Reflections

To mark OPEC’s 50th anniversary, the Secretariat will be running a series of reflective interviews with some of the personalities that have made significant contributions to the Organization. The first of these is with Indonesia’s Professor Subroto, who served the Organization as Secretary General from 1988-1994. Subroto offers up his thoughts on his time at the Secretariat, from both an internal and external perspective, and recalls some of the major events that marked his term in office.

On the most important development during the six years he headed up the OPEC Secretariat …

“I believe that the most important development was the establishment of cooperation between OPEC and the International Energy Agency (IEA). For many years prior to 1988 and during the early part of my time at the Secretariat, the relationship between the two organizations was one of cat and mouse … Gradually, however, the relationship developed and I believe it was in Paris in 1991 that we sat next to each other for the first time at an event. There was a coming together and an understanding that in many respects our interests, particularly in regards to market stability, were similar … The slogan I remember from that time was ‘from confrontation to cooperation’. And there is clearly a more cooperative environment today.”

On the period following the 1986 price collapse and the formation of ‘The Three Wise Men’ …

“As I remember, ‘The Three Wise Men’ were Rilwanu Lukman from Nigeria, Arturo Hernandez Grisanti from Venezuela, and I, obviously from Indonesia. There were a number of questions that we were confronted with at that time, but the key one was, how do we go about stabilizing prices and avoid the crazy fluctuations? We decided that it was important to better understand the market players – both producers and consumers. From a producer perspective, outside of OPEC, there were countries like Russia, Mexico, Norway, the Sultanate of Oman and Angola, which we believed could play a constructive role in bringing stability to the market. This meant travelling to these countries and talking to the ministers to reiterate OPEC’s aim of stabilizing prices, for the benefit of both producers and consumers. It was a type of global dialogue … And the most important thing was that we had frequent visits to non-OPEC producers, which improved relationships.”

On how he would like to be remembered …

“At the time I took up my post at the OPEC Secretariat there was a lot of animosity from consumers, particularly a number of developed western countries, who thought that the Organization was bad; a kind of secret organization that could not be trusted. Despite this, I felt we needed to continue to talk with them and discuss important matters with them. We needed to keep the channels of communication open. And I remember that a major US newspaper said that I provided a face for OPEC and most satisfyingly for me was the comment that it was a gentle and kindly face. So I would like to be remembered as the smiling Secretary General who worked hard to improve the Organization and its image.”

On his passion for leisure pursuits during his time in Vienna …

“At this time I remember that I felt in the peak of health. And I particularly enjoyed sports. There was tennis. I think wherever I went I had a tennis racket with me! And I also skied quite a bit. As you probably know, the ski fields are only about one hour from Vienna. That was great. I had skied before in my early twenties, in Norway, at the back end of the 1940s. In fact, this was the first time I saw snow! In Austria, however, I had more time to enjoy the pursuit. I also loved the Opera in Vienna, and this is something I still very much enjoy in Jakarta.”

On whether OPEC’s original vision that centres on each Member Country having a greater say over their resources has been realized …

“Yes, very much so. OPEC was set up to counter the dominance of the ‘Seven Sisters’, and because these countries wanted to receive the benefits of their own natural resources. And today, this is happening. For example, one only needs to look at the many strong national oil companies today. For a developing country organization to have such an impact – it is a good thing. And it is still going strong.”

On how he feels the Organization is viewed on the world stage today …

“Today, you do not hear many people taking part in what I might term ‘OPEC bashing’. This is because OPEC’s position and goals are better explained to the world. I think there is a better appreciation of what OPEC is doing. This also comes through in the realization that the IEF is a positive initiative that has been pushed along by OPEC. What OPEC as an Organization is aiming for is market stability – and that benefits all parties … Here, I think I should also mention the media and OPEC’s better relations with the press. It is evident that the western press has become less hostile and I think that is because OPEC has opened up more and talked about the decisions it makes. Yes, there are some who when asked about OPEC will recall the 1970s and queues at the pumps, but I think in general, OPEC is becoming better understood.”

And a few final words on OPEC’s 50th Anniversary …

“I think that if you look at the past 50 years and say that OPEC has played an important oil market role, one could deem it an understatement. I feel OPEC has become a well-respected Organization; it has contributed to bringing prosperity to the world; it is an Organization of which the developing world can be proud; and over time it has become an open Organization that talks frankly and openly with the world at large. These are great achievements … And going forward, OPEC should stick to its Statute and remain a responsible organization that provides consumers with regular supplies, a steady income to producers and fair returns for investors.”


A full version of this interview can be found in the March 2010 edition of the OPEC Bulletin.

Dr Subroto

Dr. Subroto, Former OPEC SG

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