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Bulletin of Indonesian Economic Studies

ISSN: 0007-4918 (Print) 1472-7234 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cbie20

Robert Charles Rice (1939–2009)

Thee Kian Wie

To cite this article: Thee Kian Wie (2009) Robert Charles Rice (1939–2009), Bulletin of Indonesian Economic Studies, 45:2, 251-254

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00074910903040344

Published online: 24 Jul 2009.

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ISSN 0007-4918 print/ISSN 1472-7234 online/09/020251-4 © 2009 Indonesia Project ANU DOI: 10.1080/00074910903040344

In Memoriam


Thee Kian Wie*

Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), Jakarta

This note commemorates the achievements and life of economist and past BIES

International Advisory Board member Robert C. Rice, who passed away in February 2009 after a life devoted to teaching, research and policy work on economic development in Indonesia.

Robert Rice (Bob to his many friends), Honorary Associate in the Department of Economics at Melbourne’s Monash University and for many years a member of the International Advisory Board of the Bulletin of Indonesian Economic Studies

(BIES), passed away peacefully on 24 February 2009 while travelling home by bus after attending a seminar at Monash by an Indonesian scholar.

Bob was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on 17 November 1939, and had a happy childhood. In a letter to Bob’s three children after his death, his brother Phil remi-nisced about the summer vacations in which Bob, his parents and his two broth-ers took car trips together to various parts of America.

After fi nishing senior high school, Bob studied economics at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, graduating in 1961. He subsequently went to Cornell Uni-versity in Ithaca, New York, where he obtained an MA and a PhD in economics in 1969 and 1972 respectively. The title of his PhD dissertation was ‘Factors Affecting the Underutilisation of Capacity of Selected Private Indonesian Manufacturing Industries’.

From 1971 to 1974 Bob taught economics at the University of Hawaii. He then moved to Australia, where from 1975 he taught in the Department of Econom-ics at Monash University’s Clayton campus, fi rst as lecturer, then as senior lec-turer, and fi nally as associate professor. He retired in December 2006, and was appointed Honorary Associate in the department. The courses Bob taught at Monash included principles of economics; economic development and economic growth; economic development of East Asia; and international economics and development. In the late 1980s he was instrumental with other colleagues in set-ting up the Institute for Contemporary Asian Studies, reconstituted in 1992 as the Monash Asia Institute.

* I am grateful to James Mahmud Rice, Paul Rogers and Han Koen Lee for valuable

information about Bob’s academic achievements and life, and to Chris Manning and Hal Hill for helpful suggestions on an earlier draft of this obituary. Naturally, I alone am responsible for any errors and shortcomings.


252 Thee Kian Wie

Bob fi rst came to Indonesia in June 1963 as a Ford Foundation Training Associ-ate at Nommensen University in Medan, North Sumatra, where he stayed until August 1964. He then began his dissertation research, conducting surveys of the soap, rubber goods, glass and weaving industries in North Sumatra until Sep-tember 1965. During this period Bob met and fell in love with Eti, a daughter of Minangkabau parents living in Medan, and married her, in the process converting to Islam. They were happily married and had three sons, Fred, James and Umar. Sadly, Eti passed away a few years ago after a long illness. Bob later married Paula Slamet from Melbourne.

Before returning to the US to write his dissertation, he worked for a year as a salesman in Hong Kong, the Philippines and Taiwan, and then returned to Indo-nesia to manage the Jakarta offi ce of Connell Bros, an American import–export

fi rm, from November 1966 to August 1968. With his under-stated, gentle humour Bob used to tell a hilarious story about this time: a car in which he and Eti were travelling was pursued through Jakarta’s crowded roads by another car contain-ing Eti’s angry brother and his friends, her brother unable to reconcile himself to the fact that his sister had married a foreigner, even though Bob had converted to Islam. Over time the relationship between Bob and his brother-in-law improved considerably, as the latter saw how kind and decent a man Bob was, a devoted husband to his sister, and a devout Moslem to boot.

Bob was not merely interested in studying the Indonesian economy but loved Indonesia as his second home. In critical debates about Indonesia, he more often than not defended Indonesia’s position staunchly. When discussing problems of economic development, and particularly those of Indonesia, his arguments refl ected his good grasp of development economics and his considerable knowledge and deep understanding of the many development challenges Indonesia faced.

Bob’s strong commitment to Indonesia’s development led him to take several periods of leave from Monash University to undertake consultancies in Indonesia. In the 1980s and 1990s he worked for the Jakarta offi ce of the International Labour Organization on studies of labour-intensive export promotion, employment poten-tial in agro-processing, and the informal sector. In 1990 he undertook research on the investment climate for the Development Studies II Project of Development Alternatives Inc. And in 1991 he was contracted by Coffey MPW Pty Ltd to work on the search for a dryland development project suitable for Sumba in East Nusa Tenggara, and to contribute to a report for the Australian government about the opportunities for Australia resulting from future efforts by developing countries to reduce greenhouse emissions.

Bob was deeply interested in Indonesia’s regional development, and accepted a position as Chief of Mission for Planning and Development Collaborative Inter-national’s Northern Sumatra Regional Planning Study Project in Medan from July 1978 to February 1981. This project covered the four provinces of northern Sumatra, with much of the work being carried out in Aceh and Riau. Its pur-pose was to assist the provincial government of Riau in preparing a medium-term strategic development framework, developing an information system, prepar-ing guidelines for annual and intermediate range plannprepar-ing and budgetprepar-ing, and implementing these guidelines.

