MOELDOKO, Chief of Presidential Staff office: My Name Is Everywhere
The trespassing of Chinese fishing and coast guard vessels in the Natuna waters off the Riau Islands in December 2019 reminds Presidential Chief of Staff Moeldoko of the history of Sriwijaya Kingdom centuries ago. As the kingdom was preoccupied with the war with the Ancient Mataram in Java, its control over the Malacca Strait fell into the hands of the Chinese.
“Learning from the history, we must always be vigilant. Let us not be distracted by internal problems that we neglect the matters that affect our sovereignty, especially because the North Natuna Sea is so expansive that it is often deserted,” Moeldoko said.
The presence of dozens of Chinese fishing boats escorted by Chinese coastguard and frigate ships in Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) spurred tensions between Jakarta and Beijing. It also prompted President Joko Widodo to pay another visit to Natuna. Previously in June 2016, he had a closed cabinet meeting aboard the navy warship KRI Imam Bonjol in the North Natuna Sea following the Indonesian navy’s interception of a Chinese vessel in the waters rich in fish and oil and gas reserves.
Moeldoko said that the President’s visit to Natuna is aimed at easing the public disquiet caused by perceived violation of Indonesia’s sovereign territory by the Chinese vessels. “Actually, the (Chinese) fishermen had just entered the area under our sovereign rights or EEZ,” said Moeldoko, who accompanied Jokowi on the one-day trip to Natuna on January 8.
Since being re-appointed as the chief of the presidential staff office last October, Moeldoko, 62, has had his hands full. Almost every day, the former armed forces commander, together with State Secretariat Minister Pratikno and Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung, accompanies Jokowi on his daily official activities. Assisted by the deputy chief of staff and two special staffers, the Kediri-born retired general must shoulder the heavy responsibility of making sure that scores of President’s campaign promises are fulfilled in the next five years.
Last week, Moeldoko sat down with Tempo’s Wahyu Dhyatmika, Mahardika Satria Hadi, Aisha Shaidra and Retno Sulistyawati at the office of the presidential staff in the Bina Graha Presidential Palace complex, Jakarta. During the interview that lasted around an hour, he discussed the Natuna incident, his additional duties as well as his rumored connection to the former director of the scandal-hit Asuransi Jiwasraya. Excerpts:
How did the government respond to China’s claim over Natuna waters?
We have a shoreline that stretches 81,000 kilometers with the territorial sea extending 12 nautical miles and the continental shelf extending 200 nautical miles. It means we have an extraordinary exclusive zone. We have the sovereign rights to exclusively manage all the resources in the zone, not just fish but also oil and gas. As regards Natuna, China wants the Nine-Dash Line area (the area in the South China Sea claimed by China as its historic rights)
We cannot allow that. We comply with the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) 1982. It is binding and indisputable and all the signed countries, including China, must adhere to that.
The President said that the Chinese ships have only entered the EEZ, not our territory yet, as if to make light of the issue. Is that what he really wanted to convey?
From what I saw, public anger was rising as though the Chinese fishermen were already in our sovereign territory while in fact they had not. They were only in the sovereign rights zone or EEZ. We have full sovereignty over up to 12 miles (from the baseline) whereas our sovereign rights cover up to 200 miles (from the coastline of the furthest island). We have the rights to manage the natural resources there. The president made the statement in order for the public to understand the matter better. It doesn’t mean we were being lax, no. We exercised power and expelled the fishermen who came with their coastguards for backup. But President also wanted to explain that the fishermen had not yet violated our sovereignty. Sometimes it’s not easy for the public to understand that.
What are the regulations for foreign vessels which enter the EEZ?
They can enter as long as they don’t take anything. They may pass through it. However, if they stop and take our resources then they violate the rules. That’s the difference.
So, there should be agreement if foreign ships want to fish in Natuna?
UNCLOS stipulates so. There must be a bilateral agreement—whether for profit sharing or for other forms of cooperation. And not only with China, but also with other countries wishing to do exploration there, for example, ExxonMobil (a US based oil and gas exploration company).
Actually, how vulnerable the North Natuna waters are?
We should not interpret the importance of Natuna from the aspect of natural resources only. It is also critical from geopolitical aspect. In the EEZ aspect, we talk about North Natuna. But on a greater context, it’s about the South China Sea. In terms of resources, we look at the economic values. But there are also other values to consider such as the country’s existence, sovereignty, security.
How does the government navigate the Natuna issue at the time when the economic relationship with China is going well?
