Startups and their irresistible offers to our employees

If, like me, you run a small to mid-sized business then I’m sure you’d empathize when I say that the startups are the bane of our lives when it comes to staff retention.

Like voracious vultures their HR officers and talent scouts circle our businesses for any of our staff who show promise. When they spot them, they open their deep wallets and swoop in on these young workers with offers so they will find difficult to resist.

I’ve been wondering if these enterprises end up empowering these young talents or ruin the rest of their lives. The source of this musings is because I know of the daughter of a family friend that quit her present job because this startup offered her, a person who has been in the workforce for 3 years, about Rp60 million per month basic salary, plus share options in the company.

To be sure. She is bright and talented. She could cobble together a good-looking PowerPoint deck and present fairly convincingly. But when it came to managing people she was still green, unable to convey instructions concisely and clearly and making sure that her direct reports understood and executed her instructions well. She still had to, like good wine, mature. Her ego still got too much in the way and she became defensive under pressure.

Someone like that, in a world not distorted by startups and e-commerce companies, would find it difficult to command a monthly salary a third of what she’s being offered in the communications industry.

To her credit, she sought some advice before she accepted the offer. Asked what I thought, I had one question for her: “What skills and experience of yours, do you think, their generous offer is based on?” She never gave me a clear answer but said she was fearful that an opportunity like this would not come again.

Pressed to elaborate what I thought I said she should not be to worried about missed opportunities. Indonesia today is awash with investors pouring money into startups, even those with dubious business models. They would still be around in a couple of years.

If she spent this time in a conventional business where she could be mentored properly she would, at the end of this period, be so much stronger professionally. She could then command an even higher salary then but more importantly she would be more equipped to handle the other aspects of a competitive professional environment – the internal politics, the art of managing upward, and the measured responses required when things go terribly wrong.

On the other hand, if she joined a startup now, she could end up like so many of the highly-paid young and talented people in startups today – good to look at and listen to, but not too closely, or the superficiality or immaturity will start to show, contributing to bad decisions, tamper tantrums and anxiety.

My pitch, however, lost out to the prospect of drawing a fat paycheck, a grand sounding title and the allure of working in a startup. She decided to join them in the end.

I didn’t feel too flustered by that because she was not working for me and she might be able to land on her feet after a few stumbles. But I can’t help wondering whether, on the whole the startups are doing any favors to these young talents and the industry with the irresistible offers.

Mining for trouble

This is a post I wrote for our company’s blog

Those who have an interest in media handling skills would find this interview — between the BBC’s Rebecca Henschke and Terry Filbert, the CEO of Baru Gold Corp that runs Tambang Mas Sangihe — a masterclass on what and how not to say things.

The company has been attracting a lot of attention lately following the sudden death of Sangihe Deputy Bupati Helmund Hontong, after the BBC reported that he openly wrote to the national government opposing the setting up of the mine.

Two days after that report, he collapsed and died on a Lion Air flight between Denpasar and Makassar.

Read the rest of the story by clicking on the link below:

Was Naomi Osaka professional in not wanting to take press conferences?

As someone who trains the C-Suite on Media Handling Skills, what we in the PR profession sometimes shorten to Media Training, I can empathise with Naomi Osaka for not wanting to speak with journalists after her matches.

At the same time I cannot but help wonder if Osaka was professional in citing mental health as the reason for pulling out of the French Open.

However you look at it though, the power equation between the media and their interviewees is changing because of social media ,so it should prompt journalists to do some navel gazing at how they should behave in press conferences and other interview situations. Let me explain.

Great opinion piece by Jonathan Liew in The Guardian

Firstly, Osaka deserves our sympathy because the media can be inane. How inane? see this article in Vice.

The media can ask all sorts of questions, whatever suits their fancy. This is so and has been so for a long time because of the power that the media once held over our public lives.

At their apex, the media could make you or break you because they were the only means of reaching a wider audience. They acted as gatekeepers and shaped the opinions of the public. Their influence was so pervasive that Mark Twain counselled us to “never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.”

