Political Meddling in the Research Agency
The establishment of the National Research and Innovation Agency is held up by a dispute over political interests. This shows the lack of commitment to innovation.
PRESIDENT Joko Widodo should immediately resolve the problem related to the establishment of the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) that has been held up by his subordinates from his own party. As well as undermining the authority of the president, this insubordination could damage the future of Indonesian scientific ecosystem. If it is allowed to continue, Jokowi’s ability to manage his cabinet could also be called into question.
It all started with the passing of Law No. 11/2019 on the national science and technology system, which named BRIN as the umbrella agency to coordinate all the research and innovation activities dispersed around various institutions and ministries. President Jokowi implemented this law by combining BRIN with the ministry of research and technology in the cabinet of his second administration.
Irregularities were apparent when the presidential regulation on the structure of BRIN, which should have come into effect after Bambang Brodjonegoro was appointed Minister of Research and Development/BRIN Chairman was not implemented. The reason for this is that the ministry of justice and human rights has yet to promulgate it in the state gazette despite the President signing it a year ago. It is likely that this is related to the objections from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the party of Justice Minister Yasonna Hamonangan Laoly, which feels that the party was the driving force between the passing of this law but was not involved in drafting the implementing regulations.
If this is true, it is fair to accuse Minister Yasonna of insubordination. He appears to be more loyal to the leadership of his party than to the president. The same stance was also demonstrated by his party colleague, Minister for Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform Tjahjo Kumolo. He also questioned the formation of the BRIN structure that had already been approved by his ministry. This insubordination is even more worrying because as well as being his subordinates, the two ministers are from the same party as Jokowi.
During this Covid-19 pandemic, nations around the world are using their energy and resources to spark large-scale researches. Racing against time, researchers everywhere are working hard to find the most effective ways of detecting Covid-19, producing vaccines and health equipment so desperately needed by the public. In sharp contrast with these noble aims, the research agency in Indonesia is busy with trivial matters of political power.
President Joko Widodo has repeatedly spoken of the importance of investment to trigger Indonesian economic growth. It is also been claimed that this nation will enjoy a demographic bonus for the next 15 years, which could become a crucial factor in lifting Indonesia out of the middle-income nations trap. For this to happen, the Indonesian economy must be based on innovation and science, not simply on manufacturing and the export of raw commodities.
It will be difficult to meet that condition if the government allows political intervention in the research and innovation ecosystem. Moreover, the government’s commitment to research is not very impressive. In terms of budget allocation, the funding for the ministry of research and technology is only Rp2.78 trillion this year. The allocation for research and development is only 0.1 percent of the gross domestic product, far less than in China and India, where it is above 2 percent.
The combination of frequent political intervention and the lack of commitment has led to no progress being made to develop a research ecosystem in Indonesia. Politicians who are unable to set aside the interests of their groups are responsible for this failure.