Thu, 06 Jan 2000

Gus Dur names close friends as top aides amid complaints

JAKARTA (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid installed on Wednesday two veteran government critics, who are also close associates of his, as top aides, amid mounting criticism of the effectiveness of his government.

Abdurrahman installed Marsilam Simajuntak as Cabinet secretary and Bondan Gunawan as secretary of government supervision in a brief ceremony at the State Palace.

The President explained that as the head of state he would be assisted by State Secretary Ali Rahman, while as head of government Marsilam and Bondan would aid him.

"The President in the context of his daily activities, both at his office and residence, is assisted by the Cabinet secretary whose duty it is to assist the head of state. While to regulate the management of the government, I appoint a secretary of government supervision," Abdurrahman explained.

The President's official office is the Bina Graha presidential office, while he resides at Merdeka Palace.

Both Marsilam and Bondan are members of Forum Demokrasi, a loose association of social-political observers established in 1991. The forum was once chaired by Abdurrahman.

With their appointment, the President now has five official personal secretaries and assistants.

In addition to Ali, Bondan and Marsilam, there is also a military secretary, Rear Marshal Budhy Santoso, and Ratih Kaniawan Hardjono, who is the presidential secretary.

Ali Rahman reportedly plans to quit the Cabinet as he is not satisfied with his job description, which often overlaps with Ratih's. The President had said Ali's main job is to keep state archives.

According to Presidential Decree No. 141, issued in November, the presidential secretary is responsible for preparing state functions led by or attended by the President and Vice President, domestic and overseas tours by the President and/or his wife.

Ratih is in charge of press affairs, administrative matters, including incoming and outgoing letters for and from the President, the handling of about 500 civil servants working for the presidential household and the maintenance of the presidential palaces.

Former president Soeharto abolished the Cabinet secretary position in March 1998, but retained the position of vice Cabinet secretary for Bambang Kesowo.

Soeharto's successor B.J. Habibie then replaced Bambang with Erman Rajagukguk. Abdurrahman reportedly has decided to discharge Erman. Bambang currently serves as the Vice President's secretary.

"I will return to the University of Indonesia," said Erman, a professor of law.

Marsilam was born in Yogykarta in 1943, and graduated from the School of Medicine at the University of Indonesia. He finished his studies at the Faculty of Law at the same university in 1989.

It is still not clear whether Bondan will take over the position of secretary of development operations supervision from Lt. Gen. (ret) Sintong Panjaitan. Sintong is no longer at his post and his office has been taken over by Ratih.

Speaking to journalists after his inauguration, Bondan said his main job was to prepare all the necessities and information needed by the President before making a decision and to monitor the implementation of government policies.

Separately, People's Consultative Assembly Speaker Amien Rais questioned the President's decision to establish these new posts.

He also queried the President's appointment of people who had no clear political track record.

"These persons have suddenly entered the center of power and have strategic positions without having made any clear contributions to national life," he said.

He said an unhealthy atmosphere could develop at the State Palace as certain groups now had direct access to the president's ear and could redirect policy.

He asked Abdurrahman to consult with the House of Representatives prior to setting up a new body. "I think the House would react to the installment (of Marsilam)," he said. (jun/prb)