Tue, 22 Aug 2000

VP to lead Cabinet, Yusril says

JAKARTA (JP): Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri will lead the Cabinet under a new duty-sharing arrangement with President Abdurrahman Wahid, a senior Cabinet official said on Monday.

Minister of Law and Legislation Yusril Ihza Mahendra told reporters that both the President and Vice President have endorsed the draft concept of a presidential decree detailing their respective state duties.

State Minister of Regional Autonomy Ryaas Rasyid meanwhile said the President would reintroduce the position of junior minister in his new Cabinet.

Different from the position of state minister, which is likely to be scrapped in the upcoming Cabinet reshuffle, the task of a junior minister, according to Ryaas, would be "to promote specific government policies."

The President meanwhile told both members of the National Economic Council (DEN) and the National Business Development Council (DPUN) that he would abolish both bodies as part of the upcoming restructuring of his administration.

Both councils were set up by the President, who is a novice in economic matters, in December as fora where he could obtain second opinions before endorsing proposals by his own economic team. Both councils have often found themselves in conflict with the President's economic team.

"We accept the President's decision," DPUN chairman Sofyan Wanandi said after attending a meeting with the President.

More details emerged of the shape of the new Cabinet on Monday but not the names of the people who will serve in it, which are currently the subject of political negotiations, particularly between the two leaders.

Cabinet restructuring and the instituting of task-sharing with Megawati were two major concessions promised by the embattled President before the People's Consultative Assembly early this month.

Barring prolonged negotiations, Gus Dur, as the President is popularly called, will announce the new Cabinet format and lineup on Friday.

Yusril said that under the new arrangement, Megawati would run the day-to-day activities of the government, from chairing Cabinet meetings to setting policies, under the supervision of the President.

The Vice President would determine policy priorities, prepare the Cabinet's agenda, lead Cabinet meetings and monitor policy implementation by ministers, Yusril told journalists after meeting with the President at the Bina Graha presidential office, along with State Minister of Regional Autonomy Ryaas Rasyid.

Gus Dur later had a working luncheon with Megawati at the latter's official residence on Jl. Diponegoro, according to palace officials.

"The Vice President is empowered to summon ministers and monitor their activities. She will report to the President because the final responsibility for government is still vested in the President," said Yusril.

Gus Dur has assigned Yusril, an expert on constitutional law, to draft the presidential decree on the division of tasks between himself and Megawati.

Yusril said the decree would be "very detailed".

In spite of Megawati's greater role in the government, the President would remain in charge, as mandated by the 1945 Constitution, he said.

In the event of differences of opinion between the two leaders, the President's opinion would prevail, he said. "We have to remember that this is a presidential system of government."

The President has also assigned three ministers -- Minister of Mines and Energy Lt. Gen. (ret.) Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Minister of Settlement and Territorial Development Erna Witoelar, and Ryaas -- to study the restructuring of the Cabinet, particularly as regards the merger the various departments and agencies to streamline the administration.

The President has disclosed that he wanted to reduce the size of his Cabinet to a maximum of 25 ministers from the current 35.

He would retain two coordinating ministers instead of the current three and they would all report to the Vice President.

Separately, State Minister of Research and Technology A.S. Hikam proposed that his office be merged with other government departments or agencies rather than be dissolved.

"It would be good if the government doesn't dissolve the ministry. It's impossible for this country to progress if it doesn't have an agency overseeing research and technology," Hikam said on the sidelines of a seminar at the National Institute of Sciences (LIPI) on Monday.

House Speaker Akbar Tandjung, while professing not to meddle in the Cabinet selection process, argued on Monday that Gus Dur should pick ministers from political parties to ensure that his government has enough support in the legislature for the effective running of the administration.

Gus Dur's National Awakening Party (PKB) controls 51 of the 500 seats in the House, while Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) has 153 seats. Golkar, which is also expected to secure some seats in the Cabinet, controls 120 seats.

Besides having professional competence, the ministers must enjoy political support from the House or they would have problems carrying out their duties, Akbar said.

He dismissed the ongoing debate about whether professionals or politicians should be appointed to the Cabinet.

"Let's not regard the two criteria as being in conflict because political parties have leaders who are also professionals," he said.

In Yogyakarta, political observer Pratikno from Gadjah Mada University urged the President to select more people from Islamic organizations, such as Muhammadiyah, in place of politicians from the Islamic parties of the "Axis Force" which first nominated him President during the October presidential election.

"I think Gus Dur is aware of the importance of having political support in the House. He can replace the Axis Force's representatives in the cabinet with those who have strong support in Islamic organizations such as Muhammadiyah," he said. (rms/44/09/byg/sur/prb)