First through the ‘soft’ diplomacy approach followed by measured actions in the field. If we don’t act, it gives the impression that the government is weak. But there will be no shooting unless we are forced to. So, we must not be engaged in military actions. I think the measures we’ve taken are good. They have withdrawn the ships to the north. The most important of all is as to how this kind of situation will be managed in the future. We don’t want to be in a cycle of tension and rapprochement.
Is it true that the government plans to send 120 fishing boats from the northern coast of Java to Natuna Sea so as to prevent the waters from being deserted?
That has already been communicated to the political, legal and security affairs coordinating minister and the maritime affairs and fisheries minister. However, more comprehensive discussions are needed as we also need to think about the fishermen there. That’s the social aspect. From logistic point of view, we need to prepare refueling points and cold storage facility for storing the catches. The President urges all to exploit the resources fast and well. We must not let the area to be exploited by others. All the countries can observe that there are tons of fish there and once they know the place is empty, of course, they are tempted. Therefore, we mobilize our fishermen. In addition to filling up the empty sea, our fishermen can also detect and report immediately (if foreign boats enter our waters).
The foreign minister and the defense minister issued different responses to the tension in the Natuna Sea some time ago. What do you think of that?
I don’t need to comment on that. Actually, the responses were not different but the contexts were different. That’s enough. The issue will develop again if I make comments.
What changes have you made in the office of the presidential staff (KSP) since your re-appointment as the chief?
After 20 months of evaluation, I am able to understand the behavior of each kid (the KSP employees). We had the opportunity to find truly good and professional human resources. Second, there still need to be structural improvements. We added two more special staffers because I want each of them to follow the work of five deputies so that we can monitor all the activities more efficiently. There aren’t significant changes in terms of duties. But we are given a new task to ensure that all the president’s instructions are implemented and realized. We can also shepherd national strategic projects to completion in line with the targets.
What has been done in the previous period?
A lot. The KSP listened and really became a forum for the public to express their dissatisfaction. The ‘doctrine’ I taught to the kids (KSP employees) is that we must work wholeheartedly. If we don’t, who else will? Because this is the last bastion for the public to voice their grievances.
Where did most complaints come from?
We received so many complaints. From business associations—sugar, clove, tobacco, tile, textile to agrarian and even poultry and egg producers association.
In accordance with the Presidential Regulation No. 83/2019, you will now have a deputy. How crucial is his role?
Well, my workload will be lighter.
Who is the candidate?
Current deputies and special staffers are not sufficient?
The KSP has 10 duties. That’s a lot, barely leaving the time for me to breathe (chuckles)...
Is KSP the president’s eyes and ears or right hand?
Nothing specific like that because although there are overlapping responsibilities, many interrelated problems still can not be neglected. However, KSP’s focus is on the 32 promises of the president in terms of national strategic projects that need to be closely monitored. If we look further, there are 98 promises which have been projected as national short-termed development plan, Nawacita, presidential agenda, and annual work plan.
Looking at the multitude complaints the KSP receives from the public, were other government agencies not accessible all this time?
Perhaps they have that experience (with other government agencies) before. Or perhaps they heard about the ‘KSP listens’ program and tried to reach through the KSP. The problems are dynamic and never-ending. Like the poultry and egg producers’ association which usually is quiet if egg prices are good. But as soon as the prices fall, they come here running, (laughs)... We gathered them—large and medium scale producers—to inquire and they only pointed the finger at each other. We facilitated meetings to find the solutions.
Are all the public complaints relayed to the president?
I first assess them and select what needs to go to the president. There are some that I can handle via the coordination with other ministers. Then I would call for meetings here. For example, there was a demonstration between two-wheeled and four-wheeled online taxi drivers. I invited those from GoJek and Grab, the transportation minister, the labor minister and the communication and informatics minister to find a mutually agreeable solution. We managed to resolve the problem in a short time.
You previously served as the commander of the armed forces but now leads a civilian organization. What are the challenges?
In the first three months, I felt like a complete idiot. Every time a reporter asks a question, I would utter ‘Opo maneh iki? Opo maneh iki?’ (what again?) (laughs)... These reporters knew no self-restraint either. I was still new but bombarded with all kinds of questions. My goodness, I was confused. So, I learned really hard in those three months to adapt myself. I was thrown in at the deep end.
Is that the cause of your controversial statements, for example, “Indonesia must leave behind the colonial mentality and adopt the mentality of the colonist?”