The residual authority from its heyday makes many journalists think they have a right to question any public figure and lob hardball questions at them. Never mind the caliber of question, the interviewee should answer truthfully, honestly and openly, without losing their cool. If they lose their temper in the process, then tough luck for the interviewee and good luck for the journalist because it makes good copy or television.

Then there is Osaka. Here one needs to be careful as once mental health is invoked in this age of cancel culture, everyone gets hyper-sensitive. To be heard even questioning whether the excuse is appropriately professional is to face the possibility of being accused of insensitivity, racism, sexism and other labels.

Nonetheless what needs to be said is that she did, as a consenting adult, sign a contract with the French Open and part of the contractual requirement is that she appear at press conferences after matches. It’s not right, and may not even be informative for the viewers and fans, but let’s face it, professional tennis is not a sport but part of the entertainment industry. The industry is funded by sponsors and advertisers. To keep sponsors sponsoring and advertisers advertising they need to feed the Content Beast. When Osaka signed with the French Open she signed up for feeding the Beast, which in turn ensured a large pay checks she gets when she wins tournaments.

I am sure that someone like Osaka must have been media trained. The answers, when she was still speaking at press conferences, were good ones. Even when she was faced by stupid and inane questions. She was able to hold her own. Some of the fundamental lessons in media training is to expect the media to ask inane questions but mercifully reporters’ questions do not matter; what matters is our answer – what we say and how we say it. Another lesson is that reporters tend to ask the same questions many times, even when you’re just answered the same question.

Everyone, from this perspective, should take a leaf from Henry Kissinger’s playbook. He famously walked into a press conference saying something like “I have prepared my answers, I am now ready to take your questions.”

It is therefore a bit debatable whether Osaka’s decision to pull out of the French Open was a professional move, after all one of the definitions of a professional is someone who makes money from a certain activity or a sport. If you make money from the sport, it behoves the professional to understand how the sport is funded in the first place.

No matter which side of the debate you fall on, one issue that we should all consider seriously is the professionalism of the Press. What should professional sports journalists ask that would inform, educate and entertain (tastefully) their readers and viewers? That would be a journalist’s job.

But when they descend to inanity, then they are not doing any favours to anyone. They need to realise that in today’s world, where a player can tweet and reach more people than the entire audience of their media outlets, they no longer live in the days where they buy ink by the barrel.

Clubhouse is all the rage – and the likely site of the next business crisis

Don’t get me wrong. I think Clubhouse, the audio chat app that is taking the world and Indonesia by storm is fantastic.

Here you have an app that makes interaction easy among people with same interests. And because its audio only it also creates a feeling of intimacy and ability to network during sessions.

Another added benefit is that since it is organized usually as an informal and chilled-out chat, there is little preparation needed.

The result: Every Indonesian what fancies themselves as connected has signed onto the service and many have already organized Tchaikovsky rooms from a few people to a few hundred. Either that or they are desperately waiting for an invite to get onto Clubhouse.

The ease and informality of these chat rooms are Chatroom’s great strengths. But they also harbor its great danger – the likelihood of uncontrolled blabbering, under the mistaken notion that its an informal chat and there are little consequences to speaking your mind.

Users of Clubhouse or any social media application should always remember that whatever you do or say there can be recorded or copied and shared to a wider audience. There is little control once words are written, images are shared or words are uttered and you can never be sure who will be listening in, first hand or second hand.

Today I saw a chat room discussion on PR matters in which a spokesperson for a company that was recently in a crisis-like situation agreeing to talk about their recent experience.

Sharing is great but when your company has just undergone a reputation all crisis and nerves are still tender, one wrong word or phrase can plunge it back into the couldron.

I am sure that there will be a crisis or two arising from Clubhouse chats.

This is not to say that people should avoid something new like Clubhouse . They should try it and use it by all means but they should never underestimate how whatever happens on social media can often be taken out of context.

No matter how new or sexy the technology, skill, deliberation and awareness are still needed.

Eiger IV: Wow, what a turnaround – in a good way

CEOs are like the rest of us. They make mistakes.

