Armando Siahaan, Irvan Tisnabudi & Anita Rachman
New Finance Minister Agus Martowardojo today begins the tall task of filling in the big shoes left by Sri Mulyani Indrawati.
Inaugurated by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Thursday at a ceremony in the State Palace, Agus, along with new Deputy Finance Minister Anny Ratnawati, has been given a daunting list of instructions, ranging from implementing a prudent fiscal policy to increasing the state income.
Yudhoyono sent a strong message of rebuke to his outgoing minister’s political critics by reserving glowing praise for her.
Wishing her luck, he also asked Sri Mulyani to keep Indonesia firmly in mind in her new position as a managing director at the World Bank. “Fight for the world’s interest, particularly that of the developing countries, including Indonesia,” he said.
Yudhoyono said it was strong policy in 2008, when Sri Mulyani was already finance minister, that guided the economy through the financial crisis. But he praised her personally for her contribution.
“The state and the government recorded your perseverance and hard work. You have done a lot during normal times as well as crises,” he said. “You should be grateful for having played an important and historic role.” He added that not all people would remember the hard work one has done, but “believe me, God records it.”
The warm praise the president had for her achievements, however, came in stark contrast to the cold reception she was accorded at the House of Representatives.
Fewer than one-fifth of the House’s 560 lawmakers attended Sri Mulyani’s last plenary hearing to present her fiscal policies. Many opposition legislators had already walked out by the time the minister, who had been investigated and attacked by the House for the better part of the past year over the 2008 Bank Century bailout, asked for their forgiveness for past differences.
“In today’s meeting, I ask members to forgive, and please let me say goodbye,” she said, to applause from those present. “With relief, hope, we walk along our own paths. We all work together for the nation.”
Though Yudhoyono said a key reason that Agus and Anny were appointed was that they did not come from any political party but from a professional background, it was clear they should both be prepared for political warfare given Sri Mulyani’s experience.
Agus indicated that he was ready for this. “If we assure our stakeholders and we communicate with them, while upholding our professionalism, we will find a solution,” he said.
Sri Mulyani said his experience in running a bank as big and complex as PT Bank Mandiri showed leadership skills and integrity.
Moreover, she said Agus had implemented a number of reforms at the bank similar to those at the Finance Ministry. “I am optimistic that the continuation of the reform program will go well,” she said, addressing worries that the reform drive she began, which had earned her several enemies, would be forgotten.
Agus said he would pursue tax fraud and evasion, but declined to answer directly when asked by reporters about the tax probe into companies owned by businessman-cum-politician Aburizal Bakrie, whose rocky relations with Sri Mulyani were no secret.
The president’s choice for Sri Mulyani’s successor had been keenly awaited, given speculation that politics had prompted the former finance minister to leave.
One of the strong contenders for the post, Anggito Abimanyu, on Thursday resigned after being replaced as deputy finance minister by Anny. He was officially named to that post by Yudhoyono last year, but was never officially inaugurated.