Stumbling in the Halls of Power
The appointment of millennials as special staff members is being labeled a political image building strategy.
A meeting of the special staff with President Joko Widodo at the State Palace was held two days after Adamas Belva Syah Devara submitted his resignation on April 15. All special staff members were present, except for Putri Indahsari Tanjung. Jokowi opened the meeting by giving an overview of the strategies used in dealing with Coronavirus Disease 2019 or Covid-19 in various countries, including in Indonesia.
The President then moved on to the main topic of their meeting that day. He brought up the duties of special staff members, reminding them to follow established procedures, as they are always under public scrutiny. The special staff were also reminded to always consider the bureaucratic code of conduct.
During this meeting, the President made no mention of the planned resignation of Adamas Belva Syah Devara and Andi Taufan Garuda Putra. One official at the Presidential Palace said that those resignation requests were discussed after the meeting was over. “I conveyed it directly to the President,” said Adamas Belva via WhatsApp, on Thursday, April 23.
Belva announced his resignation on April 21. He resigned after the polemic regarding the involvement of Ruangguru—a company he started with Muhammad Iman Usman—in a pre-employment training program. Belva said that he is resigning because he does not want a protracted polemic disrupting efforts to handle the coronavirus pandemic. Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung said that the President understood the reason for the resignation.
Andi Taufan also tendered his resignation after the meeting with Jokowi. He officially announced his resignation on April 24. Taufan said that he wants to focus on economic empowerment, especially for small and micro-sized enterprises. In his open letter, he admitted that he had shortcomings.
Taufan was caught up in asking for favors, in which all subdistrict heads in Indonesia were requested to help with a program for dealing with the corona pandemic, which was being run by his company, Amartha Mikro Fintek. In a letter dated April 1, he used the official letterhead of the cabinet secretariat. This letter leaked to the social media. He did make a letter of apology, this time without using the cabinet secretariat letterhead. “I withdrew that letter,” said Taufan.
Ari Dwipayana, a member of presidential special staff, said that there was nothing special in the meeting between President and the special staff members. “It is a routine (agenda) at the Palace. President gives guidances to the special staff,” Ari said.
THE President appointed seven millennials as special staff on November 21, 2019. When announcing their appointment, President Jokowi said that they would become his discussion partners. This younger generation would be utilized to bridge communication with Islamic boarding school students and the Indonesian diaspora. The President wanted them to develop a system of technology and application-based bureaucracy.
On top of that, the President wanted these new staff members to make breakthroughs in the development of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, a pre-employment card program, and innovations in education. As discussion partners, these special staff members would not need come to the office every day. “(We can) meet at least once in one or two weeks,” said Jokowi.
No explanation was given regarding the criteria and mechanism for appointing these special staff members under the age of 40. Three government officials and a former official at the Palace who are familiar with the appointment of millennials as special staff said that the idea to recruit them was discussed by President Jokowi and Minister/State Secretary Pratikno, aided by special staff coordinator Ari Dwipayana. The same sources said that those seven millennials were appointed as a political image building measure of the Palace.
Pratikno could not be reached for comment. He did not answer telephone calls and did not reply to text messages sent by Tempo. However, during the appointment of those special staff members, Pratikno said that millennial staff would likely be involved in the writing of President’s speeches. This would be done to make his addresses sound more contemporary. So far it has been two special staff members, Ari Dwipayana and Sukardi Rinakit, who have been assigned to regularly draft Jokowi’s speeches. “Sometimes what we are thinking is much different with what they are thinking,” he said.
Aminuddin Ma’ruf, one millennial special staff member, said that the President has given them flexibility in doing their job. They do not need to go to the State Palace every day. Aminuddin said that they will spend more time in the provinces to meet with young activists. According to him, the President gives them direct communication access if there are ideas they wish to convey.
By being appointed as special staff, those seven millennials receive certain rights as is regulated in Presidential Regulation No. 144/2015. Based on that regulation, those special staff members are paid Rp51 million per month. This is comprised of base salary, performance benefits, and income tax deductions. Presidential Spokesman Fadjroel Rachman confirmed that amount. “They work around the clock. So, their work is serious,” said Fadjroel.
Some officials working at the Palace said that their recruitment was the subject of gossiping at the Palace. This is because those millennials often do not know what they should be working on. Their offices also differ from other special staff members.
Ari Dwipayana said that since those millenials came into the Palace, the coordination has been done all the time, including with WhatsApp group. According to Ari, these young special staff members also have direct access to the State Secretary Minister Pratikno and Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung to get information or to consult about government policies.
Ari denied that millennial special staff members do not have a clear work guidance. They, Ari said, are in the young task force to give creative and innovative ideas. He mentioned Ayu Kartika Dewi who has a focus to develop tolerance and critical culture to young people; Angkie Yudistia develops a bridge to connect the Palace and people with disabilities; and Billy Mambrasar focuses to improve the talent of Papuan young people. “They also often have discussion with many national and foreign academics and practitioners,” Ari said .
Yanuar Nugroho, a former deputy of the presidential staff office, said that the recruitment of people from the younger generation to the Palace actually started during the era of the Presidential Working Unit for Development Supervision and Control when it was under the leadership of Kuntoro Mangkusubroto. The problem is, said Yanuar, the current structure at the Palace has not prepared mentoring for these millennials who have been given strategic positions. He feels that these younger staff members will likely stumble around if they are not familiar with the bureaucracy and understand conflicts of interest. “If they want to recruit younger people, the ecosystem must be prepared for it as well,” said Yanuar.
Fika Fawzia, a former assistant to former Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Susi Pudjiastuti, is one person who was at the Presidential Palace during Kuntoro’s era. According to Fika, important lessons when working at the Palace included a proses for mentoring. This included how to make letters and use the national Garuda logo in an official capacity. When first starting work at the Palace, said Fika, she was given advice by her boss, “You all are going to be working with many important people, but you are not one of them.”