Help Wanted!

Three ambassadorial posts are still vacant. Are the recommendations of the DPR Foreign Affairs Commission binding?

PRESIDENT Megawati should have inaugurated a number of ambassadors last Thursday, but the inauguration had to be delayed until further notice as the president was unable to attend. But there is another explanation for the delay: three of the posts are still vacant. One is the post of ambassador to Australia, which has always been regarded as a prestigious one due to the complex diplomatic relationship between Indonesia and its southern neighbor.

The post should have already been filled by Susanto Pudjomartono, ex-chief editor of The Jakarta Post (JP) and ex-executive editor of TEMPO magazine. Last February, Susanto, who has 37 years of experience as a reporter, attended a clarification hearing held by the House of Representatives’ (DPR) Foreign Affairs Commission. He has also attended a “course” on becoming an ambassador held by the Foreign Affairs Department.

It is not only Susanto whose appointment is still pending. There are two more ambassadorial posts which are still vacant: Sweden and Russia. The Department of Foreign Affairs cannot answer with any certainty as to when the three posts will be filled. “The process is underway,” said Marty Natalegawa, Foreign Affairs Department spokesperson.

The continued vacancy of the three positions is due to the DPR Commission on Foreign Affairs not being forthcoming with approvals. The commission recommended to the leaders of the DPR and to the president that Susanto not be posted in Australia.

Why the objection to Susanto’s appointment? Permadi, a commission member from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), said that the commission did not reject Susanto’s appointment as an ambassador, but it did not approve of his placement in Australia. Why? “We regard Australia as a strategic country despite its rather hostile attitude to Indonesia,” he said. He explained that the commission recommended that a very experienced ambassador be placed in Australia and that Susanto instead be appointed ambassador to Russia.

The commission also required that an experienced diplomat be stationed in Sweden; the post was originally supposed to be filled by Perwitorini, a director at the Department of Foreign Affairs. The commission believes that the government should appoint an ambassador with certain specialized skills to a country which is regarded as the “home” of the top leader of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). That is, “a person who is experienced in handling issues related to GAM,” said Permadi.

The Russian post was originally intended to be filled by Imron Cotan, presently an interim charge d’affaires at the Indonesian embassy in Australia. But according to Djoko, the commission suggested that Imron be appointed ambassador to Australia. “His performance is excellent and stable; he can reassure the Australian people. Why not appoint him to Australia and keep him there,” said commission member Djoko Susilo. The suggestion means that the Russian post is also vacant.

But the commission’s suggestion seems to be inconsistent with their own prior approach. They previously rejected the nomination of an ambassador who was 50 years old on the grounds that he was “too young.” Imron Cotan is only 48.

Regardless of its quality and consistency, House deliberation is required by Amendment I to the 1945 Constitution. The amendment stipulates that the president, upon the deliberation of the DPR, shall appoint ambassadors to foreign countries. There has been a long debate on whether or not the DPR deliberations are binding on the president, including the deliberations on the placement of the ambassadors who were supposed to be inaugurated last Thursday. According to Burhan D. Magenda, a member of the commission from the Golkar Party, some legislators insisted that the ambassadors be appointed in accordance with government nominations while some insisted that changes be made to the government nominations. Eventually, after a long discussion, the 30 members of the commission agreed to record some “notes” regarding the three ambassadorial posts.

But doesn’t Paragraph 13 Section 1 of Amendment I to the 1945 Constitution stipulate that the DPR only make “deliberations”? “That is euphemistic. Deliberations of the DPR are absolutely binding,” said Djoko. According to Burhan, the dubious nature of Paragraph 13 is responsible for the problems in appointing the ambassadors.

Prior to the present impasse, the government has once before refused to accept the DPR’s deliberations. This happened in February when the president appointed Moh. Irsan as ambassador to Japan, Amin Rianom as ambassador to Turkey and Azerbaijan, and Hardikun Supandar to Algeria. The DPR had questioned the capability of the appointees. “Commission members were presented with a fait accompli,” said Ibrahim Ambong, who was then chief of the commission. Djoko Susilo hopes that the government will not repeat the mistake. “If Mega goes ahead with her plans, then she will have to face the consequences of her actions,” said Djoko in a threatening tone.

Susanto Pudjomartono has chosen not to comment on the issue. “Please ask the Department of Foreign Affairs,” he said, though the department also has no clear answer. But according to a source close to President Megawati, Susanto will certainly follow in the footsteps of Sabam Siagian, a fellow former chief editor of JP, who once occupied the office at 8 Darwin Avenue, Canberra–the site of the Indonesian Embassy in Australia. “The president knows and trusts him very well and the Canberra posting has been vacant for 18 months,” the source said.

The commission may reject, but the president will make the final decision.

Abdul Manan

TEMPO, JULY 28, 2003-046/P. 24 Heading National

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