Robert Pakpahan came to Carolina in the early 1990s from his native Indonesia. His government had sponsored him as a doctoral student with the understanding that he would work hard, learn a great deal, and return to Indonesia to assist in that country’s growth and development. He has certainly delivered on that understanding.
He received his Ph.D. in Economics from Carolina in 1998 after writing a dissertation on the effect of government policy on resource allocation and international trade. He returned to Indonesia at a critical time: the Asian Crisis had lowered national incomes, government tax revenues were very low, and inflation reached 100 percent per annum. He worked in the Ministry of Finance to introduce tax reforms of 1998-2002 in response to that crisis, and remained in the Directorate General of Taxation of that Ministry in various policy and administrative roles. In 2011 he was promoted to Director General of the Ministry of Finance (equivalent to an Undersecretary in the US Treasury) for debt management, and remained there for six years.
In November 2017 he was named Director General of Taxation for the Ministry of Finance, taking leadership of the division to which he had returned in 1998 after graduation.
He is satisfied with the fiscal direction of his country, but recognizes the challenges ahead. As he says, “The Indonesian economy has been growing quite consistently above 5 percent per annum in the last decade. Our challenge now is to improve the revenue stream since the tax ratio is not considered high compared to many countries.”
While he’s back in Indonesia, he hasn’t forgotten his Carolina ties. As he says, “I like to watch Tar Heel basketball games from time to time.” Very impressive, given the 11-hour time difference between Chapel Hill and Jakarta!