Perhaps as part of the pre-Ramadan rush, the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club has been very busy this week with its media luncheons, where it invites a prominent speaker to address the crowd and field questions.

On Monday it hosted Franky Sibarani, is the Chairman of Indonesia Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM) and today it hosted Trade Minister Rahman Gobel. What they had to say was meant to e interesting but Unspun found the side chatter among members of the audience to be even more interesting.

Monday was the first time that Sibarani addressed the JFCC and he did a decent enough, though not impressive, job delivering his powerpoint presentation on how the BKPM was going to attract more investments.

But when it came question time, his performance dropped several notches. He was tossed a softball question to start off with. The Wall Street Journal wanted to know how he was going to increase foreign direct investments into Indonesia. The answer was already in his powerpoint presentation and you’d expect him to answer it with ease: De-bottlenecking the business approvals process, cutting down on red tape, prioritising job-creating businesses etc.

But Sibarani instead looked troubled and gestured for his adjutant to hand him his man-bag where he’s stored his notes. With furrowed brow he kept the audience waiting while he looked through them and, seemingly not being able to find the relevant section, began muttering an unintelligible answer.

The foreign journalist next to Unspun wickedly remarked: “Franky doesn’t seem to be on top of his job.”. A bit unkind but not unjustified.The rest of Question Time went by with little change, questions met with hardly coherent answers.

In discussions afterwards among themselves, some members of the audience said that it may be a language thing. Maybe he was having difficulty expressing himself in English. Others said that while that may be forgivable, what was not forgivable was the fact that he had no command of the information concerning the agency in the first place.

The unforgiving ones also said that Sibarani was effectively the nation’s chief salesperson to foreign investors and as such it was unfathomable why the President would choose someone who has to struggle with his English to sell his country. They pointed out that past BKPM chairmen like Chatib Basri were all very savvy Indonesians who had no problems at all conversing and persuading others in English.

Trade Minister Rahman Gobel, on the other hand, approached today’s talk with much more confidence. He brought along a translator because he felt safer speaking in Indonesian to prevent misquotes. he also brought with him a sweet young translator who proceeded to fumble her translations due to lack of inexperience.

Her performance was so poor that midway through a former expert staff of the former trade minister Gita Wirjawan had to volunteer to translate to save the day. She was very clear and professional, although she had to work off from what the Minister said.

Gobel stressed in his talk that he slapped a bank on beer sales at convenience stalls because youths were buying beer from these outlets and getting drunk. So to save the future of Indonesia that lies with its youth he’s had to impose a ban on beer sales.

Asked during Question Time why he chose a regulatory ban as a solution to juvenile drinking, rather than enforcement of existing laws, he said lone convenience store attendants were often intimidated by four or five underage youths who wanted to buy beer. So a regulatory ban was the only way to protect them.

He also said that many of these store attendants were thankful to him for protecting them from intimidation. He knew that because of the many text messages that he’s received from them. Wow! Unseen thought: This Minister is a man of the people, even shop attendants know his mobile number and can text him.

Asked if he resorted to regulatory bans because he has written off the police and other enforcement agencies to do their jobs and prevent intimidation or manipulation vis a vis beer sales, chilli imports and rice imports, the Minister gave an answer that the members of the audience, including Unspun, was able to unspin.

The Minister also said something that must have chilled Big Tobacco to the bone. Asked why he clamped down only on beer when cigarettes caused more harm yet were freely sold at convenience stores, he replied that they would come around to putting it in order (he used the word tertipkan). Asked if that meant that he would ban the sales of cigarettes he stopped short of saying yes but that they would come round to regulating it.

The side chatter was also very interesting. One member of the audience complained that he did not understand the minister at all as the answers were rather confusing. A foreign diplomat looked very troubled and disturbed: “all this talk of saving the youth, protecting the nation and no apparent understanding of trade regimes and agreements…” she gasped.

There will be those that understand but Unspun thinks that sessions like these are extremely very useful as they give more people the opportunity to understand the thinking quality of of our Ministers, the strengths and shortcoming. By doing this the Ministers are giving us all a great opportunity to size up first hand the calibre of the Jokowi government.Isn’t democracy and open ministers a wonderful thing?