Jakarta – A bureaucratic blunder caused the Religious Affairs Ministry to appoint a Muslim official as acting head of the Catholic Community Guidance Directorate General, a move that drew online and offline criticism.
Ministry secretary-general Nur Kholis Setiawan took the blame for the gaffe, saying he had given mistaken advice to the ministry's top brass.
"I apologize for this oversight," Nur Kholis said in an official ministry press release on Monday night, adding that the ministry would soon appoint a new acting director-general from within the Catholic unit.
Nur himself had been appointed to the role in January, replacing another Muslim official, Muhammadiyah Amin, who had filled the position since the previous director-general Eusabius Binsasi, who was Catholic, retired last July.
Minister Fachrul Razi and Deputy Minister Zainut Tauhid Sa'adi had previously defended both appointments, saying that National Civil Service Agency (BKN) regulations prevented the ministry from putting a Catholic in the position.
However, it turned out the problem was of their own making, stemming from a misreading of a 2019 BKN circular that states civil servants can only be appointed as acting officials in positions "at the same level or one level above" the ones they held.
Ministry leadership apparently interpreted the wording in the circular to mean civil servants could only fill vacant spots that were at the same level or one level below their position.
"In the Catholic Community Guidance Directorate General there is only one echelon 1 position, while the rest are echelon 2 and 3, so it is impossible for the acting head to come from the Catholic directorate general," Zainut said in a statement on Monday, adding that the Nur Kholis' appointment was made merely for administrative reasons.
"The rule is that [the position] must be held by someone of the same level. It's like a general's position can't be filled by a major," Fachrul, himself a former Indonesian Military general, told reporters on Monday.
The misstep had been heavily criticized online, with several Twitter users drawing attention to the irony of having a Muslim in charge of Catholic religious affairs.
Twitter user @darmanto0802, for example, tweeted an imaginary conversation of someone who might be looking for the director-general.
"Good morning, sir. I'm looking for the Catholic Community Guidance director-general" the questioner asks. "I'm sorry, ma'am, the director-general is on leave to go on the haj," comes the reply.
Another Twitter user jokingly suggested that an exchange was in order.
"The Islam Community Guidance Director-General position should be filled by a Catholic official to show tolerance," @arisidid tweeted.
Nur Kholis said he made the mistake because he had not read the BKN circular thoroughly enough and had been fixated on financial administration concerns.
"Tomorrow, on Tuesday, there will be a new appointment letter for [the position] for someone within the same working unit," he said. (hol/kmt)