The Bull's Maze at the Research Institute
The research and technology ministry and the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) are in a state of limbo. The PDI-P reportedly wants Megawati Soekarnoputri at the helm of BRIN steering committee.
IT has been almost 16 months since Bambang Permadi Soemantri Brodjonegoro was sworn in as Research and Technology Minister/National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) Chairman on October 23, 2019. And yet, he has not completed its organizational structure. As stated on its website, there are only two deputies at the institute: the deputy for strengthening innovation and the deputy for strengthening research and development, two positions held by the acting deputies.
On Friday, February 12, Bambang told Tempo that the root of the problem lies in the inexistence of a presidential regulation regarding the formation of BRIN. “Since there is no legal basis and structure for BRIN yet, I have been getting help from acting officials only,” said the former minister of national development planning/head of the national development planning agency.
The establishment of BRIN is a follow up of Law No. 11/2019 on the national system of science and technology. The law, passed on August 13, 2019, serves as a basis when President Joko Widodo formulated the new face of the research, technology and higher education ministry. In the formation of the Onward Cabinet of 2019-2024, the authority to handle higher education affairs is returned to the education and culture ministry, while the ministry of research is tasked to oversee BRIN.
BRIN will function to integrate all research and development activities in various ministries and government agencies. The institution will also have control over a number of research institutions, such as the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT), the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), the National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (LAPAN), and the National Nuclear Energy Agency (BATAN). With the additional tasks, the ministry of research’s budget, which has been Rp2.7 trTjahjoillion per year, will soar to around Rp30 trillion per year, an accumulation of all research budgets in all ministries and agencies.
According to Bambang, President Jokowi had actually signed a presidential regulation on the formation of BRIN in March last year. However, the draft is being held at the justice and human rights ministry, and has not been recorded in the state gazette, which falls in the authority of the justice ministry. As a result, the presidential regulation cannot be implemented. When he met Justice Minister Yasonna Hamonangan Laoly in the first week of February 2020, Bambang did not receive any confirmation about the fate of his ministry. “In essence, he said we have to find the best solution,” Bambang said.
Minister Yasonna was reluctant to comment on the presidential regulation that has not been promulgated. The Justice and Human Rights Ministry's Chief of the Public Relations Division, Tubagus Erif Faturahman, denied that the ministry is deliberately hanging the fate of the presidential regulation on BRIN formation. Erif said the state secretariat had submitted a letter requesting for the promulgation of the presidential regulation. However, examinations found that that the regulation needed several improvements. The presidential regulation was then returned to the state secretariat for revision.
After that, the state secretariat resubmitted the draft. “After another review, we found that they did not make the changes or improvements as suggested,” said Erif. According to him, after the presidential regulation draft was sent back, the state secretariat had not submitted a new one. Erif does not know exactly the substances of the required revisions.
Meanwhile, Minister of State Secretary Pratikno was unavailable for comment. Until Saturday, February 13, he had not responded to Tempo’s phone calls and messages. The State Secretary Ministry’s Deputy for Law and Legislation, Lidya Silvanna Djaman, also did not respond to Tempo’s request for an interview.
TWO WEEKS after he was sworn in as Research and Technology Minister/National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) Chief, Bambang Brodjonegoro visited the home of Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) Chairperson, Megawati Soekarnoputri. Bambang came to the house in Menteng, Central Jakarta, with two colleagues from the PDI-P: Justice and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Hamonangan Laoly and Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform Minister Tjahjo Kumolo.
According to Bambang, the meeting was an honorary visit. “Ibu Megawati pays attention to research, especially in botany,” he said. Megawati is the chair of the Indonesian Botanical Gardens Foundation. In addition, said Bambang, the PDI-P was attentive during discussion of the National Science and Technology System Bill at the House of Representatives (DPR).
A source with knowledge of the meeting said that Megawati told a story of how her father, former President Sukarno, formed the Indonesian Science Council. In the meeting, the source said, they also discussed possibilities to have an advisory board or steering committee at BRIN, which would serve to provide inputs to the head of BRIN. The PDI-P reportedly wants Megawati to helm the steering committee.
However, Bambang denied there was an agreement to make Megawati chair of the steering committee. Moreover, at that time the organizational structure of the research and technology ministry/BRIN had not yet been formed. “There was no deal whatsoever. At that time I was still forming the organization structure,” said Bambang.
The discussion about BRIN between Bambang Brodjonegoro and Tjahjo Kumolo continued. Later on, there was information that the two ministers had a fall-out because of the matter. Bambang stated that at the time Tjahjo wanted BRIN to have an advisory board. However, Bambang did not agree because it was impossible for his ministry to have a board of advisors. To have the board, said Bambang, BRIN must be separated from the research ministry. “I was given the mandate as minister of research and technology/head of BRIN. To separate BRIN (from the ministry), there needs to be a cabinet reshuffle,” said Bambang.
Because of this problem, President Jokowi summoned both Bambang and Tjahjo in December 2019. According to Bambang, the President decided that BRIN would remain integrated with the research and technology ministry. However, said Bambang, Jokowi also asked him to make adjustments to the number of deputies, following recommendations from the administrative and bureaucratic reform ministry. It was agreed that the number of deputies was cut down from nine to seven.
When asked for a response to his disagreement with Bambang Brodjonegoro, Tjahjo Kumolo was tight lipped. He also did not say anything about the meeting at Megawati’s house. Via WhatsApp, Tjahjo answered a number of questions with just two sentences. “Please ask the minister of research and technology, thank you,” Tjahjo wrote. Justice and Human Rights Minister Yasonna H. Laoly was also reluctant to give a statement about the meeting in Menteng. Meanwhile, PDI-P Secretary-General Hasto Kristiyanto did not reply to Tempo’s messages. Likewise, PDI-P Deputy Secretary-General Arief Wibowo did not respond to messages sent by this magazine until Saturday, February 13.
Later, after Bambang Brodjonegoro sent the presidential regulation draft to the state secretariat, the situation heated up again. According to a source with knowledge of the drafting process, Bambang’s decision not to include the steering committee was deemed to have ‘injured’ the meeting at Megawati’s house. And then, an idea to separate BRIN from the research and technology ministry started to develop. To date, the fate of BRIN remains unclear.
Laksana Tri Handoko, Chairman of LIPI, said that they provided input to the research and technology ministry regarding the transitional mechanism for research institutions under BRIN. He made the suggestion in order to prevent the plan to unify research institutions from harming the state civil apparatus working in a number of ministries and institutions. He did not dismiss the notion that BRIN’s institutional format was still causing controversy. Some believe that BRIN should integrate all research institutions, while others think the opposite. “As state apparatuses, we follow the government’s decision,” he said.
According to Handoko, the issue of BRIN needs to be resolved immediately. Moreover, the existence of a research institution is very strategic amid efforts to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. The institute can accelerate various researches needed to prevent, treat, and overcome pandemics.
Asman Abnur, former minister of administrative and bureaucratic reform, said that the institutional concept of BRIN was designed when he was in office from 2016 to 2018. The idea of unifying research institutions was aimed at making research activities, which have been scattered across a number of ministries and institutions, more effective and efficient. So far, Asman said, many research results have not matched the needs of both industrial and educational purposes. “The idea of ([establishing) BRIN was clear, to give commands and accommodate all research activities,” he said.
Asman said that the unification of research institutions has the potential to spark resistances from a number of officials in various institutions. There are many echelon I and II positions that will be overhauled by this integration, resulting in officials losing their jobs. Asman, a House of Represetatives member from the National Mandate Party (PAN), asked the government to guarantee that these organizational changes would not kill the careers of bureaucrats.