Mon, 21 Aug 2000

Five names emerge for chief economic minister

By Reiner S

JAKARTA (JP): The main focus of attention in the impending Cabinet reshuffle has been who will take the position of coordinating minister for the economy, finance and industry.

So far, there are five names emerging as the popular candidates. They include Indonesian Ambassador to the United States Dorodjatun Kuntjoro-Jakti, chief of State Logistics Agency (Bulog) Rizal Ramli, Minister of Mines and Energy Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, former economic minister Emil Salim and Kwik Kian Gie, the current chief economic minister.

A source, however, said the list had been narrowed down to between Dorodjatun and Kwik, who still has a good chance to resume his current post although he recently tendered his resignation to allow the President to freely reshuffle his Cabinet.

Abdurrahman is expected to announce the new Cabinet some time this week. Appointing the right person to become the chief economics minister is seen as crucial, both for the future political life of the President and the country's prospects for economic recovery.

Many have said President Abdurrahman Wahid's first choice was Dorodjatun, who is also a respected economist. But Dorodjatun has been reportedly demanding certain "conditions" which might be difficult for the President to fill.

Although many support the appointment of Dorodjatun because of his strong economic expertise, critics have said his main weakness was a lack of experience as an administrator.

Senior economist and former Cabinet member M. Sadli said the position of the top economic minister must be filled by a person who has a good relationship with all parties involved in the Indonesian economy, including investors, creditors and businesses.

"Dorodjatun has that criteria," Sadli said. "His Phd in political economics is also an advantage," he added.

Both Sadli and Dorodjatun are alumni of the University of Indonesia.

University of Gadjah Mada economist A. Tony Prasetiantono also supports Dorodjatun.

"The chief economic minister must have a strong macroeconomic knowledge and good relations with the international community," he said.

He added that the coordinating minister must also be able to assure the President of which economic policies must be taken. He said this was essential because of the President's weakness in understanding economics.

"Dorodjatun should fill the chief economic position and Rizal Ramli as finance minister (replacing Bambang Sudibyo)," Tony said.

"Kwik would be more suitable as the state minister for investments and state enterprises development because of his strong microeconomic knowledge," he added.

He said Susilo would not be suitable for the top economic post because he was not an economist.

Susilo, a retired army general, has also been rumored to become the coordinating minister for defense and people's welfare.

But support for Kwik has also been strong, particularly because of his close ties with Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri and his strong integrity.

Kwik is also a senior executive in Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), the largest political party in the legislature.

Abdurrahman has agreed to allow Megawati to be in charge of the day-to-day running of the government. The President has also said Megawati would be assisted by two coordinating ministers.

Umar Juoro, an economist at the Center for Information and Development Studies (CIDES), said Kwik would be more appropriate to handle the top economic minister post because he came from a large political party, PDI Perjuangan.

He said a strong backing from a large political party would be crucial for the coordinating minister facing the huge and complicated task of restructuring and recovering the economy.

Umar said the main weakness of Dorodjatun was he had no link to a strong political party.

"I think Kwik is suitable for the coordinating minister position and Rizal Ramli as the finance minister because the latter is close to Gus Dur," Umar said.

Kwik's critics, however, said Kwik had failed to live up to expectations during the past 10 months in office. They also said that Kwik had been too hard in dealing with the country's business conglomerates, who still play a vital role in the economy.

Kwik recently threatened to revise the debt repayment deal signed by the previous administration with the indebted conglomerates, saying it would only create losses to the state.

Meanwhile, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Pande Radja Silalahi said the coordinating minister should be held by a senior economist to be able to make effective coordination with other economic ministers.

He said the post should be given to Emil Salim, a senior economist and former Cabinet member during the rule of former authoritarian president Soeharto.