Australia Awards in Indonesia

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A picture of David Mondru Sihotang, an Australia Awards Split-Site Masters Program alumnus.

20 Feb 2023

David Mondru Sihotang: Serving the Country with Taxation Knowledge

David Mondru Sihotang believes his successful career as a senior tax analyst at Indonesia’s Ministry of Finance is in God’s plan for him, and his graduation from a unique Masters degree program that allowed him to study in both Jakarta and Canberra is no different.

His journey in the financial sector for 17 years began when he decided to study at the Indonesian State College of Accountancy (STAN) or go to medical school.

“When I was in high school, I took a specialisation subject in natural science because I wanted to go to technical school or medical school,” David said.

“There would be problems if I picked medical school. The tuition fee, books, and other associated expenses were too much. At STAN, the education cost was funded by the government. On top of that, my parents gave me their blessing to pursue higher education at STAN.”

Although he experienced culture shock at the beginning, it turned out that accountancy was not as difficult as it might seem. “I still learned about calculations, just like mathematics. And throughout my journey in accountancy, I realised that mathematics is fundamental for any discipline of knowledge,” David said.

David spent a year finishing his diploma. Upon completion of his study, he served in the Ministry of Finance of the Republic of Indonesia, specifically the Directorate General of Taxes. A few years later, he took a study assignment scholarship (Beasiswa Tugas Belajar) from his institution to join a three-year diploma program (DIII).

“My biggest challenge and fear when I started serving at the Ministry of Finance was placement in remote areas. Praise the Lord, I was placed in Jakarta,” he said.

“I did not want my academic experience to cease at a year diploma program (DI). I believed that I would have easy access to education if I were in a big city.”

Studying while working, David earned a Bachelor of Economics with a specification in Accountancy from the University of Indonesia. His research in the undergraduate program focused on tax policy, specifically in the potential of Value Added Tax revenue in Indonesia.

Join the Split-Site Masters Program

After more than five years of working in the Ministry of Finance, David got the chance to apply for the Split-Site Masters Program from Australia Awards in Indonesia. After the very strict selection process, David and 20 others were selected.

The Split-Site Masters Program (SSMP) involves 12 months of study at an Indonesian university, followed by 12 months at an Australian university, leading to awarding two master’s degrees in one related field of study. It addresses the specific development objectives of participating Indonesian organisations and adds value to them by enhancing their professional workforce's skills.

Again, David faced another pivotal moment in his career. Only two campuses collaborated with the Faculty of Economics at the University of Indonesia: the University of Adelaide and the Australian National University (ANU). After looking into both, he was more attracted to ANU, in Australia’s capital city, Canberra.

“Even though it was not easy to enter ANU and graduate from this university, after doing some research, I found that ANU has a great economics program, and it was suitable for me. I knew it would be a huge challenge, but now I could get through it,” David said.

This time, God's plan was exactly what he had hoped for - David was sent to ANU. During his studies, he benefited from networking and improving his time management skills. He said all of the students at ANU were responsible for their own choices. They could either attend classes or just submit their assignments and do the final exam. “Of course, they would gain a different mark based on their contribution during classes … it comes back to the individual,” David said.

Another thing he saw improve were his soft skills. While in Australia, he was appointed as the chairman of the representative body for students participating in the Split-Site Masters Programs. As a representative, he actively communicated with lecturers as well as Australia Awards.

Unexpectedly, at the end of the semester, he and his friends who took part in the Split-Site Masters Program had the opportunity to meet with Australia’s Minister of Finance. “We were accompanied by a professor from ANU discussing Australia's black economy monitoring, thanks to Australia Awards,” David said, referring to the economy that operates outside of the tax system.

After graduating in 2019, David returned to Indonesia to serve in the directorate, strengthening the tax reform team with his comprehensive knowledge. In 2020, David joined the Renewal of Tax Administration Core System (PSIAP) program.

PSIAP is a program for redesigning and reengineering tax administration business processes through information systems, accompanied by improvements to the tax database. It aims to make the taxation system easier, more reliable, and integrated. This is useful for improving services, supervision, and law enforcement related to taxation.

“If I could go back in time and meet myself, I would say God's plans are never wrong,” David reflected. “Just live it, do it, and enjoy it. What we imagine is impossible can be lived, even giving good results. And never forget the blessing of your parents and hard work.”

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