Students from Banda Aceh

Students from Banda Aceh pictured here on June 10, 2020. The Jokowi administration’s recent reshuffling of ministries may hinder its research and innovation vision for Indonesia. (Photo: Chaideer Mahyuddin, AFP)

Lost in the Shuffle: Research and Innovation in Indonesia

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The Jokowi administration’s recent reshuffling of ministries complicates research and innovation policy.

In 2019, the Jokowi administration announced the goal of Indonesia becoming one of five largest economies in the world by 2045, and emphasised the importance of research and innovation for this ambition. In 2019, Indonesia was the fifteenth largest economy globally in current US dollar terms. The key for reaching this goal is to develop and improve the country’s knowledge and innovation ecosystem: encourage the “downstreaming” and commercialisation of research results; ensure evidence-based policies; and build up state capacity in research and innovation policy and management.

The recent reshuffling of ministries may hinder this vision. In March, President Jokowi requested parliamentary approval for a major reorganisation of key ministries and ministerial portfolios. On 9 April, parliament approved his proposal and the new Ministry of Investment came to be.

As Indonesian law limits the number of state ministries to 34, one other had to be sacrificed, so two ministries were merged, with one of these also losing a key function. The current Ministry of Research and Technology/National Research and Innovation Agency (Kemenristek/BRIN) joined with the Ministry of Education and Culture (Kemendikbud), creating the new Ministry of Education and Culture–Research and Technology (Kemendikbud-Ristek), while BRIN became an autonomous non-ministerial agency. For research and innovation in the country, the dissolution of Kemenristek marks the end to its long journey since 1962 when President Soekarno first established the Ministry.

These two developments present substantive and administrative challenges for the public policy and governance of research and innovation at the national level. Substantively, the roles and functions of the new Kemendikbud-Ristek and BRIN could overlap even with efforts to clarify the division of labour between the new ministry and autonomous agency. By attaching Ristek’s research and technology policy functions to the current Kemendikbud, the new ministry must handle the policies concerning research, science, technology and innovation, on top of those already handled such as early childhood education, primary, secondary, vocational, higher education, culture, and character building. This is probably the widest scope of policy responsibility of any of the 34 ministries, ranging from upstream to downstream policies. Overwhelmed, the resulting policies may be half-baked, if not an outright failure.

BRIN was only established in 2019 by Law 11/2019 as Kemendikbud’s implementing agency for research and innovation policies. If BRIN, in its new autonomous role, manages and implements research and innovation policy, the potential for role overlaps will be even greater, as will concerns about BRIN’s politicisation – if not abuse of power. Media reports warn that BRIN’s Steering Committee will likely be manned by political figures. This would not only risk the agency’s ability to fulfil its stated policy roles, it could also dictate the direction of research and innovation in the country and of key nodes of the country’s scientific community such as AIPI (Indonesian Academy of Sciences).

Administratively, Kemendikbud-Ristek and BRIN will need time to establish themselves. This process of adjustment and reformation is not trivial and has proven to be time-consuming and cumbersome for other state institutions.

Notwithstanding the potential for overlaps and abuse of power, as the implementer of research and innovation policy, BRIN already had a big task at hand before it was shuffled out of Kemendikbud. Law 11/2019 stipulates that BRIN should “integrate” all non-ministerial government research and technology agencies (LPNK), such as the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT), the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (LAPAN), the National Nuclear Energy Agency (BATAN), and the Nuclear Energy Supervisory Agency (BAPETEN), as well as research and development agencies/units in ministries and other state institutions.

This integration process will certainly take a long time, even if BRIN had remained under Kemendikbud. If BRIN chooses to merge all or most of these disparate state research and innovation institutions, it may advance the government’s goal to streamline the bureaucracy and reduce the number of  “irrelevant” state institutions. The problem with such a grand merger would be dealing with civil servants in the institutions to be dissolved or merged. Alternatively, if BRIN chooses a softer coordination approach, while causing less disruption to the civil service, it will raise questions about the effective use of state resources.

Administratively, Kemendikbud-Ristek and BRIN will need time to establish themselves. This process of adjustment and reformation is not trivial and has proven to be time-consuming and cumbersome for other state institutions. When the Pancasila Ideology Development Agency (BPIP) was formed, for example, it took more than a year for it to become operational – as did the Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) and other new institutions in the 2014-2019 cabinet. Kemendikbud-Ristek, with its huge portfolio of responsibilities, and BRIN will experience the same problem. The fact that that BRIN itself was hurriedly established when Covid-19 was at its most disruptive means that the agency’s budget and structures need to be finalised immediately. Otherwise, it could create a coordination vacuum in research and innovation policy in this crucial time of pandemic response and recovery.

The 2045 ambition and the immediate exigencies of the Covid-19 reinforce why research and innovation governance must be safeguarded, and why research and innovation policies and their implementation must go hand in hand in a clear, considered strategy. This is not something that should be done haphazardly, let alone improvised in a hurry.

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