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Jakarta Post

Appointment of new Telkom head marks another start-up takeover

  • Marchio Irfan Gorbiano and Riska Rahman

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Tue, June 23, 2020   /   08:13 am
Appointment of new Telkom head marks another start-up takeover Gojek’s Nadiem Makarim visits the State Palace in Jakarta on Oct. 21, 2019. (JP/Seto Wardhana)

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has made it clear that he wants technology to play a central role in his government.

In 2018, he launched the "Making Indonesia 4.0" road map to encourage automation and data exchange in manufacturing. One year later, he announced that Artificial Intelligence (AI) would take over the jobs of civil servants to cut red tape and create more efficiency.

The President has also called for a greater role for start-ups in driving the country's economic growth. On a trip to Silicon Valley in 2015, he enlisted CEOs of top start-ups, including Gojek founder Nadiem Makarim and William Tanuwijaya of Tokopedia.

In an address to a crowd that included Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella earlier this year, President Jokowi said that the country’s over 2,000 startups, including one decacorn and four unicorns, were not enough.

Soon after winning reelection last year, President Jokowi took things further by hiring technology talent from Indonesian start-ups to join his administration.

He appointed Nadiem as Education and Culture Minister, with a charge that included the management of the country's higher education system.

Soon thereafter, Jokowi tapped Andi Taufan Garuda Putra, CEO of lending start-up PT Amartha Mikro Fintek, and Adamas Belva Syah Devara, cofounder of education technology start-up Ruangguru Adamas, as his expert staffers. Andi and Belva later resigned following public backlash over conflicts of interest as a result of their dual roles in government and business.

On Friday, the trend of appointing tech CEOs to government positions continued with the appointment of Fajrin Rasyid, cofounder and CEO of e-commerce unicorn Bukalapak, as a director of state-owned telecommunication firm PT Telekomunikasi Indonesia (Telkom).

The appointment, by the State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) Ministry, aims to improve digital services and reduce the company’s dependence on its cellular services.

Fajrin said in a statement posted on Bukalapak’s website that he hoped he could bring his experience in growing the homegrown e-commerce platform to Telkom.

“I’m very thankful for the new trust given to me,” he said. “Now is the time to make a greater contribution to the advancement of Indonesia and focus on developing Indonesia’s telecommunications industry with Telkom.”

Following his appointment, 34-year-old Fajrin expects to hand over his duties and responsibilities at Bukalapak to the company’s board of directors and management, the statement read.

Antigraft activists have called on Fajrin to avoid conflicts of interest in his job at the country's biggest telecommunication company.

Zaenur Rohman, a researcher at the Gadjah Mada University Center for Anticorruption Studies (Pukat UGM), said Fajrin should make sure that he did not follow in the footsteps Belva or Andi.

“Learning from these previous cases, the most important issue is that the appointment should be consistent with a merit-based system, that the person is rightly appointed for the post and it is ensured that he or she has no conflict of interest before, during or after serving in the position,” said Zaenur.

SOEs Minister Erick Thohir has insisted that the appointment of Fajrin was based on merit.

“With bigger challenges ahead, every member of Telkom’s board of directors has a certain key performance index. I have already told [them] that they should be ready to be shown the door if they fail to fulfill it,” Erick said in a statement made available on Friday following the announcement of Telkom’s new board members.

Firman Noor, a political analyst from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), said that the Jokowi administration's penchant for appointing young startup figures for key government positions should be founded on a strong meritocratic system.

“Perhaps fresh blood that can bring fresh thinking is needed, but he or she should be well-tested in their leadership,” said Firman. “This is one of the key requirements at any firm – that people who are in charge have the much-needed experience.”

While appointing figures from the emerging digital sector could bring in valuable insights, Firman warned that such a move might not be sustainable in the long run.

“If this trend continues, the policies could be unsustainable because people from these [start-ups] tend to be very agile and quick in their actions. They could have quick responses, but are the people behind them ready? That is why the decision to always bring in these people could be questioned,” said Firman.