The departure of Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati for a top job in the World Bank has all the elements of a Greek Tragedy in an Indonesian context, except that the ending is not necessarily an unhappy one, not even for the chief protagonist.
If anything, it probably is the best outcome for everyone concerned, certainly for Sri Mulyani herself and for her detractors who have been clamoring for her head these past few months, over the Bank Century bailout. It also works for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono who must have found it distressful that one of his key ministers was being subjected to ridicule by politicians — to the point of affecting her ability to perform.
The managing director job at the World Bank’s head office in Washington, to begin in June, provides Sri Mulyani with a graceful exit from the unfortunate political predicament, as she is moving to a senior post at a prestigious international organization.
The writing was on the wall that the Bank Century case could lead to something like this ever since Yudhoyono lost the vote in the House of Representatives in March.
The House declared that the November 2008 decision to bail out Bank Century was flawed and that those responsible for the decision, including Sri Mulyani, should be investigated.
Given her impeccable track record and accolade as a tough reformist minister, no one is seriously accusing Mulyani of foul play. In all the investigations of the Century case so far nothing has suggested she profited from her decision.
Politicians being what they are somehow found a way to keep returning to Mulyani as the one person who made the final decision to bail out the troubled bank. When her detractors won the vote against the government, it effectively deprived her of any political legitimacy to serve as finance minister.
Legally Mulyani may be in the clear, but politically she had been condemned. Never underestimate the power of the House.
She may be serving the President and reports to him only, but she has found it hard if not impossible to work with the House these past two months. The government’s latest budget revision was passed by the House last week in the absence of two parties that had boycotted her. On top of this there has been a lengthy investigation by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) that Mulyani has had to entertain. On Monday, she spent six hours with KPK investigators.
Short of a tragedy, it is still a sad loss for Indonesia to have to let Mulyani go. She became a reform icon not only at home, but is also recognized worldwide, so much so that the World Bank decided to take her away and make the most of her skills and experience. Given the inevitability of her departure, the best we can do now is to wish her well at her new job. Indonesia should be proud that one of its best daughters is heading a prestigious international financial organization.
This should at least ease the tension between the government and the House, as one of the most contentious points in the Bank Century case has now been removed. The other point concerns the fate of Vice President Boediono, who as governor of Bank Indonesia at the time of the bailout was also named in the House’s resolution.
Finance ministers come and go, and as good and as valuable Sri Mulyani is to Yudhoyono’s Cabinet, she is not irreplaceable. Whoever succeeds her knows they will have big shoes to fill. And may be that is also part of the problem: Sri Mulyani set standards too high for her own good.
What is clear is that Mulyani created her own legacy in the five years she served as finance minister, through the major reforms and reorganization she carried out at the Finance Ministry.
That Indonesia survived the global economic crisis could also be attributed to her work. Rather than lamenting her departure, we should all make sure Mulyani’s legacy — the values and principles she introduced, and all the reform work she had begun — continues.