As they were passing through a room where the pictures of his predecessors were being hung inside the State Secretary office buildings in Jakarta, Dipo Alam stopped and told his wife Ninik Setyawati while pointing at the pictures of Hoegeng and Saadilah Mursyid.
“I want to be like these two guys because of their honesty and loyalty,” he said.
They were staring at photographs of previous Indonesia’s cabinet secretaries and state secretaries since the era of the country’s first president Soekarno to president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s first term. It was 2010 and Yudhoyono was entering his second term and Dipo was being appointed as his cabinet secretary, a post only given to the president’s most trusted loyalist, after representing Indonesia as the secretary general of Development Eight (D8), an organisation of eight Muslim majority countries based in Istanbul.
“Pak Hoegeng is probably the most honest official the nation has ever had while Pak Saadilah is probably the most loyal. Pak Saadilah was still with Soeharto although the latter had lost his power and been very ill. He was still loyal to Soeharto until the end when others had left him.”
Right to that point Dipo has been known as a tough but honest character, staying true to his activist background who, as the president of University of Indonesia’s student council, led the university protesting against Soeharto. In fact, he continues to behave as a true activists all of his life. His no non-sense nature has earned him friends and foes alike but also genuine respect from both camps. He has done a lot to his nation — from his all-out battle against Soeharto’s dictatorship and his role in international arena on behalf of Indonesia.
But he was still humble, acknowledging the greatness of his predecessors, and were willing to model his life after them. Honesty, loyalty and no non-sense style would later define his life and career as one of Yudhoyono’s most trusted men. This no-nonsense character was shining through during our two-hour lunch meeting recently at a restaurant in Menteng, Central Jakarta, where he looked back on history he was in.
Dipo’s natures, however, would have not sit well either with some of Yudhoyono’s own inner circles or those opposing the president.
Every time Dipo came to the House of Representatives for a consultation, for instance, he would encounter lawmakers trying to force him to break his principles. These lawmakers were offering him a budget raise for his office to open a way for them to ask for commission.
With their budget authorities, it’s a common practice for lawmakers to provide budget as low as possible, or keep or cut the amount for the ministries, and later stage a negotiation for a raise in return for certain percentage of commission for them.
“I always told my deputies to ignore their offer,” he remembered.
But his rejection would always end up of him being scolded or even humiliated within the consultation meeting by these lawmakers often in the presence of tens of journalists.
Then, privately or when he encountered them in the toilet, these lawmakers would apologize, saying that it’s only a gimmick for public.
However, Dipo is flexible enough and willing to cooperate when it is for the greater good of the nation. He also can recognize young talent, praising his successor Andi Widjajanto, now governor of Indonesia’s Resilience Institute (Lemhanas), as a good talented guy, for his willingness to consult to him before taking over the job.
As a man who has dedicated all of his life to serve his country, Dipo has accumulated little in term of wealth and assets, compared to many other officials who has done little to none for the nation. These officials, in fact, have millions of dollars in their bank accounts, and scores of properties scattered across Indonesia and overseas.
What Dipo has in abundance is pride, knowing in full that he has done all he could for his nation.
Yudhoyono may have made many bad choices — how dozens of his Democrat Party’s politicians were swept away by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) even at the peak if his power, or how in later years, senior members of the party joined forces with his foes to betray him and try to take over the party. But Dipo is certainly not one of these rotten choices. Far from it, this dying breed in Indonesia’s corrupt political system was one of the best decisions Yudhoyono has ever made.
Now 72 years old, he is still full of energy, still want to contribute, and after producing dozens of widely-accepted paintings plus writing 500-page biography entitled Dipo Alam dalam Pusaran Adab Dipimpin dan Memimpin: Biografi Seorang Aktivis (Dipo Alam in Morality Whirlwind as Leader and Follower: A Biography of An Activist), he still wants to write more, especially series of novels. But he is running out of time, and Indonesia will sorely miss him and will have hard time to find a person of his quality when he is gone.