The Jakarta Post
Several members of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s expert staff have received public criticism over conflicts of interest regarding double roles in public service and private interests, especially during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Adamas Belva Devara, co-founder of education technology startup Ruangguru, is the latest staffer to experience backlash following the naming of his company as one of the government’s eight partners in the pre-employment card program.
The program, which was launched on Saturday, offers social aid similar to unemployment benefits with a total worth of Rp 20 trillion (US$1.27 billion).
The eight partnered startups are Skill Academy by Ruangguru, Tokopedia, Bukalapak, MauBelajarApa, HarukaEdu, PijarMahir, Sekolah.mu and Sisnaker.
Responding to the criticism, Belva tweeted on Wednesday that he played no part in any decision-making in the appointment of Skill Academy by Ruangguru as a government partner.
“All decisions were made independently by the Coordinating Economic Ministry and Operational Management,” said Belva on his Twitter account, @AdamasBelva, on Wednesday.
2/ Pertama, saya TIDAK IKUT dalam pengambilan keputusan apapun di program prakerja termasuk besaran anggarannya maupun mekanisme teknisnya. Semua dilakukan independen oleh Kemenko Perekonomian dan Manajemen Pelaksana (PMO).— Belva Devara (@AdamasBelva), April 15.
He also denied accusations of a conflict of interest over the appointment of his company, adding that “all partners went through a public selection process” and that “the participants are the ones who decide which partner they want to get the benefit from.”
Belva said Skill Academy by Ruangguru had gained popularity, with approximately 1 million users, so he thought it would be reasonable for the government to name it as a partner.
“Even though there is no violation against the law in this matter, I am ready to step down [as the president’s special staffer] to avoid assumptions in the future,” he concluded.
Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW) activist Egi Primayogha said no public servant should take a role that has the potential to create conflicts of interest.
“So, whatever the reasoning, Belva is still in trouble,” he told The Jakarta Post on Thursday, adding that the fact that Belva was still made a staffer regardless of his position in Ruangguru showed that Jokowi permitted possible conflicts of interest in his administration.
Separately, Rachland Nashidik, a politician from the Democratic Party, condemned the lack of bidding in any partnership between the start-ups and the government over the program. He said that each partner company in the pre-employment card program would receive Rp 700 billion, as reported by tempo.co.
Prior to Belva, presidential staffer Andi Taufan Garuda Putra, owner of PT Amartha Mikro Fintek, had also drawn public criticism over a letter asking for local leaders’ support of a COVID-19 relief program led by his company.
Advocates M. Sholeh and Tomi Singgih were reportedly planning to report the case to the National Police Crimes Unit for power abuse.
"He doesn't not have any capacity to send letters to the district heads. A Presidential staff member’s duty is only to give advice to the President," M. Sholeh said as quoted by tempo.co. "Even if there is no harm to the country, corruption proceedings could take place.”
Previously, staffer Angkie Yudistia also received criticism about hoaxes she posted on her Instagram account on Mar. 15. The post, which has since been deleted, spread false information about the detection of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, staffer Billy Mambrasar received public condemnation after posting a tweet that demeaned the government’s opposition in November.
Despite widespread popular disapproval of Presidential expert staff, President Jokowi issued Presidential Regulation No. 56/2020 on Apr. 6, which allowed the Vice President to have a maximum of ten expert staff members from the initial eight.