The Danger in Politicizing Research

Translator

TEMPO

Editor

Laila Afifa

24 April 2021 15:23 WIB

TEMPO.CO, JakartaPresident Joko Widodo separated the National Research and Innovation Agency from the ministry of research and technology. A decision heavily influenced by his political party's interest.

THE National Research and Innovation Agency, or BRIN, ideally should not be established to serve the needs of the elite in the ruling political party. A research organization should be unshackled by ideology to allow it to be a place for people to think freely and independently.

In separating the BRIN from the ministry of research and technology, the whiff of the political aroma comes out too strongly. President Joko Widodo is placing too high consideration on the wishes of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and its general chair, Megawati Soekarnoputri, instead of creating ideal conditions for research and technology.

This political consideration was apparent in how long legalities took for BRIN's establishment, going back to the very first days of Jokowi's second term. The agency's establishment originally was governed by Presidential Regulation No. 74/2019, issued in October 2019. The regulation was changed two months later, with the addition of, among other things, a clause stating formation of BRIN was valid up to no later than March 31, 2020.

The legalities became messy when the formation of the entity attaching BRIN to the ministry of research was not extended until the expiry date arrived. Neither did the ministry of justice and human rights process the ruling into the state gazette, while the new ruling in fact had already been signed by the President.

Justice Minister Hamonangan Laoly is suspected of stalling the ruling because his party, the PDI-P, had not come to an agreement on BRIN's design by the Minister of Research and Technology/Head of BRIN Bambang Brodjonegoro. In Bambang's design, there was no mention of a governing council. The PDI-P desires having in place a governing council which it says would provide the BRIN chair with inputs and considerations. The position of council head was reputedly to be filled by Megawati herself.

Instead of reprimanding Yasonna who ignored an official decision, Jokowi bowed down to the wishes of the PDI-P. He made BRIN an autonomous body under the president, and merged the ministry of research into the ministry of education and culture. The decision was in line with PDI-P's stance that BRIN is stronger if directly under the president. The PDI-P on many occasions emphatically stated the establishment of BRIN was the brainchild of Megawati Soekarnoputri for 'Indonesia to stand on its own feet' - a concept often mouthed by her father, the late President Sukarno, in another era.

President Jokowi also ignored technical considerations when he merged the research ministry. The transitional process when merging it with the education ministry obviously will take time. Consolidation will also disrupt currently ongoing research and innovations, including those related to handling Covid-19. The interconnection of BRIN with institutions of higher learning and industry, the main motors of progress in research and innovation in many countries, was also missing from the government's consideration.

This sort of politicization is detrimental to Indonesian research. During this pandemic, the government should be pouring much energy and resources into research and innovation to eradicate Covid-19. The ecosystem of research in this country will never progress if the government allows political interests to intervene in research entities.

In fact, government commitment to research is abysmally low. Last year the government allocated a mere Rp30 trillion for research, or 0.25 percent of gross domestic product. This allocation is the joint research budget allocation for all institutions and ministries. This figure is much lower than research allocations in other Southeast Asian countries, such as Vietnam with 0.44 percent, Thailand, 0.78 percent, Malaysia, 1.3 percent, and Singapore, 2.6 percent.

Quality research and innovation boost economic growth. This cannot happen if political intervention remains high and government commitment towards research remains low.

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