Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Mahfud Md: It`s like being Stung by Bees

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  • Mahfud MD, when meeting with Special Committee KPK Question Rights in parliament, Jakarta, July 18, 2017. TEMPO/Dhemas Reviyanto

    Mahfud MD, when meeting with Special Committee KPK Question Rights in parliament, Jakarta, July 18, 2017. TEMPO/Dhemas Reviyanto

    TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - MOHAMMAD Mahfud Md. knew full well the unease of the elderly public figures in the Pancasila Ideology Education Agency (BPIP) Steering Committee. Its nine members include the Chair of the Indonesian Ulama Council Ma'ruf Amin, former Muhammadiyah Chair Syafii Maarif, and former vice president Try Sutrisno. The reason for their discomfort: the size of their salaries, ranging from Rp100 to 112 million, was revealed to, and then criticized by, the public. In the midst of the ongoing lively discussions about salaries, the government proposed an increase in next year's budget for the BPIP by Rp576 billion.

    Mahfud said that at a weekly meeting held at the council's offices within the presidential palace complex in Central Jakarta at the end of May, BPIP Steering Committee Chair Megawati Soekarnoputri opted to accept the criticism as she has had enough heartache. But Mahfud refused to concede. He took action and sought for an explanation for the salaries, all the way up to President Joko Widodo. "The salary of Pak Mahfud and the senior people is only Rp5 million, plus an allowance that brings it up to that amount," said Mahfud, quoting Jokowi.

    This professor of constitutional law at the Indonesian Islamic University, Yogyakarta, sees the criticism on BPIP salaries as loaded with political overtones. He says the target of this is Megawati, the chair of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the primary party supporting President Jokowi. But he refuses to admit that he is defending either side. "I just get dragged in along with them," said Mahfud, 61.

    He met Tempo reporters Reza Maulana, Angelina Anjar, and Budiarti Putri at his office in Senen, Central Jakarta. The former chair of the 2014 Prabowo-Hatta National Victory Team spoke openly about the question of his possible candidacy as vice president, his relations with Jokowi and Prabowo Subianto, as well as about the resignation of BPIP Chief Yudi Latif. There were two question and answer sessions: an additional session took place on Saturday two weeks ago.

    There has been lots of criticism about the high salaries paid to the members of the BPIP Steering Committee. What is your response to that? 

    As of right now on Sunday, June 3, 2018, at 1:30pm, the BPIP has never taken any funding from the state. All our activities are funded by the private sector. I also often give unpaid speeches about Pancasila. For instance, on May 16 I was invited to New York. All my needs were met by those who invited me. Then the Consulate General asked me to meet the Indonesians living there. In the end I had to have two sessions, one with the Indonesian Muslim community and another with the students.

    Did you go there as a member of the BPIP Steering Committee? 

    Yes, but the BPIP did not pay a single cent. Until now I remain reluctant to even ask about, or take care of, any salary from there.

    What was the reaction of the Steering Committee to the polemic about salaries after it surfaced? 

    It was like being stung by bees. When I met them at the office, the older board members such as Pak Ma'ruf Amin were annoyed by it. But they said, 'Well, just let it be. That's fate. No need to let ourselves be bothered by it.'

    Did Megawati also comment on it? 

    I asked her, 'Bu, what should we do about this? Do we need to take a position on it?' She answered, "Oh, don't bother, Pak. I am used to such bullying.' But I said I wanted to fight it because I always end up getting dragged in to it.

    So do you believe a salary of Rp100 million is reasonable? 

    From the outset of the fuss, I was sure that number was not the board members' salaries, but rather included their operational and other allowances. Minister of Finance Sri Mulyani apparently explained it in the same way. Then I met the President about it with plans to suggest that his decree on salaries be withdrawn. Money laundering crime expert Yenti Garnasih and Diponegoro University Rector Yos Johan both accompanied me. Before I could say very much, the President, who was accompanied by his Special Staff member Ari Dwipayana, said, 'Pak Mahfud, those reports are mistaken. The salaries of the ladies and gentlemen in the Steering Committee is only Rp5 million, plus allowances.'

    Is such a monthly salary plus allowances reasonable, though? 

    With all due respect: yes. It is not a question of the amount, but the comparative figure. I was once a minister, a member of the DPR (House of Representatives), and Chair of the Constitutional Court. So I do know how much they all got. It was far greater than this.

    How much? 

    I was a DPR member from 2004 to 2009, but quit in 2008 after moving to the Constitutional Court. Every month the salary paid directly into my account from the DPR was Rp48 million. Apart from that, for instance, for discussions on a law there was a Rp5 million allowance, constituents' funds of Rp46 million per quarter, house rental of Rp12.5 million a month. If I traveled overseas I received a business class ticket, five-star hotel accommodation, and pocket money of at least US$4,000 (equivalent to Rp55.5 million). If you add all that up, it could total Rp150 million a month.

    Which was highest, your DPR salary, that as a minister, or at the Constitutional Court? 

    The DPR was certainly the highest. I wasn't very aware of it while I was at the DPR, because all those amounts were paid through the bank. I never really checked. Once I was to become Chair of the Court (MK) I had to report my wealth to the Corruption Eradication Commission, right? I was shocked to see I had Rp4 billion in my account. I asked the DPR Secretariat-General to give me a breakdown. It all came from what I mentioned earlier: money for working visits, overseas trips on government business, and so on.

    What should the salary of each member of the BPIP Steering Committee actually be? 

    I don't know. It's up to others to say that. What I mean is that there should be a standard for setting salaries.

    Read the full interview in this week's edition of Tempo English Magazine