But because of their elevated position and their egos many times its easier for them to bluster and get defensive over these mistakes. And it takes a really big man to admit theirs and ask for an apology.

After the Eiger letter berating Youtubers reviewing its products went viral, the brand came under a groundswell of criticism.

The CEO , Ronny Lukito, then issued a non-apology, failing to take responsibility for the incident, to be genuinely contrite and to explain why something like that would not happen again.

His critics weren’t assuaged and many were further inflamed. Unspun wrote about that and said that he failed to adhere to the 3Rs of crisis communications, which are Regret, Reason and Remedy and that he should seek professional help in his communications.

He must have, as today he issued a YouTube video and a statement apologizing to the affected YouTubers and taking full responsibility for the incident.

He explained that it was his idea to issue the offending letter. His PR, Marketing and legal teams tried to talk him out of it but because of arrogance he overruled them.

He has since realized his mistake and this incident has been a humbling and educational lesson for him. He has since appointed professionals to help him come up with better policies and improve their communications.

The result: if the comments on his YouTube posting are any indication, Netizens have forgiven him and appreciated his honesty and humility.

This is a good lesson for other CEOs on what to do during a crisis for their brand. I’m sure that Eiger will go from strength to strength from here if Mr Lukito maintains such an growth mindset.

I always loved their products. Now I love them more.

First Media: Snark can’t buy them love

First Media’s blundering tweet last night is a lesson why corporations and brands should be concerned about their social capital.

At about 10pm First Media social media admin thought they’d be clever and ride on the Eiger letter fiasco that earned the ire of Indonesian netizens.

Through its twitter account @FirstMediaCares they posted a letter similar in format to one sent out by Eiger competitor Arei, which was used to shade Eiger’s obtuse letter because its invitation for consumers to review its products was very laid back and inclusive.

Obviously, the First Media admin thought they were being smart and witty. Afterall, many companies had done the same and they raised a chuckle and approving plaudits from Netizens.

The posting attracted the attention of Uber influencer Ernest Prakarsa who simply commented: “Aduh. First Media. Aduh.”

He followed this with another tweet saying “Heads gonna roll” and attached the image of the First Media letter.

What followed was a long chain of replies and comments from other Netizens and disgruntled First media customers spewing invective with the common refrain: get the bloody service right before trying something snarky

PANIC!

The First Media admin began their first aid by deleting the posting with the image of the letter, thinking that they could mitigate the barrage of criticism.

As always, on the internet once something is posted there is bound to be a Smart Alec out there who has downloaded or screen captured the image. You just can’t put the Jinn back into the bottle.

True enough, netizens began posting the taken down image and First Media became the laughing stock on Twitter.

This incident provides a good example why corporations without strong social capital are often attacked and criticized.

Social Capital is about a network of relationships built on shared values, trust, cooperation and reciprocity. In other words you have to take care of your stakeholders and win their trust instead of just taking their money and shafting them when it comes to after sales service.

Social Capital, if you observe from the many complaints and invective of dissatisfied and angry customers directed to First Media on social media, is something that the company obviously has a deficit of.

As such trust in the company is low and at any given opportunity the tendency of its users is to trash it. Even an innocuous attempt at humor like the letter last night backfires because the brand has such low social capital.

What can the brand do? It can start by listening to its customers and acting on their complaints for a start. The number of people who feel like they were banging their heads against a wall when trying to get First Media to restore their service is legendary.

I know that there are many disgruntled First Media customers out there. If any of you are disgruntled and think First Media is unresponsive or ineffective in servicing you, just leave a comment below for them to know how low their Social Capital is among their most important stakeholder – you the consumer.

Eiger III: the Legal Eagle’s wings are clipped, but has the root cause been addressed?

Note: I got the information about the sacking from an online news portal in Indonesia. Have been told that the twitter account of Hendra Lim is actually a fake.

So apologies all. Disregard this post but rather than me deleting it I think it best to clarify it here and leave the rest as is so that others might be able to know that it’s fake as well. Hendra Lim apparently still works at Eiger.

