Tue, 14 May 2002

Kiki Syahnakri: A real officer and a gentleman

Lela E. Madjiah, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

In this era of military bashing, few people in the Indonesian Military (TNI) enjoy genuine respect and affection, from fellow officers or civilians. One of those officers who does command respect is the recently retired Army deputy chief of staff Lt. Gen. (ret) Kiki Syahnakri.

His retirement earlier this month brought sadness to many in the Army, who decided that Kiki was among the few whose deeds matched his words; whose struggle to restore the Army's reputation and pride in turn made him the pride of the Army.

He was, for example, among those officers who believed in respect for human rights and among the first to promote the law of war among troops. He issued a directive to guide troops in combat situations to avoid human rights violations while serving as the deputy commander of the Dili Military Command in 1993, when few in the military were aware of the issue.

For this, he earned the admiration of his peers and the respect of his enemy. Even Dili Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo holds him in high regard. Last December, Bishop Belo sent Kiki a card thanking him for helping to push for the return of East Timorese refugees living in East Nusa Tenggara.

Although many people tried to persuade him to lobby the powers that be for an extension of his service, Kiki insisted that he was committed to upholding one of the Army's reform agendas, which is to quit come retirement age.

While the Army may have been denied the leadership of one of its best men, Kiki's refusal to give in to temptation is a shining example at a time when it seems that everybody else will do anything to stay in power. The following is an interview Kiki gave The Jakarta Post a few days after he was "asked" to hand over his post to Army Chief of Staff Gen. Endriartono Sutarto on May 3.

Question: Officially, you went into retirement on May 1. There is no dispute about that. However, the manner in which you handed over your post to the Army chief was rather unusual. I mean, the TNI leadership has yet to find someone to replace you, and the usual practice is to wait until a replacement has been found before you actually leave. Your exit gave the impression that the TNI leadership was treating you like a "disease", a problem they wanted to get rid of as soon as possible...

Answer: Unusual, yes, because, as you said, the usual practice is to wait for a replacement to ensure a smooth transition. On the other hand, there was nothing non-procedural about my handing over my post to the Army chief, for practical reasons. Officially, I'm a retired officer and I can no longer make decisions or sign letters. It's as simple as that.

(Sources, however, told the Post that in such cases it is the prerogative of the Army chief, or any service chief, to extend the service period of an officer until a replacement officer is in place -- Ed.)

Q: In his speech at the handing-over ceremony, the Army chief made a remark about your contributions to reform in the Army, and that some of your ideas have also been adopted by TNI Headquarters...

A: One of my proposals that eventually became Army policy was to improve professionalism among the troops. In fact, I first raised this issue when I was commander of the Udayana Military Command.

Military professionalism is built on two aspects, namely military skills and military character, and of the two the latter is our weak spot. Despite adequate guidelines, such as the human rights law that we adopted in the 1980s, we have yet to reach a level where troops really understand the rules of engagement.

Q: What are the constraints to building a professional Army?

A: It takes a long time, a lot of ammunition and a lot of money to build a professional Army, none of which we have.

We are very aware that in the past we were involved too deeply in politics and as a result politics penetrated the Army, making it a multicolored institution, just like a rainbow. Eventually, politics gnawed at our military skills, causing them to deteriorate from bad to worse.

There was a time when the Army was a highly respected body. Not only were we the best in Southeast Asia, we also commanded the respect of such armies as the British Gurkhas during the confrontation with Malaysia (where Indonesian troops fought the Gurkhas in the jungles of Kalimantan) and the Dutch in Irian Jaya (during the campaign to liberate Irian Jaya from Dutch colonialism).

It was no small wonder that Malaysia, for example, sent members of its special forces to train in Batujajar (the Army's special forces training center in Bandung, West Java). Many other countries, mostly in Southeast Asia, but as far away as Africa, learned from us and trained with us. It is our commitment to recapture the glory we once had.

Q: As deputy chief of the Army, you were tasked with the job of revamping the Army's foundation and business enterprises...

A: It was a process that started in February last year. We hired professionals of international reputation such as Kemal Stambul from PriceWaterhouseCoopers, lawyer Gani Lubis to give us legal advice and Erry Riyana Harjapamekas, the former president of PT Timah, as a management consultant. We also hired Ernst & Young to audit the 39 companies under the Army's foundation. The company audit and evaluation process ended in October, and the results have been published in a white book to be made public soon.

Based on the proposals contained in the white book, the Army has outlined a series of steps to pursue. One of them is to either liquidate, merge or maintain its 39 companies, according to their condition. Another important thing is, based on Law No. 16 on foundations issued last year, the Army's foundation will no longer run the companies. Instead, all of the companies will be operated by a holding company and the foundation will only deal with the holding company.

In the long run, the Army plans to quit business altogether, but only after the state can compensate it for all the funds generated by the companies.