That was intentional. We certainly have to rid ourselves of the colonial mentality. To what end do we want to maintain that? We must wake up with the mindset of the colonist. What does it mean? It means we must not let our resources constantly exploited by outsiders. We should instead grow our influence outside. I, as the chairman of the Indonesian farmers association, always challenge the farmers, ‘you, farmers, you must dare to get rich. If you don’t even dare to dream of becoming rich, how will you get rich?’ (chuckles)...
One of the public grievances is that the President is so engrossed in the economic development that he failed to pay enough attention to human rights and corruption eradication matters. What is your response?
Our economy will indeed be the greatest challenge in the future and the President is deeply concerned about that. We don’t want to get stuck in the middle-income trap. We don’t want to be stagnant. That’s how he interprets that challenge. But, he does not at all neglect other matters. The President defines one of the principles of ‘Indonesia Maju’ (Indonesia Moves Forward) as each citizen having equal rights before the law. That was defined very clearly.
In fact, there are still many unresolved past human rights cases.
Indeed, that’s not easy. In a discussion with the Gerakan Kamisan (a demonstration held every Thursday in the front of the Palace to ask president to resolve past human right cases), we brought in the attorney-general and the justice and human rights minister. It’s not easy to formulate resolutions in judicial or non-judicial ways. This is what not everyone understands.
How about settling through the truth and reconciliation commission?
That is being explored. We’ve had a one and half hour-long teleconference with a US professor who has the expertise in this field to find alternative solutions. Then we provided input to the Menkopolhukam (the political, legal and security affairs coordinating minister). We are serious, you see, not just giving lip service. We are seeking options that are acceptable to all parties.
Before being re-appointed for the current post, you were tipped as a candidate for the Menkopolhukam or the defense minister positions. What’s the story?
It was said by other people, not me. I don’t imagine things. I’m just resigned to my fate.
Moeldoko (right) accompanying President Joko Widodo at the Lampa Natuna Strait Fishery Port, Natuna Regency, January 8./press bureau, presidential secretariat
Your name was associated with the former finance director of Asuransi Jiwasraya, Hary Prasetyo, who is embroiled in a financial scandal.
I’ve heard from Bang Rizal Ramli (an economist and former maritime affairs coordinating minister) about the news that said Hary Prasetyo is Moeldoko’s son-in-law. He asked, ‘Bro, is it true?’ I said, ‘That’s false, bro. I have two kids, a son and a daughter. My daughter is still single. My son is married, but to a woman, not a man, (laughs)... I was livid.
(Hary Prasetyo, is one of the 13 people slapped with travel ban by the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) in relation with the alleged corruption in Jiwasraya. The corruption is estimated to have caused trillions of rupiah in state losses.)
How did Hary Prasetyo become an expert staffer in your office?
He applied for the job in the KSP. It’s strange he was (different) when he was accepted for the job. That’s the time I knew Hary.
Why wasn’t there a background check during the selection process?
That was an open recruitment. He applied for the primary expert staff position in economic and financial division (in early 2018).
In the latest news, you have been viewed as are protecting Hary?
Yes, the news surfaced in the Palace that I was protecting Hary. But it’s too far. I said, ‘Moeldoko doesn’t protect him, the KSP doesn’t protect him, not to mention the Palace. We have no business at all.
Was Hary dismissed from the KSP that time?
No. The news (Jiwasraya scandal) surfaced just as the first period of the KSP ended. Well, we didn’t continue his employment.
When did you find out that Hary was implicated in the case?
About a month before the end of the first period of KSP.
Didn’t the Jiwasraya case already become public that time?
Well, there wasn’t any commotion about Jiwasraya that time. It only came out recently. I don’t understand the sequence of events.
We reported the Jiwasraya scandal since February 2019 and Hary’s name was mentioned in line with the supreme audit agency’s report results.
But he was not yet legally charged or processed. We held the presumption of innocence. Here we have many primary expert staff members and they don’t get to see me any time.
Were you inconvenienced for being associated with Hary?
I don’t take it to my heart because I have faith. Perhaps I would be nervous, if I’m corrupt, or abuse my position, but I have nothing to do with this. They will reveal everything at the AGO whether Moeldoko or the Palace had a role. If I played a role, he would definitely say so because he wouldn’t want to be alone. My name has been dropped often. If I go to Konawe or other places, there is Moeldoko. Go to mining areas, there is Moeldoko. Go to tin mining areas, there is Moeldoko. My name is everywhere, boss. And the annoying part is that I did not receive any cent, you see (chuckles).