Activist in the Hot Seat

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  • Teten Masduki, when inaugurated Head of President Staff in State Palace, Jakarta, September 2, 2015. TEMPO/Subekti

    Teten Masduki, when inaugurated Head of President Staff in State Palace, Jakarta, September 2, 2015. TEMPO/Subekti

    TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - President Joko Widodo is starting to develop a habit of surprising people. Three months ago, he appointed nine members to the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) selection committee who are all women. Last week he appointed Teten Masduki, a former corruption watch activist, as the presidential chief of staff.

    Right until the last moment, the 'experts' in the political arena had not considered the name of Teten Masduki for the seat left vacant by Luhut B. Panjaitan. The names mentioned were an Army general, a political observer and even a person who had recently been fired from the cabinet.

    Teten Masduki's background is in activism. He headed the Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) for 10 years, and since 2009, he was secretary-general of the Indonesian chapter of Transparency International. When Joko Widodo began his move for the presidency, Teten joined the campaign team of the former mayor of Solo.

    Teten does not have a shining track record in bureaucracy. His attempts at political office began when he was running mate to Rieke Diah Pitaloka in the West Java gubernatorial election, but they were not elected. Jokowi then recruited Teten together with Sukardi Rinakit for his Presidential Communications Team. The first 'product' of this team was a mistaken piece of information about the birthplace of former president Sukarno, confusing Jokowi when he gave a speech in Blitar. And both before and after the establishment of the team, the president's communications was almost non-existent.

    Now, with his new position, Teten is in the 'hot seat'. There were rumors that the position was really created to accommodate Luhut Panjaitan, who did not 'pass' the cabinet selection process. The post was only a stepping stone before Luhut took up the position planned for him from the start: coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs.

    There was controversy around the position from the outset. The first question was whether the office was really needed. Didn't the president already have 36 ministers, twice as many as in the cabinet of President Barrack Obama? According to Presidential Regulation No. 26/2015 on the Presidential Staff, that office was given extraordinary responsibilities: to manage political communication and strategic issues while monitoring national priority programs, infrastructure, maritime affairs, food, energy and tourism.

    With such a wide scope of responsibilities, Teten will take on a heavy burden. He has been dubbed a martial arts champion caught between sword and fire, given that the Palace is swarming with 'embezzlement' and 'project' champions, all claiming rewards for their 'services' in support of Jokowi's presidency.

    Teten himself may be confused, because the criteria for the job are unclear. Imagine, an activist with almost no experience in bureaucracy replacing a three-star general who was once a diplomat and a cabinet minister.

    Of course, we wish Teten well and hope he will use all of his capabilities in carrying out his duties. He must have the courage to be resolute. And he must become a part of the battle to rid the Palace of rats, of all kinds. (*)