Andi Taufan Garuda Putra, CEO and founder of women-focused P2P lending firm Amartha, this week issued a public apology for writing to district heads across Indonesia in his capacity as presidential aide, telling them to support his employees in a program to raise awareness for Covid-19 prevention.
“I apologize for my actions and retract the letter [sent to district heads],” Taufan said in a statement dated April 14.
The day before, Taufan had come under fire after news websites such as CNN Indonesia published a copy of the said letter dated April 1, which was also widely shared on Indonesian social media. Carrying the Cabinet Secretariat letterhead, the letter told district heads that Amartha was participating in the “Village Volunteers Fight Covid-19” program started by the Ministry of Village, Development of Disadvantaged Regions and Transmigration, and sought their support for the collaboration.
As program volunteers, Amartha staff, also known as field agents, would publicize information about Covid-19 symptoms, how the disease spreads and how infection can be prevented “according to WHO standards,” the letter said. It added that the outreach would target “Amartha Partners,” referring to the groups of microbusiness owners that borrow money using Amartha, a social enterprise. The Amartha volunteers would also visit local health clinics to record any shortage of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, to help channel donations of such equipment.
In his apology, Taufan said his intention was to speed up support for the government’s Covid-19 prevention efforts. “All I wanted was to do good and move quickly to prevent and mitigate Covid-19 in our villages, through direct support from Amartha's field teams that are under my leadership.
“All of the support we [planned to] provide will not use the government budget, whether from the central government or the municipal governments,” he said.
"Surely this will be an important lesson for me, a young person who wants to contribute to the country, so that I always follow the rules of the bureaucratic system.”
Among the critics of Taufan's letter, Alvin Lie, a member of the Indonesian Ombudsman, told news website Kumparan that what the Amartha CEO did could be construed as “maladministration.” On top of the potential conflict of interest involving Amartha, Taufan did not have the authority to send letters on behalf of the government or to use the Cabinet Secretariat letterhead in his communication. “There must be strict action [from President Joko Widodo] against the aide who has misused and overreached his authority,” Lie said.
Ruangguru's Devara says ready to resign
Amartha’s PR lead Derira Harahap also confirmed that Taufan's letter was sent to the districts affected by the Covid-19 pandemic that have Amartha field agents in operation. She declined to say whether other companies were involved in the initiative.
“The letter is only a notice, and directed toward districts impacted by the virus and where there are Amartha volunteers [field agents], so that a collaboration can happen,” she said.
“The initiative is open to all parties, whether they are companies, organizations, or other entities. To my knowledge, Taufan also actively supports civilian organizations that work to mitigate the effects of Covid-19,” Harahap told CNN Indonesia.
Besides Taufan, three other “millennial aides” to the president also still maintain their positions as CEO in their respective companies. The other three are Belva Devara, co-founder and CEO of online education platform Ruangguru; Putri Tanjung, founder and CEO of event organizing firm Creativepreneur; and Angkie Yudistia, founder of disabled worker advocacy group Thisable Enterprise.
Devara has also come under the spotlight recently, as Ruangguru’s vocational training spin-off Skill Academy was announced as an official partner of the government’s “pre-employment card” assistance program. The program, which aims to target 5.6m unemployed and fresh graduates, will have its budget increased to IDR 20tn to support the increased number of beneficiaries.
On April 15, Devara posted a Twitter thread explaining that he did not participate in the government's selection of partners for the pre-employment skills training program. “Beneficiaries are free to choose where they get the training courses from, with no pressure from any of the [eight] partners. This is not a direct appointment as is the norm with government procurement processes,” Devara wrote.
In the thread, Devara also said that he was ready to resign as presidential aide to avoid giving any impression of conflicting interests, something he was checking with the State Palace. “However, the decision to step down is a big one, and must be discussed with the Palace. Please understand that it is not simply a matter of whether I want to [resign] or not.”
When President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo announced the appointment of these aides in November 2019, he said that the aides do not have to accompany him full-time. “They already have their own activities and businesses,” Jokowi said. Devara also referred to this in his Twitter thread of April 15, saying the Palace's assurance of the limited authority given to aides was the reason he accepted the appointment.
Among critics of the millennial aide appointments, Yunarto Wijaya, Executive Director of political consultancy firm Charta Politika, said the aides should resign from their corporate roles to avoid potential conflict of interest: “Conflict of interest can occur when they [the aides] have direct connections to the authorities while also running businesses that are greatly influenced by such connections.”