Eiger has sacked the legal manager whose insulting letters to YouTube reviews of its products has put them under an uncomfortable spotlight, (see here)

The sacking is confirmed by the Leggal manager himself in his own twitter account

Hendra, however, seems unable to stop shooting himself on the foot, lamenting in a twit that politics between businesses, artistes and YouTubers and virtually the whole world is conspiring to keep The People poor and heap blame on them.

He’s young and perhaps will recover from this but any prospective employer looking at his social media feeds (and we employers do check, or have people point it out) would do a triple take before taking a chance on him in the future.

Be that as it may, he is now out of Eiger’s hair. Does his departure, however, mean that Eiger’s problems are over?

It depends. If the management there has owned the problem then they’d be ok moving forward.

As I said in the last posting, if they had learned from this incident they’d recognize it is as much management’s as the legal manager’s failure that triggered this incident.

If they realize this then they’d take communications and reputation protection seriously and hire professional communicators to to a communications job.

If they haven’t then they will remain a crisis waiting to happen. Time will tell, WFH audiences await the next installment.

Eiger II: A lame apology and more trouble coming

Latest update on Eiger saga here

Yesterday the outdoor adventure gear brand Eiger got into a hot mess when its Leagal Eagle went a step too far and dissed off YouTubers reviewing their products. (See post here)

By late afternoon the Eiger CEO Ronny Lukito had had enough and decided to take matters into his own hands. He apologized for his Legal Eagle’s letter with his own letter.

All good apologizing but you have to wonder who is advising him on the PR front because the apology was not really an apology. When this happens it usually invites ongoing resentment and possible future attacks.

He started the latter with an apology to the community. He then admitted that the offending letter that had gone viral had indeed been sent by Eiger and they realize that this was a wrong and inappropriate action. So far so good.

Then he had to say that the original intent of the letter was to provide input to the reviewer so they can improve. Bang! Another shot in the foot. Although he tried to paper over the hole with “we realise that how we conveyed that was wrong”, he had stumbled.

This is what communicators classify as mixed messages. It’s when observations, inferences, feelings and wants are jumbled up.

Here it would have been fine if he said that whet they did was wrong, he as CEO takes responsibility for the act, he’s sorry for all the frustrations and angst caused. Instead he went on to explain their intent which still sounds patronizing, because its an outdoor gear maker telling a YouTuber how to improve shooting review videos.

Lukito also left out a vital element of apologies in crisis-like moments. He failed to say what action he’s taking to make sure that this does not happen again. Without stating this he is giving the impression that the company is not taking responsibility for the incident and not interested to learn from their mistakes. At worst, many would think that they will get back to business as usual once this kerfuffle is over.

All this leaves the company open to more criticism if the opportunity arises.

Lo and behold, the opportunity came this morning when some Netizens uncovered an incident where the legal department of Eiger asked the giant online e-commerce site to take down a reseller’s product posting of a Sritex face mask. And Tokopedia complied!

Now it looks like Eiger has not only shot itself on the foot but is also extending its foot fetish toTokopedia.

Like I said yesterday, I think Eiger makes great products. It has also been quite smart and savvy in its design and branding. It is now the victims of its own success but it is something that it can easily fix by seeking professional help.

It takes skill and experience to communicate well. To entrust it to a legal flunky is being careless with your hard worn reputation as it takes skill and experience to communicate well, with authenticity and ethically.

They should seek professional help in the short term while they look to hire an experienced communicator in-house expressly for reputation all management.

I

Plumbing the depths with Eiger

I love the Eiger outdoor brand. Their products are affordable and often of good quality. A sandal I bought has lasted me years and looks like it will continue for at least another year or two. Damn comfortable too.

But good as they are in making outdoor gear they apparently suck at customer relations. Here’s what happened:

On 28th January, competitor outdoor gear brand Arei’s issued a letter inviting Netizens to review its products.

Arei’s invite sounded very inclusive and cool. Reviewers could use any method, any camera, any theme or in any location they liked to do these reviews.

Eiger must have thought it could do the same but when netizens began reviewing their products and uploading them on YouTube – and the reviews weren’t flattering – Eiger’s Legal General Manager began to get antsy.

