesian rupiah that has prompted several dramatic measures – including the immediate adoption of a hard B20 biodiesel mandate to reduce imports of gasoil and boost consumption of domestic palm oil.
In upstream, however, the trajectory is definitely backwards. Indonesia is moving in an alarming direction of resource nationalisation, scuppering plans to make its upstream sector friendlier to foreigners. Since 2015, any PSC involving international companies have been handed back to Pertamina, or at the very least seen Pertamina’s share increased. The government believes that by increasing Pertamina’s share, more crude will be made available for domestic refining. That logic works in the short term, but in the long term is scaring off firms like Total, Chevron and ExxonMobil, who not only contribute valuable capital, but also the technical know-how that Pertamina lacks.
The Rokan and Mahakam blocks have already been handed back to Pertamina and last week, the state announced that all oil contractors must sell their entire crude output to Pertamina, effectively blocking them from exporting any oil. The aim is to support the weakening rupiah and reduce imports, but the longer term damage to the confidence and health of the industry could be affected badly. Nicke Widyawati may be proving that the Indonesian glass ceiling has been smashed through, but expectations are high and demands unrealistic. Don’t be surprised if Pertamina receives another CEO next year.
A recent timeline of Pertamina CEOs:
- September 2014: Karen Agustiawan resigns as CEO
- November 2014: Dwi Soetjipto appointed CEO for the period 2014-2019
- February 2017: Dwi Soetjipto fired as CEO, Elia Massa Manik appointed interim CEO
- Marchj 2017: Elia Massa Manik confirmed as CEO
- April 2018: Elia Massa Manik sacked, Nicke Widyawati appointed interim CEO
- August 2018: Nicke Widyawati confirmed as CEO
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Headline crude prices for the week beginning 10 February 2020 – Brent: US$53/b; WTI: US$49/b
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