The Jakarta Post
After five years of 'sabbatical' from government, Vice President Jusuf Kalla is back in the post that he has got to know so well, though this time he has a different boss. Kalla recently shared with The Jakarta Post's Satria Sambijantoro, Rendi A. Witular and Ina Parlina his thoughts on his return to government, his planned economic reforms and the decision-making process in the new administration.
Question: What's the difference between Jusuf Kalla now and five years ago, when you were paired with then President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono?
Answer: I don't feel any different [laughs]. But, of course, the difference in leadership is substantial. Pak SBY thinks more from the macro mindset, while Pak Jokowi thinks more from the micro perspective, as evinced by his frequent blusukan [impromptu visits]. But the two are both good leaders. In this case, I am the one who must adapt to their leadership styles. In the regime of Pak SBY, I was more involved in the economy, so we were more focused on each of our roles.
But, the current government is still new and we will continuously evaluate which leadership and decision-making approach works best for us. Still, the final say will certainly come from the President. It would be impossible for the Vice President to have his way in a decision, unless the President stated otherwise.
You and Jokowi have issued contradictory public remarks on the appointment of Budi Gunawan as police chief candidate and Luhut Panjaitan as presidential chief of staff. How have you settled the differences with the President?
The President of course has the final say, whatever the system of government put in place. But we [Jokowi and Kalla] have always 'taken the middle way'. In Budi's case, the compromise was that the President decided not to inaugurate him [as police chief] and to allow him to lodge a pre-trial hearing [against the Corruption Eradication Commission's decision to name him a graft suspect]. The pre-trial hearing ruled that the charges be dropped and then he was proposed as the new deputy police chief [Budi was inaugurated for the job last week]. There should always be a compromise. As regards Pak Luhut, I have said many times that the President's staff should not be responsible for the execution of policy. As long as his role is in the form of reports or evaluation of policies, or as long as he does not take the role of a vice president or a coordinating minister, then it is perfectly fine.
The popularity of President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo has recently sunk to new lows as shown by various polls. What do you think?
The government has to implement both popular and unpopular economic policies. If a government only focuses on pursuing populist programs, then there would not be any reforms at all. For a new government, popularity is not so important: it is only important at the time when we begin to enter the election period again. We had to increase fuel prices, and that wasn't a popular policy. But the government's policies must be based on righteousness, not public image. For me, poll results are not our priority.
The government is seen as inconsistent, given the backtracks on its economic policies. How do you explain this?
Some of the policies have not been withdrawn yet; they have just been postponed. Nevertheless, yes, the government has changed its stance on some policies and now we have been seen as inconsistent. The most notable was when we canceled the presidential regulation on car benefits for lawmakers and government officials. That is a risk that a policymaker must face from [his or her] carelessness. The valuable lesson here is; do not issue a policy about which we do not have a strong conviction.
Can you explain about the decision-making process in the government?
In the government, there are both bottom-up and top-down policies, meaning that they might be suggested by either the ministers or the President. The Vice President, in this case, might be in a difficult situation as he seemingly does not have the final say in the decision-making process. But, when necessary, I can make decisions on economic issues and other matters, depending on their urgency.
In the case of the Cilamaya Port plan, for example, my role there was to expedite its development so that the process of infrastructure building in the country could be accelerated. And based on my observations, the planned Cilamaya Port had to be relocated to a safer area.
The administration has set out an ambitious economic target that seems unlikely to be achieved. So, why set out such seemingly unachievable targets?
The targets are indeed a big leap for us. Some say they are ambitious, but in reality we have calculated that the targets are attainable. Let's look at the power-plant project, building power plants of such a capacity is essential because if we do not build them, then we will soon be in trouble. Over the last five years, we did not build enough power plants. This translated into a doubling in our present electricity needs.
One way to increase electricity capacity is to grant contracts to the private sector. State-run electricity firm PLN may not be able to build power plants of more than 10,000 MW combined capacity for several years, so the remaining 25,000 MW of power plant capacity must come from the private sector. And the demand from the private sector is high, no worries about that. There are some technical problems, such as land acquisition, but we are trying to fix them.
In conclusion, a government without a clear list of goals will not be able to achieve anything.
On the issue of tax, the design was formulated last year when the oil price was still on the rise ' so at that time we were actually quite upbeat on meeting our revenue-collection target, especially from the oil-and-gas sector. After the oil price went down, then it became a completely different story.
Given the impact of falling oil and commodity prices on our revenues, we now realize that the targets need to be evaluated. The realization of the budget faces huge challenges because of the global economic slowdown and we may need adjustments based on these developments.