Widodo appoints Catholic as Indonesia's information minister

Johnny Gerard Plate's appointment criticized by some who say he lacks qualifications to hold the post
Widodo appoints Catholic as Indonesia's information minister

Johnny Gerard Plate, a Catholic politician and businessman from the predominantly Catholic province of East Nusa Tenggara, is among 34 new ministers named by President Joko Widodo on Oct. 23. (Photo courtesy of the Cabinet Secretariat)

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has appointed a Catholic politician and businessman to his new 34-member cabinet that officially took office on Oct. 23, three days after the president began his second five-year term.  

Johnny Gerard Plate, 63, from Ruteng in Indonesia’s predominantly Catholic East Nusa Tenggara province, will serve as the Muslim-majority country's' communications and information minister.

Plate, who once studied at the Pius XII Minor Seminary on Flores Island in Ruteng Diocese, is the only Catholic in Widodo’s second cabinet, which is mostly Muslim and comprises five women and 29 men. 

The Catholic politician, a former member of parliament and general secretary of the National Democratic Party, envisioned his ministry having two main roles.

The ministry must serve as “a messenger” whose responsibilities include promoting government programs, policies and achievements “so that “society knows which direction the government is taking and takes an active part in helping the government achieve its ends,” he said in an inauguration speech at the presidential palace.

The second role is the development of existing digital platforms, he said. “There are 'blank spots' we need to take care of. We must do this. Never let existing digital platforms go untouched.”

He also stressed the importance of accelerating the passage of certain legislation, such as the personal data protection bill.

The bill, which is intended to create greater privacy protection for individuals, has yet to be put before legislators since a draft was proposed by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's government in 2006.

Father Paulus Christian Siswantoko, secretary of the Indonesian bishops’ Commission for the Laity, told ucanews that Plate holds an important position and can play an important role in creating a peaceful society.

“I hope he will make breakthroughs needed by our society, such as tackling fake news and hate speech which have created divisions in recent years,” he said. “If [Plate] can control digital platforms, I believe he can create a peaceful society.” 

Fransiskus Ramli from Manggarai district in the new minister’s home province said Plate was a capable man with great ability. “The people of East Nusa Tenggara welcome his appointment. It shows President Widodo values the province,” he said.

However, Damar Juniarto, executive director of the Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet), criticized Widodo, saying too many politicians were appointed ministers at the expense of professionals.

“Plate’s track record in the field of communication is very limited despite his concerns about issues related to media and the freedom of expression,” he said. As a result “his actions need careful scrutiny,” he said.

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