The Jakarta Post
Luhut Binsar Panjaitan, a retired general and former advisor to the presidential election campaign team of President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo, has been appointed to lead a newly established agency known as the 'presidential working unit', a position many deem the equivalent to the presidential chief of staff.
The new agency will help Jokowi identify strategic issues the country is dealing with, as well as serve as a conduit for the President's communications with the public.
Jokowi inaugurated Luhut, a former Golkar Party politician, at the Presidential Palace on Wednesday, although the plan to form the new presidential institution has been put on hold until February.
The President, however, has signed a decree to form the new institution.
The 67-year-old Luhut, who claimed he learned about his appointment only hours before the inauguration, said he would try his best to carry out his duties.
'The essential [task] is to help the President carry out his job the best way possible by expediting the process of translating what he wants,' Luhut said after his inauguration on Wednesday.
Luhut, a former commander of the Army's Special Forces' (Kopassus) antiterror squad Detasemen 81 and a former commander of the Army's Infantry Weaponry Center (Pussenif), considers his new position 'interesting and challenging', promising that he will 'play a major role in helping the President'.
Cabinet Secretary Andi Widjajanto said Luhut, a Christian of Batak descent, would help 'design political communication between the President and other institutions, including the public'.
Andi said that with such a job description, Luhut would also be in charge of bridging communications between Jokowi and the House of Representatives.
He said Luhut would also play a strategic role.
'It [the agency] will also help the President identify the achievements and results of the country's development,' he said.
Neither Andi nor Luhut could provide details about individuals working in the new agency.
However, both Luhut and Andi affirmed that the role of presidential chief of staff would not overlap with the responsibilities of the Cabinet secretary or the state secretary.
Without elaborating further, Andi said the new presidential body would also oversee several tasks of the Presidential Working Unit for the Supervision and Management of Development ( UKP4 ), which was officially disbanded on Dec. 31, 2014.
Some of the UKP4's tasks have been transferred to Andi's office.
The Cabinet secretary also plays a role in evaluating the performances of ministers, as well as ensuring that each minister's works are consistent with Jokowi's and Vice President Jusuf Kalla's vision and mission.
The Cabinet secretary is also responsible for serving the President when he is working as the head of the government, while the state secretary must serve Jokowi when he functions as the head of state.
Luhut was ambassador to Singapore between 1999 and 2000, before he was appointed as trade and industry minister during the administration of the late Abdurrahman 'Gus Dur' Wahid.
Luhut graduated from the Military Academy, where he received the Adhi Makayasa award for Best Graduate.
He also holds a Master's degree in Public Administration from George Washington University in the US.
Luhut is also known as a businessman who founded the Toba Sejahtra, a group of companies involved with agriculture and forestry, mining and power plants.
Furniture company PT Rakabu Sejahtra, which produces wooden door frames, decks and flooring for the export market in Central Java, is a joint venture that was established in 2009 between Toba Sejahtra and Jokowi's furniture flagship PT Rakabu.
Luhut had been tapped as a member of Jokowi's Working Cabinet but his name was dropped in favor of other candidates nominated by political parties supporting the former Jakarta governor's presidential bid.
Political analyst Yunarto Wijaya said that considering Luhut's history, his appointment was the result of his close ties to Jokowi.
'In politics, compromises will always be made. This is acceptable as long as Luhut submits to meritocracy and a punishment-and-reward system in his role,' he said.