His sympathy for the marginalised and less privileged groups in Indonesian society accounted for his strong interest in Indonesia’s large informal sector and


in the challenges faced by micro, small and medium enterprises in Indonesia. In 1999 he accepted a position as Small and Medium Enterprise Advisor to the joint Partnership for Economic Growth Project established by USAID and the Indo-nesian Department of Cooperatives, Small and Medium Enterprises, to study the factors affecting the competitiveness of small- and medium-scale industries and offer recommendations for increasing their competitiveness.

Bob’s concern about the devastating effects of the tsunami in Aceh led him to take up a position from July 2005 to June 2006 as Economic Rehabilitation Advisor to the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency (Badan Rehabilitasi dan Rekon-struksi, BRR) of Aceh and Nias in Banda Aceh, on secondment from Monash Uni-versity. In this position, Bob advised on strategies and policies for rehabilitation, reconstruction and development in Aceh and Nias and on the preparation and implementation of budgets; he also helped coordinate and evaluate donor pro-grams and projects. During his assignment in Aceh, Bob wrote an astounding number of policy papers and memos.

Among his academic publications just a few will be mentioned, which refl ect his wide interests in the problems of economic development, particularly in the Indonesian context. Three of Bob’s articles were published in BIES. He co-authored the ‘Survey of recent developments’ in two issues of the journal, the fi rst in July 1976 with David Lim, and the second in July 1977 with Hal Hill. In August 1983

BIES published his paper on ‘The origins of basic economic ideas in New Order Indonesia’; this provides a good insight into the ideological thinking of the New Order’s policy makers and its infl uence on their economic policies. Another paper, ‘The interfi rm externalities of foreign investment in manufacturing in Indonesia‘, was published in June 1974 in Indonesia’s economic journal, Ekonomi dan Keuangan Indonesia: Economics and Finance in Indonesia. Other papers of note include ‘The Indonesian urban informal sector: characteristics and growth from 1980–1990’, pub-lished in the University of Indonesia’s Journal of Population in June 1997. Bob also contributed chapters to several edited collections, including a 1989 book edited by Hal Hill, Unity in Diversity: Regional Economic Development in Indonesia since 1970; a 1991 volume edited by Joan Hardjono, entitled Indonesia: Resources, Ecology and Environment; a 1998 book entitled Indonesia’s Technological Challenge, edited by Hal Hill and Thee Kian Wie; and a 1994 collection edited by Thomas Leinbach, entitled

The Indonesian Rural Economy: Mobility, Work and Enterprise. In 1990 he published an edited collection entitled Indonesian Economic Development: Approaches, Technol-ogy, Small-Scale Textiles, Urban Infrastructure and NGOs. This sample of Bob’s pub-lications refl ects his wide-ranging intellectual interests.

Bob was a big man with an even bigger heart. He was a kind, gentle, mod-est, thoughtful and generous man, but certainly not soft, as he stood his ground,

fi rmly but always courteously, where his convictions were concerned. Bob was also an easily accessible man, to his many colleagues and friends, and particularly to his students whenever they sought his advice on their study. For this reason he was a very popular academic supervisor, always offering constructive comments and suggestions on the draft theses of his many graduate students. Having lived in and visited Indonesia many times, he was always ready to help Indonesian students adjust to life and study in Australia. In this, he was truly a natural bridge between Australia and Asia in general, and between Australia and Indonesia in particular.


254 Thee Kian Wie


‘The interfi rm externalities of foreign investment in manufacturing in Indonesia’, Ekonomi dan Keuangan Indonesia – Economics and Finance in Indonesia XXII (2): 127–63.


‘Survey of recent developments’, BIES 12 (2): 1–29 (with David Lim). 1977

‘Survey of recent developments’, BIES 13 (2): 1–28 (with Hal Hill). 1983

‘The origins of basic economic ideas in New Order Indonesia’, BIES 19 (2): 60–82. 1989

‘Riau and Jambi: rapid growth in dualistic, natural resource-intensive economies’, in Unity in Diversity: Regional Economic Development in Indonesia since 1970, ed. Hal Hill, Oxford University Press, Singapore: 124–150.


Indonesian Economic Development: Approaches, Technology, Small-Scale Textiles, Urban Infra-structure and NGOs, ed. Robert C. Rice, Centre of Southeast Asian Studies, Monash Uni-versity, Melbourne, 105 pp.


‘Environmental degradation, pollution and the exploitation of Indonesia’s fi shery resources’, in Indonesia: Resources, Ecology and Environment, ed. Joan Hardjono, Oxford University Press, Singapore: 154–77.


‘The Indonesian urban informal sector: characteristics and growth from 1980 to 1990’, Jour-nal of Population 3 (1): 37–65.


‘The Habibie approach to science, technology and national development’, in Indonesia’s Technological Challenge, eds Hal Hill and Thee Kian Wie, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, and Research School of Pacifi c and Asian Studies, Australian National University, Canberra: 185–98.


‘(Case Study 1) Globalization and the Indonesian economy: unrealized potential’, in Glo-balization in the Asian Region: Impacts and Consequences, eds G. Davies and C. Nyland, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham: 80–91 (with Idris F. Sulaiman).

‘The contribution of household and small manufacturing establishments to the rural econ-omy’, in The Indonesian Rural Economy: Mobility, Work and Enterprise, ed. Thomas R. Leinbach, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, and University of Washing-ton Press, Seattle WA: 61–100.


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