Press on with job, Yudhoyono tells Jokowi

Press on with job, Yudhoyono tells Jokowi
Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono mingles with guests after receiving an honorary fellowship by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies last Friday in Singapore. In the interview, Dr Yudhoyono said the two biggest problems that he felt had not been solved during his two terms were the issues of endemic corruption and the slow progress of infrastructure development.

FORMER President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has this advice for his successor: Press on with your job and prove to the people you can do it, even in the face of severe criticism.

"Rule No. 1 for a political leader, he or she must be ready to face criticisms, and while receiving criticisms day and night after night, must continue carrying on his or her duty for the nation," he said in his first media interview since stepping down last year after 10 years of leading South-east Asia's largest nation.

He was succeeded by Mr Joko Widodo, who has come under fire from his own party.

Leaders have to remain steadfast in the face of criticisms and continue to engage the people but also prove that they can deliver, he said on Sunday.

Dr Yudhoyono had just returned a day before from Singapore where he delivered a speech at a regional outlook forum. On Friday, he was conferred an honorary fellowship by Singapore think-tank, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (Iseas).

The 65-year-old grandfather of two has kept busy, travelling with his wife and two sons, and posting pictures on his Facebook and Twitter accounts. He has also been delivering speeches at global and domestic forums and spending time at the Seoul-based Global Green Growth Institute.

A Facebook picture of him receiving the Iseas award drew 27,000 likes and comments by users who say they miss him or still want him to be their president.

He played this down, saying his mission to lead Indonesia was accomplished and that he was relieved that the handover process was smooth given the country's previous less than peaceful transitions of power.

He was matter-of-fact about the glowing comments.

"Well, a leader is loved and hated when the leader is still in office. She or he faces a lot of criticisms, it happens anywhere in the world," said the sixth Indonesian president, at his private residence in Bogor, West Java.

He had faced challenges from not only his political rivals but also from critics who viewed him as being too slow or indecisive in pushing through with decisions.

He recalled being shocked when the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's founding Prime Minister, remarked to him that Dr Yudhoyono could achieve only up to 40 per cent of what he sought to do. But he regained his composure when Mr Lee then said Dr Yudhoyono could achieve 70 per cent if he served two terms.

This was an exchange he wrote about in his memoirs, launched some months before the end of his presidency.

"To be fair, I achieved a lot of things, but I admit shortcomings... sometimes setbacks.

"I could solve one but other problems come. That is life, that is democracy, that is national development," he said.

Two of the biggest problems that Dr Yudhoyono felt had not been solved during his two terms were the issues of endemic corruption and the slow progress of infrastructure development.

His own party cadres were ensnared in high-profile graft cases and economists had lamented the slow pace of infrastructure development over the last decade, despite strong economic growth.

He labelled the battle against graft a "never-ending goal".

"We need 10 to 15 years to make our system cleaner and to really have good governance, to make corruption the exception and not the rule in this country," he said.

Aware of the severe criticisms lobbed at him for not having more infrastructure development under his presidency, he said the need for massive funds and land acquisition were the major obstacles.

Building infrastructure required more funds than the national budget could provide so he sought more private investments, especially during his second term, to support the state-owned enterprises to launch more development projects.

Land acquisition was tricky.

People resisted giving up their land, even if for the larger good.

"We need time to convince and educate our people that as (long) as it is for public interest, then the people must support the government, must support the building of infrastructure," he said.

While globally, he is known as Indonesia's "most green president" for his no-deforestation policies, such as implementing a forest and peatlands licences moratorium, he stirred controversy back home when he apologised to Singapore and regional countries affected by the haze in 2013, the worst in 16 years caused by forest fires in Sumatra.

"I have to admit that dealing with forest fires is the most challenging issue for Indonesia," he said. But he said it was a matter of leadership - and, indeed, he put to shame local leaders by going to Riau and personally overseeing operations that reduced forest fires.

"I did it in three days - mission accomplished. So I am telling my governors, my mayors, my regents: If you are willing to do concretely, and by leading it yourselves, you can do it," he said.

But he knows all too well the problems of lax implementation of the law in a graft-tainted forestry sector, and stressed that the leaders must continue to encourage, supervise and even force local governments to do their job.

"Sometimes, too late and too little (is done) in overcoming the forest fire problems," he added, but emphasised that deforestation rates have gone down and so have forest fires over the last decade.

Issues like this needed regional co-operation, he said, and suggested that more help be given by regional countries in water bombing efforts, among other things.

Though he has stepped down from the presidency, politics will still demand his time.

Over the next four years, Dr Yudhoyono, chairman of his Democratic Party, will be strategising, re-organising and consolidating his party to prepare for the 2019 national elections.

The Democratic party was founded by him, and was the vehicle through which he won the presidency first in 2004, and again in 2009. While he has instructed his party to officially remain neutral in Parliament, he also told his cadres that it is "only political ethics" to support a sitting president and support the government but offer constructive criticisms.

"I have experienced leading this country - (it's) not easy. (It's) complex, a lot of challenges and problems. So if we could assist the government, why don't we do it?" He added, using Mr Joko's nickname: "President Jokowi is our President. If he succeeds, the country will be happy, if he does not succeed, we are in deep trouble."

zubaidah@sph.com.sg

wahyudis@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Apr 14, 2015.
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