Fri, 03 Dec 1999

Emil Salim appointed to chair economic council

JAKARTA (JP): Distinguished Indonesian economist Emil Salim, who was also a long-serving minister under former president Soeharto, has been appointed as chairman of the newly formed National Economic Council.

Emil said on Thursday that the council's members had made the selection.

"The appointment of the chairman of the council was made by its members, while President Wahid only approved it," he said at the Bina Graha presidential office following the council's first meeting.

President Abdurrahman issued on Nov. 30 a presidential decree to form the 13-member National Economic Council. The council will advise the President on economic policies and issues, but will not have a policy-making capacity.

The vice chairman of the council is Subiakto Tjakrawerdaya, a former cooperatives minister under Soeharto. Subiakto has been criticized by most economists as being too closely associated with the era of Soeharto cronyism and nepotism.

Sri Mulyani Indrawati, a prominent economist from the prestigious University of Indonesia, was named as the council's secretary-general.

The other members of the council are: former finance minister Bambang Subianto, former head of the National Development Planning Board (Bappenas) Boediono, former minister of mines and energy Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, economists Mohammad Arsjad Anwar, Anggito Abimanyu and Hadi Susastro, agriculture expert HS Dillon, senior banker Gunarni Soeworo, former president of the Jakarta Stock Exchange Hasan Zein Mahmud, and businessman and former president of PT Astra International T.P. Rahmat

Asked to explain the function and the responsibility of the council, Emil said the President, who is currently on a state visit to China, would clarify the council's purpose on his return to Jakarta.

"Let's just wait for the boss," he said, referring to President Abdurrahman.

The President is scheduled on Saturday to install the council members.

A presidential decree stipulates that the council's brief is to analyze economic problems and provide input for the President, and comment on economic issues facing the public.

The decree also says that all government institutions must provide information requested by the council.

The President announced a plan to form an economic council shortly after he formed his coalition Cabinet team.

There have been concerns that the council will overshadow economic ministers.

Abdurrahman dismissed the concerns by saying that the council would not have any policy-making powers.

The President's initial plan to appoint Subiakto as chairman of the council surprised many people.

Many analysts, including nominated members of the council, protested the plan, citing Subiakto's close relationship with Soeharto and his family.

Although Emil was a long-serving minister under Soeharto, who is well regarded by the public, especially after he became a vocal critic of Soeharto once he was no longer in the Cabinet.

Emil, 70, is a U.S.-trained economist who received a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley. His last post in Soeharto's Cabinet was as minister of environment and population.

Council member Anggito Abimanyu said the council's first job would be to advise the President on the country's next letter of intent (LoI) to the International Monetary Fund.

The government recently completed a draft of the new LoI, which is basically the country's economic strategy, following weeks of marathon talks with an IMF technical team.

The IMF is expected to return to Jakarta on Dec. 7 and resume negotiations with the Indonesian economic ministers to finalize details of the LoI.

Once the LoI is agreed to by the IMF and the President, the fund will disburse another tranche of its loan commitment to the country.

Anggito said that among the various programs to be included in the new LoI were plans to gradually reduce government subsidies. He said the move a concerted bid was necessary to reduce the state budget deficit which is estimated at between 4 percent and 5 percent of the gross domestic product for the current year. (rei)