Tycoon helps bridge the prosperity gap

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 December, 2006, 12:00am

When Kuo Tsai-yuan and his wife joined Tzu Chi at the end of 2001, he brought to the charity the corporate muscle, capital and connections of one of Indonesia's best known tycoons. Mr Kuo is a major shareholder of the Artha Graha Group, a property, financial and trade conglomerate.

Born in 1951 in Palembang, Sumatra, Mr Kuo is one of eight children of a man who emigrated from Zhangzhou , Fujian province, and ran a small grocery shop. When then-president Suharto closed all Chinese-language schools in 1966, Mr Kuo was unable to continue his education and moved to Jakarta.

In 1975, he started an import business, and then went into construction.

The Artha Graha Group owns the most famous hotel in Jakarta, the five-star Borobudur and its own bank, and in 1992 began building a central business district in Jakarta, including the stock exchange building. In the Asian financial crisis, Mr Kuo ran up debts of between US$700 million and US$800 million.

In September 2000, Mr Kuo moved into a palatial new home in Jakarta and donated his previous house to Tzu Chi to be used as its bookshop. 'I was moved by Cheng Yen and supported what she was doing in helping the poor and doing international relief. Before, I had never seen a Buddhist hospital and a Buddhist school. I believe in reincarnation; that, if you do good to people, you'll be rewarded. That has been my experience,' he said.

'What happened in 1998 was not a racial problem but a result of the big gap between rich and poor. We need to take action to bridge the gap, to use love to cure hatred and serve society.'

During the Suharto period, which stretched from 1966 to 1998, Chinese companies and individuals donated money for charity projects via the government. 'Suharto only used the interest on the money for charity and no one knew of the donations,' Mr Kuo said.

In the more liberal climate since 1998, people can organise civil societies and have their voices heard in the media. 'We must seize this opportunity. What we're doing has earned the respect of the Indonesian government and the public.'