Fri, 18 Aug 2000

Gus Dur vows to restructure govt

JAKARTA (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid pledged on Wednesday to restructure his administration to ensure it would be more able to effectively develop policies for the betterment of the people.

The President said in his state of the nation address he had designed a governmental restructuring policy aimed at sharpening the focus and priority of national policies.

In a clear follow-up to his pledge to the People's Consultative Assembly last week to form a more efficient and professional Cabinet, Abdurrahman said the restructuring was a precise step to simplify decision-making and policy- determination.

"The very essence of this restructuring is administrative efficiency and professionalism in the formulation of various policies," said the President, who is expected to announce the lineup of a revamped Cabinet next week.

"The process of this restructuring and trimming down will be meticulously carried out with a view to prevent the emergence of new and unnecessary problems," he promised.

As has now become common practice, Abdurrahman did not address the nation himself.

Vice President Megawati read the text before a plenary session of the House of Representatives.

Megawati's reading of the speech took some by surprise as in the past month she has twice, according to vice presidential aides, refused to read key speeches on behalf of the President.

At the time, her aides said she did not agree with the contents of the speech drafted by the President's assistants.

Putting Megawati in the spotlight may have also been a way for Abdurrahman to reaffirm his commitment made to the Assembly last week to task the vice president with the handling of the day-to- day affairs of the government.

The annual state of the nation address came toward the Annual Session of an assembly that has strongly criticized the President for the ineptitude of his government.

In an unusual step, in his opening remarks, Abdurrahman revealed that this year's speech was the result of Megawati's penmanship.

"The Vice President has the right to say whatever she wants to say ... She was absolutely free to prepare the text of the speech, even though the responsibility remains in the hands of the President," Abdurrahman said.

After reading the speech, Megawati, in an apparent attempt to underline that it was still the President's speech, emphasized with a big smile her closing line: "President of the Republic of Indonesia, Abdurrahman Wahid".


Unlike previous state of the nation addresses, particularly those in the Soeharto era, which were mostly a showcase to boast of the government's achievements, the address this year contained a list of promises and confessions of failure.

Apart from pledging a better working administration, the speech also expressed a commitment to accelerate programs to end the suffering of the people, restore peace and order and to create a better Indonesia for all of its citizens.

There was regret that the government had be unable to provide better living conditions and security, along with the recognition that the burden of stopping the continued process of national disintegration lay with the President.

But the President asserted that the country's leaders should share the burden, as a single man could not settle all the problems without their close cooperation.

"It is therefore my hope that those government leaders comprehend the very aspirations of society and watch any changes taking place within the environment," read the address.

On economy, the President pledged to prioritize a balance between growth and justice, efficiency and empowerment, along with the quality of life.

Many segments of society have been left untouched by the fruits of development, while even more are suffering from the crisis as the previous government's policies focused more on economic growth, he said.

Citing the nation's founding fathers' vision, Abdurrahman reiterated his pledge to create a democratic Indonesia and one that did not belong to a single group of people, not even the majority ethnic, religious or social one.

"The founding fathers of this republic agreed to lay down a foundation for an Indonesian nationalistic bond based on a common destinies and ideals," he noted.

The President, however, warned that certain groups might use democracy as a pretext to spread violence and hatred and to revive separatism.

"It is indeed saddening to learn that after more than fifty years of independence, we have not yet successfully managed relations between various groups, ethnic and racial groups and religious followers," he said.

" Religions, racial or group differences used to be seen by us as inherent to our pluralistic society," he noted.

On continuing conflicts in Maluku, the President commented: "They are obviously a product of those dirty hands which maliciously manipulate a society's ignorance of its own cultural values".

The speech did not touch on separatism in Aceh or Irian Jaya.

Turning his attention to the salvo of criticism he has been receiving from the House and the Assembly, Abdurrahman praised it as means of state control.

"The powers of the president have to be limited, as our Constitution has given too much power to the president," he said to boisterous applause from the 500-member House.

During his introductory remarks, Abdurrahman showed the intense political debates of the past few weeks have not dulled his witty nature.

The House Speaker Akbar Tandjung, a Batak, chuckled aloud when Abdurrahman told a joke about a Muslim Betawi (native Jakartan) man and a Christian Batak bus conductor.

Seeing that the conductor was dying after falling from a bus, the Muslim asked him to pray before his death in the Islamic way.

"Say it bang," the Muslim said, trying to persuade the dying conductor to recite a verse from the Koran.

"As he was not a Muslim, he thought the Betawi man wanted him to mention his bus route. So he whispered with his last breath 'Grogol, Grogol'," the President said, referring to a bus station in West Jakarta.

But not everyone was amused.

When Akbar joined in with the comedy taking place at the podium, legislator Tb. Soenmandjadja of the Reform Faction interrupted proceedings to express his displeasure.

"I know we are a humorous nation, but this is not the right place and moment to do it," a furious Soenmandjadja said to the frowns of his colleagues. (prb/rms/jun)