RIP Sarwono Kusumaatmadja – A statesman of integrity, humor, and social sensitivity


Jakarta, IO – Our realms of politics and government are in mourning: Statesman Sarwono Kusumaatmadja died on Friday, 26 May 2023, amid his treatment for lung cancer at the Adventist Hospital, Penang, Malaysia. He is being laid in state in the Soedjarwo Auditorium of the Manggala Wanabakti Building, before an interment in San Diego Hills Cemetery in Karawang, West Java. 

At the time of his death, Sarwono was the active Chairman of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry’s Committee for Selection of High Officials, Climate Consideration Committee, Kalpataru Award Recipient Selection Team, etc.

He had extensive political experience, having served the Republic of Indonesia Government as a Minister, starting from the reign of President Soeharto to that of Abdurrahman Wahid: State Minister of Apparatus Utilization and Bureaucratic Reform (23 March 1988-17 March 1993), State Minister of the Environment (1993-1998), and Minister of Marine Exploration (1999-2001). 

The former General Secretary of the Functional Groups Party was also in our Legislative as a member of the People’s House of Representatives (1971-1998) and of the Regional Representative Council, representing the SCR of Jakarta by elections (2004- 2009). Later, Sarwono offered himself as a candidate for the Governor of Jakarta for the 2007-2012 term, through the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle. 

Under the aegis of the party led by Megawati Soekarnoputri, he topped votes (96) in the elections, higher than economists Faisal Basri (95), Bibit Waluyo (91), and Edy Waluyo (89), former Minister of Transportation Agum Gumelar (85), and thenVice Governor of Jakarta Fauzi Bowo (80).

However, the Party selected Fauzi Bowo as their Gubernatorial Candidate when it entered a coalition with about 20 parties, and Fauzi won the first direct Gubernatorial Election that year. 

Born on 24 July 1943, Sarwono was an engineer who graduated from the Bandung Institute of Technology’s Civil Engineering program, as well as a politician with integrity and social sensitivity, descended from a renowned political academician family: His elder brother, the late Prof. Dr. Mochtar Kusumaatmadja S.H. L.L.M, was a former Indonesian diplomat, who also served as our Minister of Justice (1974-1978) and Minister of Foreign Affairs (1978-1988). He was also a respected professor in the Padjadjaran Universitas Bandung Faculty of Law.

His niece, Prof. Dr. Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana S.E., M.A. (Mochtar’s daughter) was the State Minister of National Development Planning/Head of the National Development Planning Agency in the United Indonesia II Cabinet. She currently serves as both Professor in the Padjadjaran University Faculty of Economics and Business, as well as the President Director of the University’s Center for Sustainable Development Goals Studies. 

In an eulogy quoted by Kompas newspaper, former General Chairman of the Functional Groups Party and Speaker of the People’s House of Representatives (1999-2004) Akbar Tanjung declared that Sarwono is an excellent exemplar for today’s youths to aspire to. “For him, formalities did not matter. His character values – integrity, humor, and social sensitivity – are precisely the values that today’s youths need to embody.” 

Minister of the Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya Bakar tearfully declared that Sarwono Kusumaatmaja was one of the best sons Indonesia ever produced: “He was an exemplary man – knowledgeable, always able to provide solutions, and a great discussion partner, who always expanded one’s perspective and spectrum of dialogue.” 

Sarwono’s integrity is also a shining example. When serving as the General Chairman of the Indonesian Lawn Tennis Association (“Pelti”), he sold off his personal car to finance Indonesian athletes so they could enter tournaments abroad. He showed a sample of his witty humor when Indonesian tennis athletes under his mentorship won gold medals in the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing:

“Tennis contributed to 2/3 of the number of gold medals won by the Indonesian Contingent,” he wagged to the press, referring to the fact that Indonesia won 3 gold medals in the Tournament, two from tennis. 

Unfortunately, in his last interview with us shortly before his death, Sarwono declared that he no longer played tennis: “Back when I was a Minister, the ball came to me. Now I have to chase after it,” he joked. 

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Alongside his integrity, Sarwono is also famous for his simplicity and bravery. “You all know what positions he held – and how many opportunities there are for corrupt people in his place. Yet Sarwono never became rich as a member of the House or as a Minister. Furthermore, I have never heard any news of wrongdoing about him during his long years of office,” declared Imam Prasodjo, permanent lecturer in the University Indonesia Faculty of Social and Political Sciences. 

Farewell, Sarwono Kusumaatmadja, Sir. May your integrity, humility, and social sensitivity continue to inspire our young generation. (rr)