Mon, 04 Sep 2000

The President's men and the nation's hope

There is so much controversy surrounding the current Cabinet -- both in its genesis and its prospects -- that The Jakarta Post asked H.S. Dillon, a political economist, his opinion on these issues.

Question: How do you view the genesis of the Cabinet?

Answer: Gus Dur (President Abdurrahman Wahid's nickname) possesses superior intelligence. He could have finessed it, and got what he wanted without ruffling any feathers. Such rash behavior does not bode well for the legacy of a great visionary, a true democrat and a real humanist.

Q: What can you say of Ibu Megawati's reaction, or rather, lack of reaction?

A: I consider Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri' response more statesmanlike. By going along and agreeing to lead a Cabinet not of her own choosing, she has placed national interests above everything else. However, she now faces her moment of truth.

Megawati has to rise to the occasion and demonstrate that she actually possesses all the qualities demanded of a national leader. She needs to convince the public that she intends to discharge her responsibilities as mandated by parliament, and is totally committed to better governance.

I am confident that she'll succeed if she assembles a group of loyal, dedicated technocrats to help her articulate her vision for a more just Indonesia and manages to keep the ambitions of her inner circle in check.

Q: How would you rate the prospects of this Cabinet?

A: I am sanguine. If the ministers could contain their ego, provide due deference to Megawati and not bask in the limelight, then everything should be all right. Otherwise, individual ministers will carve their own inroads to power, and the Cabinet will soon be divided onto itself.

If this were to occur, then Megawati would have to take her case directly to the Indonesian people, who want a better livelihood, are sick of the rapacious conglomerates, detest the self-serving bureaucrats and are tired of the bickering politicians. I am sure that all of the Indonesian people would rally around her.

Q: What do you think of the economic team?

A: I am very much impressed by the ten points outlined by Rizal Ramli. He is according the right priority to increasing rural labor productivity and not merely trying to resuscitate the institutions which were the cornerstones of Soeharto's regime. This is more akin to "growth through equity". I could actually label his paradigm as being people-driven, something I have been espousing for quite some time now.

It's unfortunate that the membership of the team leaves much to be desired, but Rizal is providing an early demonstration of the requisite economic leadership.

Q: What advice would you render them?

A: Avoid theatrics; get down to substance at the soonest. Sit down and review the Letter of Intent (LoI) with the IMF like gentlemen. Despite all their policy errors, thank the IMF because for a long time the LoI was the only coherent policy framework. Transform the bureaucracy to make sure that the whole government is ready to assume ownership of the necessary reforms.

Running a government is very different from managing a think- tank, or directing a profit-seeking entity. I would encourage them to formulate a comprehensive revival strategy, fully incorporating any new LoI within it.

Q: What do you think of the Cabinet's association with the much- detested conglomerates?

A: Let me reiterate that I am sanguine, and am more than ready to brush aside comparisons with Soeharto's last cabinet. It is important to realize, however, that these are not just the President's men (and women), but expediency and a confluence of interests have shaped the current Cabinet.

However, Rizal is still young and I am sure that he would not want to jeopardize his promising career by being perceived as a conglomerate lackey. Whatever his previous relationships may have been like, now he has to convince the Indonesian people that he is pursuing national interests. Otherwise, the same Indonesian people will see to it that this be his first and final stint in public office.