House of Representatives lawmakers and State-Owned Enterprises Minister Dahlan Iskan are embroiled in a heated feud as the politicians blame the minister for a “mishap” which led to Rp 36 trillion (US$3.78 billion) in state losses when he led state power producer PT PLN. Without losing his cool, Dahlan claims that the Supreme Audit Agency confirmed that no state losses were incurred.
The bickering began after Cabinet Secretary Dipo Alam revealed a text message he received last month from Dahlan, who said that House members were trying to swindle SOEs out of kickbacks in the run-up to the finalization of the state budget. Dahlan’s claim of extortion sparked outrage among legislators who then arranged a hearing to demand clarification.
Tension between Dahlan and politicians is nothing new. The lawmakers dislike many of Dahlan’s moves, such as his decision to appoint directors of state-owned enterprises without holding an extraordinary shareholders’ meeting. House members accuse Dahlan’s of posturing ahead of the 2014 presidential election.
Despite success in procurement, the establishment of holding companies and exposure to market scrutiny, Dahlan receives a lot of personal animosity due to his many eccentricities. He is considered a most strange creature in the circles of the political elite and finds it hard to manipulate the current clearance system involving technical ministries, trade unions and the misguided House.
The mounting pressure on Dahlan stems from his having no political party. Many lawmakers view non-partisan ministers or executives as easy to pressurize. This mind-set has prompted greedy politicians to turn state companies into cash cows with confidence.
The entrenched culture of kickbacks in the House is linked to the ingrained broker mentality among lawmakers. This mentality explores every avenue to turn political products and negotiations into earnings. Lawmakers are unaware that their duty is to serve their constituents, not their bank accounts. The lawmakers with such a mentality become state budget-sucking leeches owing to assured political patronage from their parties. Dahlan’s claim should be seen as the whip that hastens the House to improve its performance rather than a defamation.
The dispute between Dahlan and the lawmakers shows the politicians losing their smart linguistic skill and communication ability. Labeling Dahlan as lebay (over reactive) because from his courage to introduce a new political culture is a clear sign of the lawmakers’ fallacious sense of superiority.
Dahlan does not simply stay idle and complain all the time; he walks his talk instead. He reduced the number of meetings and reports delivered to his office by 50 percent. He cut ministerial intervention in SOEs and gave more freedom and authority to the CEOs to run their businesses.
The excessive emphasis upon Dahlan’s “mismanagement” at PLN confirms the lawmakers’ constant political maneuvering, which may backfire. Their intention to declare Dahlan persona non grata would expose the crooks among the legislators themselves.
Criticism leveled at Dahlan is actually attributable to his thinking out of the box and quantum leap. Many lawmakers fail to understand his transformation of SOEs into the nation’s most valuable assets and pioneers of modern enterprise. His system of replacing SOE directors and commissioners is shorter and faster, and rejects the meddling of too many parties. For Dahlan, regulations should maximize speed. Less meddling, of course, means fewer opportunities for lawmakers to steal from the state.
Dahlan should not merely observe, record and comment in his various writings, while leaving the active engagement to others. Tension with lawmakers can only do him good, and will add to his mounting public profile. People can easily choose between a House that is almost universally disliked and mistrusted ,or a man willing to tackle the issues facing ordinary Indonesians.
In view of the strong resistance from politicians in the House, Dahlan should tread carefully in executing his ambitious program to transform state dinosaurs into efficient enterprizes. His sincerity and determination vis-à-vis the rotten, greedy lawmakers will emulate the classic battle between David and Goliath.
The writer, a graduate of the University of Canberra, Australia, is a lecturer in the Faculty of Cultural Sciences at Andalas University.