He started sending nasty letters to the reviewers. They began with a faux politesse of “Firstly, we thank you for uploading a review of our product on your YouTube channel…” then quickly drew out the stiletto.

Instead of explaining in a rationale manner whether the review was fair to Eiger, it instead criticized the video’s quality, specifically the angle it shoes to show their products in an unflattering manner.

The Eiger Legal Manager also was an audiophile. Complaining that the sound quality was bad to make it quite inaudible and lastly, he criticized the suitability of the location of the shoot.

With that, the manager hoped that the YouTuber would take down that posting and, a bitchy parting shot: “We hope you will become a better Youtuber in [shooting] review videos.”

That’s a shot in their own foot by any measure but that’s not all. When news of that came out on social media it, of course, went viral and Eiger became a trending topic.

Eiger’s troubles did not end there. It turns out that the manager had sent out at least identical letters to two other YouTubers.

That makes it at least three shots to two legs. How many shots the manager had fired nobody really knows.

Netizens have a habit of digging up interesting information about foot shooters and one of them dug up a poster of the manager giving a talk.

The topic: How to Implement Agile Human Capital in Transition and Shifting Era. Oh irony of ironies.

Makes you wonder the caliber of people invited to give talks these days. And what possessed Eiger to entrust its communications function to a legal person instead of a communications professional

Al manager

Mr President: Apart from professional help, you need honest feedback

Even the usually mild-mannered Endy Bayuni was forced earlier this week to rant against the President and his team’s egregious handling of the Coronavirus outbreak in the usually tepid The Jakarta Post.

He counseled seeking professional help instead of relying on amateurs for something as serious and critical as the matter staring us in the face.

His advice, like so many well-meaning ones, seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Or has it? One wonders.

From the inaction and indecisiveness that Jokowi practices, to the gaffes that he makes when he finally acts or speaks (example: Lat Saturday Jokowi admitted to withholding information on COVID-19 because “we don’t want people to panic”) he must have been influenced by his advisors.

Anyone that has been in leadership positions are usually surrounded by advisers and courtiers. The quality of these people, who often become the eyes and ears of the ever-busy Leader, become crucial to how he perceives the world, what informs him and subsequently, the decisions he makes.

Who are they? Few of us have the inside-track on who he trusts apart from Luhut, but if you look at who Jokowi surrounds himself with you may get a good idea of the type of people they are.

They are usually smart professionals, seemingly liberal, connected in politics and business, influential on social media and above all loyal – some say fanatically loyal – to Jokowi.

The last quality is where the double-edged sword cuts. Their loyalty blinds them to the mistakes Jokowi is making and the merits of his rivals. This loyalty also makes them drink the Cool Aid when it comes to Jokowi’s reluctance or inability to act boldly, especially in holding others in positions of responsibility to account.

The result is groupthink is of the highest harm.

Groupthink, as some may recall, was the greatest bane of Kennedy’s administration. Although Camelot was staffed by the brightest people whose IQ was off the charts, they as a group had so little diversity in opinion and viewpoint that none of the inner circle held the view that the Bay of Pigs invasion was an exercise in folly and miscalculation. been.

Groupthink, one suspects, is at work overtime in Indonesia today. Whatever Jokowi does or doesn’t do over the Coronavirus outbreak is wise or excusable because of the political complications.

Terrible record but you gotta admit Anies Baswedan looks like a leader when other political leaders are pussyfooting around wringing their hands or stubbing their feet

No one else can do better than Pakde. So when Anies took to TV and social media to announce the initiatives that Jakarta, was making, including the closure of schools, it was dismissed as yet another antic of Anies the Sweet Talker with No Substance.

In spite of his record of failure to deliver, Anies looked decisive, he looked open and he looked like a leader when compared to Jokowi’s fumbling doesn’t not occur to any member of the Groupthink.

Their instinct is to dismiss the fact that Anies did better than Jokowi in this instance. They’ll now take to social media to disparage and scorn him. This has not been lost to Indonesia’s netizens who are slowly but increasingly wising up to their antics. hence the backlash against Jokowi’s Buzzers in social media.

