Sun, 23 Jan 2000

So, what else is new?

JAKARTA (JP): Gus Dur and my wife share the same priority in facing the new year. The priority is, shaping up their respective Cabinet! My wife with her kitchen cabinet, and Gus Dur, as President Abdurrahman Wahid is popularly known, with his government Cabinet.

In our home, it has been mutually agreed since day one that the mother of my children has full authority over the kitchen cabinet. Nobody is to put anything in it without her approval. "And just what is this disgusting thing doing in my cabinet?" she would rattle every time she finds an unidentified object in her area of authority, the way Gus Dur would complain about a minister he didn't want in his Cabinet (but had to accept anyway).

Unfortunately, the rest of the family does not have a good sense of privacy. My youngest son, for instance, is very fond of throwing non-kitchen-related things into the cabinet, the way political parties squeeze names into Gus Dur's administration.

By the end of 1999, my wife vowed to get rid of unnecessary things in her cabinet, so that it would look good. "Please remove your personal belonging from my cabinet before I dump them into the garbage bin," she announced sternly.

Her announcement was similar to Gus Dur's appeal, hinting that if any of his ministers are involved in corruption, collusion and nepotism (KKN), he/she should resign before being fired. One of his ministers did resign, but denied that his resignation had anything to do with KKN allegations. The other ministers rumored to have conducted racketeering are staying put, insisting they have done "nothing illegal".

From the beginning, the Cabinet has been criticized bitterly. Some ministers are said to have been installed for the purpose of compromise, regardless of their qualifications. And Gus Dur admitted that originally he wanted a slim Cabinet with much less ministers, which means much less Volvos, much less housing and much less money the taxpayers would have to pay. But he had to accommodate suggestions (or pressure?) from certain political leaders to hire certain candidates.

What happened to professionalism?

That was the biggest question I (and many others) had in mind. upon seeing the "colorful" list of people assigned as ministers. Some of them do not have any idea of what they should do. "This job is new to me," that was the general comment of the newly appointed ministers (some pretended they hadn't expected the job). "I'll have to learn before I can do it."

Now, after 100 days, it turns out that very little has been done by the government. Some ministers have not even opened their mouths about their programs in solving this country's problems. Apparently, they are still learning.

How long are we, the people of this riot-torn country, expected to wait until something is done to restore the economy and stability? (I wonder if Adam Schwarz will come up with a new book titled A Nation In Waiting Eternally).

A friend of mine said, "It looks like we are getting back to normal."

What he meant by "normal" was the old-style government in which small people are taken for granted; the interests of friends and cronies are put on top priority; law enforcement is only done on paper; and the people at top levels enjoy all the government privileges while looking at the misery of small people from the tinted windows of their luxury cars.

Restoring the economy to empower small people? Sure they will. But, first things first, they need to "empower" themselves. And they do this by coming up with a proposal to sharply increase the salary of the top government officials. That seems to be the first priority amid the everlasting economic crisis. What an insensitive gesture! And, listen to their excuse: The salary of government officials and other top people must be raised so that they will not be tempted to conduct KKN!

Who are they kidding?

Any idiot knows that KKN does not exist merely due to lack of income. It is a matter of moral disorder. One who earns 100 times his or her normal spending would still be tempted to rake in more money through any possible way.

One of the ministers reasoned that the salary increase was due to an improper salary scale. "My salary is only Rp 10 million, and that is less than the salary of a director in a BUMN (state- owned company) under my ministry. That's not fair. He is my subordinate, isn't he?" he complained, forgetting that the value of the fringe benefits he enjoys is a lot more than the salary of the said subordinate. Not to mention dana taktis (extra fund on top of the budget) that he can tango with.

Next, how about law enforcement?

Hope was previously rested on the shoulder of the brand new attorney general who used to be a decent, courageous person. In the beginning, it looked like everything would be different from the way it used to be. The attorney general made strong and stern statements, vowing to investigate anybody accused of a crime. But now the institution under his control has gone back to "normal". Of course, some cases of fraud have been probed, suspects have been questioned, and, finito! The attorney general has not gone anywhere with his vows. (How about another chicken, sir?). Those alleged perpetrators of fraud are still at large and the old cases remain untouched.

After a series of protests and criticism, Gus Dur, who will soon be en route to Europe, denied the rumors about the massive pay hike, a coup d'etat, and a Cabinet reshuffle. And the press, again, is blamed for incorrect reports. On the ministers said to have conducted KKN, "They will be sacked if they are proven, in court, to be guilty," was his only explanation. So, what else is new?

This nation may still have to wait until God knows when. Meanwhile, bon voyage, Mr. President.

-- Carl Chairul