EDITORIAL: Revamping the Foreign Ministry

JAKARTA (The Jakarta Post/ANN) - President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has often ordered Indonesian diplomats and envoys to improve their economic diplomacy activities. It is therefore a good time for the President to seriously consider a structural revamp of the Foreign Ministry, because the current structure puts more emphasis on general regional, multilateral and international legal affairs, and lacks specific attention on the economy.

In his meeting with 134 Indonesian ambassadors, consul generals, consuls and overseas permanent representatives on Monday, Jokowi stressed again their mission to boost exports and foreign investment. The President still has more than 18 months to realize his ambitious goals. Implementing his instruction would require substantial restructuring and readjustment measures.

Further, quality and dedicated diplomats are strongly required. The quality of Indonesian diplomats has been proven by an increasing demand to recruit them by ministries and state agencies outside the Foreign Ministry.

Our embassies and other missions have worked very hard to implement the President’s instruction. But an adequate structure could render them more effective.

First, the Foreign Ministry needs to reintroduce the directorate general for foreign economic relations (HELN), which was abolished by former foreign minister Hassan Wirajuda in 2002 during the administration of then president Megawati Soekarnoputri. The aim was to eliminate sectoral ego among bureaucrats and readjust Indonesia’s position on global affairs.

Now the ministry, led by Retno LP Marsudi and her deputy AM Fachir, has seven directorate generals: three for the main geographic responsibilities over the AsiaPacific, American and European regions and Asean; and the other four overseeing multilateral cooperation, legal and international treaties, protocol and consular services, as well as information and public diplomacy

The ministry’s senior officials apparently realize the need for necessary changes, and tend to agree with the idea to evaluate the ongoing system to accommodate the latest global developments.

While the President has ordered diplomats to team up with relevant parties in the government, he can also broaden his target by reorganizing the Trade Ministry so it can concentrate on domestic trade. Under the current system, the trade minister is in charge of home and foreign trade.

Rarely has a minister been successful in handling both domestic and foreign trade. Several trade ministers have given high profile performances on international trade issues such as those relating to the World Trade Organization, but failed to satisfy their boss regarding domestic business.

Many countries have put international trade affairs under the Foreign Ministry, as is the case with Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. By concentrating on domestic trade, trade ministries can be much more effective in regulating national trade policies.

The President has many alternative policies. The revamping of the ministries is just one choice. But he should take prompt action to realize his vision.


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