This is dangerous in the extreme for Jokowi who because of the Groupthink surrounding him, would have lost his ability to sense danger.

And danger there is. The public is getting more disillusioned by the day by the culture of impunity that Jokowi has allowed to grow in his administration. You have the Health Minister Terawan who failed miserably to handle the first stages of the Coronavirus outbreak in Indonesia who has not been sacked or even chided.

Lashed to incompetence and creating a culture of impunity

You also have imbecilic officers like Siti Hikmawaty, the Commissioner of the Commission for the Protection of Children saying stupid things like a woman can get pregnant if she swam in the same swimming pool as a man, yet has not been chided or removed from office. The list goes on but the message people get is that the bad guys do not get punished or removed but allowed to fester in the administration.

She who says women can get pregnant if swimming with a man in the same pool is still sitting comfortably in office, drawing her salary

Jokowi’s abysmal handling of the Corona virus outbreak also poses a political danger to him. With the national Government seemingly paralyzed by inaction and indecisiveness, the regional leaders are beginning to assert themselves in this leadership vacuum.

Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan’s announcement of school closures and his publishing a map of Coronavirus infections in the city con only be interpreted in this context.

The problem is that this Governor, who comes to power by allying himself to racist and religious extremist politicians, is starting to look like a leader.

The last thing most of us want is for Anies to come to power. It hurts all the more to realize that Anies’s gins are only possible because of the ineffectiveness of Jokowi’s leadership.

It is time that Jokowi does a reality check of what sort of advice he is getting from his advisors and whether he’s only living in an echo chamber build by Groupthink.

But here’s the irony: how will he ever know he would have to do this reappraisal, as none of his advisors will bring this up to him (and Unspun doubts that Jokowi reads this blog).

In sociology there is something called the Johari Window where one of its quadrants contains something that everyone else knows about you; butt it is something that you do not know yourself. It is the building block for Greek tragedies as heroes inexorably plunge to their fates inspite of all the signs warning them of danger.

Let’s hope this does not come to pass.

Kurawa, Big Media, and the GoodBener who would be president

A battle royale is raging on Twitter between established online media houses including kompas.com, kumparan.com and professional buzzer @Kurawa and so far there have been threats of legal suits, applying the Draconian UU ITE and others.

The story unfolded on January 5 when Rudy Valinka, aka @kurawa, tweeted an accusation against Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan for media placement carrying the messages that he was GoodBener (rally good, a play on Gubener) to become President. Kurawa said it must have cost a few hundred million rupiahs, an unnecessary expense that could have been used to alleviate the plight of flood victims.

 

 

He then followed up with screen grabs of how several media outlets seem to have similar headlines and quotes.

Here’s one from Kumparan.com

 

 

This one from detik.com

 

And this one from Kompas.com

Then @Kurawa started saying he was disappointed by kompas.com for receiving a media placement from Anies, as he thought that Kompas.com was really objective.

@Kurawa also attacked other media, including Jawa Post. The editor replied to him on Twitter saying that their reporter had not ”complied with proper procedures” when uploading this story and they were therefore removing their story.

Kompas  fought back, saying that their journalist wrote the original story and others had copied their content. Kumparan also disagreed to allegations. From there, as with the way of social media, things all got heated up and murky because everyone started weighing in.

There was talk of lawsuits, the use of the UU ITE, going to the press council and other remedies. As usual, everyone had strong opinions.

What lessons can the rest of us get from this incident? Here’s Unspun’s list:

1. Kurawa may or may not have jumped to a premature conclusion that the publications all had been bought over by Anies to report the incident. The media, however,  still needs to look at themselves and how they report the news

2. What’s obvious is that there was a lot of cut-and-paste and story/photo sharing on the level of the reporters. How   This managed to evade the scrutiny of the editors is the real story here. And even if they had, surely a good editor would look at the competitors’ stories the next day and call in the reporters for the cut-and-paste stories?

3. The established media’s standards have been dropping for a long time and they are not functioning as a vigilant Forth Estate should. Issues and incidents arise and just as fast sink into obscurity and neglect. There is no follow-through of stories to their end. Hard questions are not asked.

