Today, there are 500 mid-ranking and 150 high-ranking officers in the Indonesian military with no units to command, a situation that has stunted their careers and their pay grades. (Antara Photo/Ahmad Subaidi)
No One Tells the Colonels: Jobless Officers Create Headache for Jokowi
BY : ROBERTUS WARDI
FEBRUARY 26, 2019
Jakarta. Indonesia has too many colonels in its military and President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo is having a hard time finding jobs for them.
Disgruntled high-ranking military personnel could create problems for the president, technically the commander-in-chief of the TNI, the Indonesian armed forces.
Today, at least 500 mid-ranking and 150 high-ranking officers are left essentially jobless with no unit to command, which means their careers are stuck and with it, their pay grades.
As any avid student of the history of the republic would quickly point out, similar situations in the past had led to various rebellions and uprisings.
The president wants to be seen to offer a solution for this problem—to show that there is a career path in the TNI for the colonels other than pushing papers—to keep morale and spirits high among more than 400,000 active military men and women.
While TNI members do not have voting rights, their spouse or children may take into account the prospect of their family's fortunes when they cast a vote in the presidential election in April.
Jokowi has reason to complain to his predecessors for not dealing with this problem sooner.
Indonesia spends less than 0.5 of its gross domestic product on the military, which means creating more units for mid-ranking officers to command is out of the question.
It also limits the government's ability to give these officers the "golden handshake," aka early retirement, so they can make their fortune in the private sector.
So, like Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono before him, Jokowi plans to take the safe, and cheaper, route: cram as many of the colonels into civilian institutions.
During the joint Armed Forces-National Police meeting of leaders on Jan. 29, Indonesian Military (TNI) Chief Hadi Tjahjanto proposed to do just that on top of creating some 60 new positions in the military.
This has to be done even if it means amending the 2004 TNI Law, which prohibits active TNI officers from holding an official post in non-military institutions, Hadi said.
Maritime Affairs Coordinating Minister Luhut Pandjaitan, a former Army general and special forces commander, threw his support behind the plan, saying he believes active TNI officers are more experienced than most at handling situations involving state security.
"If there is any objection, explain to me why," Luhut said last week.
Observers, legislators and civic organizations were quick to oppose the plan. The military's all-ecompassing and destructive "dwifungsi" ("dual function") during the Soeharto era—when ABRI, as TNI was called then, held government offices, had representations in the parliament, meddled with private businesses and played no small part in repressing civil liberty—is still too fresh in their mind.
"The TNI should not place active soldiers in civilian posts. That will lead to serious problems," said Sukamta, a member of the House of Representatives' Commission I, which oversees defense, foreign affairs, communication and informatics and intelligence.
First, the officers would be too preoccupied by their civilian jobs to be able to function as professional soldiers, said Sukamta, who came from the opposition Prosperous Justice Party.
Second, it could lead to tensions between the civilian population and the TNI. This would be counterproductive to the democratization process that has been going on since Reformasi, Sukamta said.
Third, the plan may open a pathway for active military officers to enter Indonesian politics, which is prohibited by the 2004 TNI Law.
Under the law, military officers who want to occupy civilian posts must first leave the military, except in a limited number of positions in certain institutions, including in the Coordinating Ministry for Political, Legal and Security Affairs and the National Search and Rescue Agency.
Sukamta said the best solution is to increase TNI's budget to 1.5 percent of the GDP, as President Joko Widodo had promised during his 2014 presidential campaign.
"The point of the budget increase is not only to give soldiers jobs but also to allow the TNI to buy new military equipment. If the TNI has a budget that's big enough, the soldiers' basic needs can be met. The TNI can then make adjustments and create more jobs for their officers," Sukamta said.