Rizal defies President's order not to make Cabinet fights public
Rendi A. Witular and Grace D. Amianti
The Jakarta Post
Only a day after President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo ordered his ministers to end their public airing of infighting, the chief maritime minister on Tuesday insisted on proceeding with the offensive against his fellow Cabinet members.
In a discussion held by DBS Bank, Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister Rizal Ramli told the audience that it was necessary to ignite uproar in the Cabinet to drive out 'rats' from their hiding places.
'A small attempt to fuel an uproar is necessary. If there are too many rats in rice fields, we should make noise so the rats run away and the harvest can be reaped as expected,' said Rizal.
He explained that such rats should be ousted from the Cabinet as they had disrupted the work environment and held back progress.
'Noise leading to improvements [in the Cabinet] is necessary. But if the uproar is linked to attempts to fight for the whole cake through corruption, we should fight that,' he said.
Rizal, who was appointed to the Cabinet based on the recommendation of Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Pandjaitan, has a history of publicly trading barbs with Vice President Jusuf Kalla and Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Sudirman Said over various issues.
While Rizal's latest statement was not specifically aimed at certain ministers, the move went against Jokowi's instruction on Monday demanding that Cabinet members avoid making contradictory statements which would only encourage public polemic.
'I emphasize again the need to avoid conflicts between ministers. There should no longer be polemics in public highlighting our differences,' said Jokowi.
Jokowi's instructionwas issued amid a recent rift between Luhut and Sudirman, who receives backing from Kalla.
Sudirman submitted a report to the House of Representatives' ethics council last week, accusing House Speaker Setya Novanto of trying to broker a deal with an executive of PT Freeport Indonesia, a unit of US mining giant Freeport-McMoRan.
The report also suggested Setya had claimed he had the approval of Jokowi and Kalla to secure shares and projects from Freeport in exchange for helping the firm extend its contract and continue operating its gold mine, one of the world's largest, in Papua.
The report annoyed Luhut because his name was mentioned several times by Setya and he was also connected politically to oil and fuel import kingpin Muhammad Reza Chalid in purported transcripts of recorded conversations that accompanied the submission.
Although Sudirman has repeatedly claimed the President had sanctioned his actions, Luhut has insisted otherwise.
Sudirman refused to strike back at Luhut, although Kalla threw his weight behind Sudirman, insisting that the President had endorsed the report to the ethics council and that Luhut should accept the decision.
Later on Tuesday, Luhut visited Kalla's office in Central Jakarta through a back door in an attempt to avoid being seen by reporters.
After the meeting, Luhut, Jokowi's long-time business partner and now the most influential minister, denied having any discussions with Kalla over Sudirman's report to the House.
'I came to report the results of my meeting with Singapore's deputy prime minister on flight information regions, defense and extradition agreements, as well as haze containment,' said Luhut, accompanied by Kalla's friend and chief advisor Sofjan Wanandi, on his way out.
When asked for his opinion on Sudirman's report, Luhut refuted any assumptions that the report had highlighted the misuse of Jokowi's and Kalla's names.
'There was no misuse [of their names]. We should just wait and should not make more noise. Everything will be okay,' he said.
A source with knowledge of the meeting, however, said that Luhut had clarified his position and the case linking him to the Vice President.
'The Vice President has accepted Luhut's clarification, and both have decided to move on,' said the source.
In recent months, Luhut's authority and scope of work have expanded as he has the ear of the President.
The retired general and senior Golkar Party politician is now leading the drafting of a tax amnesty bill, which will be submitted to the House later this year.
Luhut also has a role in the government's negotiations on the extension of Freeport's contract and in the operation of the gas-rich Masela Block, owned by Japan's Inpex.
In foreign affairs, Luhut has been credited with reviving diplomatic, defense and intelligence ties between Indonesia and Australia.
'All pending issues between the two nations will be immediately resolved. The President has entrusted me to make necessary decisions for the resumption of cooperations,' Luhut said recently.
A new dawn in Australian and Indonesian relations seemed to be on the horizon after Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull visited Jakarta on Nov. 12, and rebooted the diplomatic relationship.
It was Turnbull's first overseas trip since taking over the reins of power in September from his predecessor Tony Abbott, whose time in office was marked by strained relations between Australia and Indonesia.