Jakarta. Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto has come under criticisms for traveling to at least seven countries in the first three months he has been in the cabinet, but President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo said on Thursday he didn't mind his minister making the trips.
The president said Prabowo has been on important assignments to engage in "defense diplomacy" with other countries and explore possibilities of arms purchases.
"If anyone asks why the defense minister has to travel to a foreign country, [he does so as] part of our defense diplomacy, not for other purposes," the president said after leading a meeting of top defense officials at the Defense Ministry in Jakarta.
"To my knowledge, the minister went to those countries to take a look at military weapons that we intend to buy, to see whether or not they're worth the money," Jokowi said.
Prabowo – Jokowi's rival in the 2014 and 2019 presidential elections – has visited Malaysia, Thailand, Turkey, China, Japan, the Philippines and France since October. Reports said he had also been to Denmark to strike a deal on a sale of frigates.
The president said the government had allocated a budget of Rp 127 trillion ($9.3 billion) for the Defense Ministry this year.
"The Defense Ministry has been receiving the biggest share of the state budget since 2016. This year, it gets around Rp 127 trillion. That must be managed very carefully," the president said.
"But I have trust in my defense minister. In our discussions, he's shown that he remembers each spending down to its details. What I want him to do is to use the budget efficiently, prevent misappropriations, and prioritize the domestic arms industries," he said.
Jokowi said the government is prepared to allocate a significant budget to ensure the country's defense system is always at the ready to safeguard Indonesia's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
"I have ordered the TNI [Indonesian Military] and the National Police to work together to stand in the frontline defending our sovereignty," he said.
For his part, Prabowo thanked the president for attending the high-level defense meeting.
"The presence of the president, our commander-in-chief, boosts the spirit of all our defense personnel," Prabowo said.
"I told the president that a total of 534 officials attended this meeting to discuss the 2020 budget to be presented to the TNI commander," Prabowo said.
Among those present at the meeting were the Political, Legal and Security Affairs Coordinating Minister Mahfud M.D., Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, TNI Commander Chief Air Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto, National Police Chief General Idham Azis and State Intelligence Agency Head Budi Gunawan.