4. The established media houses should realize that the only way they can recover from this tailspin of diminishing advertising revenues is to boost their credibility. It is only with good, hard reporting that they can stand any chance of staying alive, let alone return to profitability. The Guardian is a good example where good journalism pays.

In a time in Indonesia when all the three estates of the country – the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary – have shown themselves to be dysfunctional, it is more important now than ever for the Press – the Fourth Estate – to  provide the checks and balances that would ensure that Indonesia remain a vibrant democracy.

One can only hope that this incident forces everyone involved to do some introspection of their rights and obligations to Indonesian society, and then go ahead to discharge them.

 

 

 

Something amiss about the Government’s handling of demonstrations

There is something amiss in the Government’s handling of the demonstrations that have taken place in at least nine cities over the past week.

It is at best, half-hearted and amateurish; at worst, grist for a conspiracy theorist’s mill.

Contrast this week’s handling of protests with that of how it handled the protests surrounding the riots of May 21 and 22, after Prabowo refused to accept the results of the Election Commission’s decision that Jokowi had won the presidential elections.

Reformation in Repair. Source: The Jakarta Post

The police acted with discipline, determination and restraint.

And it was communicative, calling press conferences and briefing the media often on developments and messages the government wanted the citizens to know. Police Chief Tito Karnavian was also highly visible in press conferences, giving the public an assurance that things were being handled properly and everything was under control.

Jokowi too was visible, giving press briefings and appearing confident that everything was under control.

Unspun remembers conversations with Jakarta old timers marveling about how professional the Indonesian Police Force could be if it wanted to.

Then the student demonstrations began last Wednesday and the Police suddenly looked amateurish again in their handling of protestors. Time and again the police had to apologize for its mistakes and videos of police brutality began cropping up.

It had to apologize for a policeman running into a mosque with shoes on to apprehend a protestor. It had to backtrack after accusing Jakarta City ambulances of carrying rocks, petrol for Molotov cocktails and fireworks to supply rioters. It shot teargas into Atma Jaya University, a zone set aside for first aid to injured protestors.

In its communications Police seemed to play a defensive game, otherwise issuing admonitions that fell on deaf ears.

And all this wall, what realty stood out was the absence of leadership. Tito gave a press conference somewhere but he said nothing substantial. He then virtually disappeared from the public eye.

On the Government’s side the deafening silence from Jokowi is astounding. That left the way open for the relics of his government, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Wiranto and Presidential Chief of Staff Moeldoko to fill in the vacuum with their tone-deaf hectoring and defensive statements. Many wondered why the Presidential Chief of Staff, who should concern himself with the internal running of the presidential office, was acting as government spokesperson.

In the vacuum of information that they have created, all sorts of conspiracy theories have begun to surface.

Some say that Jokowi has his hands full trying to balance the demands of the parties in the new Cabinet. Others say that the police ineptness is part of a conspiracy to weaken him. Still others hint of dark forces at play orchestrating paid rioters to create mayhem.

Nobody really knows what’s happening and whether the government will get a handle on things, and that’s the problem.

Indonesia is at an important juncture. After over two decades of Reformasi, corruption and sense of entitlement among the elite have made a strong comeback. The swift and cavalier passage of the Bills to the KPK law and Criminal Code was a manifestation of this comeback and its contempt for the other sectors of Indonesian society.

Through the passage of the Bills Parliament has shown that it cannot be trusted to act in the public’s interest. The Judiciary Has along ago been discounted as an institution that can protect their rights. And now the Executive, helmed by Jokowi, is also showing signs of tentativeness, indecision and compliance to the demands of conservatives.

What that means for most people is that Indonesia is approaching a failed state. This sounds dramatic but how do you describe a nation when none of the branches of government can be relied on to act as a check and balance of the other branches?

This is why the students are right in refusing to meet with Jokowi unless it is in an open forum where he can be held accountable. And they are right to continue the pressure through further protests until the message gets through that the Executive and the Legislature is accountable to the people.