President needs more bootlickers in his Cabinet

Kornelius Purba, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A recent incident at NASA, in the U.S. state of Texas, and the comments of a senior Indonesian official about the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta could be both disturbing and inspiring for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who has promised -- again -- to replace incompetent ministers in his Cabinet next month, and to insist his Vice President, Jusuf Kalla, become closer to him.

Very few Indonesian newspapers carried reports of the NASA employee who shot to death his supervisor before killing himself last week, apparently because the editors feared their bosses might get the wrong idea they were sending threats by putting the story on a prominent page.

CNN.Com reported William Phillips killed his supervisor, David Beverly, at the Johnson Space Center after the victim sent him an email citing deficiencies in his job performance.

Phillips reportedly entered Beverly's office with a revolver in his hand and said, "You're the one who's going to get me fired." Phillips shot Beverly twice, police say. He then returned and shot Beverly twice more.

President Yudhoyono said he regularly reviews his ministers' work performance. It is not impossible ministers will be tempted to follow the NASA employee and take revenge if the President tells them they are performing poorly. Of course, they will not use a gun. As ministers they are supposed to use more "sophisticated" means to express their dismay.

If he dismissed Coordinating Minister for the Public Welfare Aburizal Bakrie from his Cabinet, the President might need to anticipate retaliation from the businessman in the form of a gas drilling site near his private residence in Cikeas, West Java. A company ultimately owned by the Bakrie family has been blamed by many for creating the mud volcano in East Java. Is the First Family ready to face a mud volcano?

Firing problematic Justice and Human Rights Minister Hamid Awaluddin could provoke the anger of Jusuf Kalla -- who is very protective of Hamid, who comes from the same hometown -- who might say, "You'll fire my lovely crook over my dead body."

Embattled State Secretary Yusril Ihza Mahendra is no longer dangerous politically because Forestry Minister M.S. Kaban has taken over his position as the chairman of the Crescent Star Party (PBB). But who knows -- just in case -- one day the President might want to know Yusril's secret for "winning the heart of a very young and beautiful lady". Not for himself, of course, but for his second son, the 26-year-old Edhie Baskoro, who is still single. As a legal expert, Yusril knows his "love recipe" is precious, especially for middle-aged and elderly men.

How about Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari and Agriculture Minister Anton Apriyantono? These two reportedly claim to be doing very well in eradicating bird flu and dengue fever, and in boosting rice production. So there is no reason for their boss to dismiss them. But one thing is sure, the President should think twice before eating any fried chicken and rice sent to him by Siti and Anton if he does fire them.

Meanwhile, using the U.S. Embassy as a pretext, the President could force Vice President Jusuf Kalla to vacate Merdeka Selatan Palace, the vice presidential palace, which is located just next to the U.S. Embassy, and move into the Presidential Palace.

"If they want to, the Americans could easily count how many times our vice president farts every day in his office," as one senior government official who served three presidents once said of the risk of electronic eavesdropping by the embassy.

(It would be understandable if the U.S. Embassy sent an email to protest this remark.)

The truth, however, is that the President can monitor Kalla more closely if he moves him into the presidential palace.

Back to the issue of the Cabinet reshuffle, where changing ministers is no guarantee of anything. What is more important is that the President is surrounded by people who can please him, who can convince him that he can do no wrong. (Some people "wrongly" describe such people as "bootlickers".)

He does not need to listen to the public outcry over the poor performance of his Cabinet. But he can accommodate the ambitions of politicians who want to be described as former ministers at their funerals. Put them in the positions of Minister of Gossip Affairs, Minister of Tommy Soeharto's Affairs, Minister of Polygamy Affairs. The last position is very important because the growing trend of taking second and third wives needs to be anticipated.

And anyway, is there any problem if the U.S. Embassy counts Kalla's farts? I think it would only become a problem if they had the technology to allow the intelligence officers next door to smell them.

The writer can be reached at purba@thejakartapost.com.
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KuKuKaChu: dangerously too sophisticated