Jokowi's Cabinet picks: No easy task

Jokowi's Cabinet picks: No easy task
Indonesia's president-elect Joko Widodo walks with security as he leaves City Hall after resigning as the Jakarta Governor October 2, 2014.

For all his supporters' dreams of a Cabinet stuffed with reform-minded technocrats and other well-meaning professionals, president-elect Joko Widodo always had to be mindful of coalition politics in selecting ministers to run Indonesia for the next five years.

It was simply unrealistic to think that Mr Joko could rely on the support of his current and potential partners, unless he offers them a meaningful stake in his government.

Of course, much of this could have been avoided if the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) had applied itself better in last April's legislative elections, where it performed so badly that the flow-on effect made Mr Joko's own election a lot closer than it should have been.

Mr Joko has already had to abandon the initial concept of a slimmed-down 27-strong Cabinet and instead choose 18 non-political figures and 16 politicians, roughly the same balance of ministers as in President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's government.

"The younger members of the transition team wanted to change everything," says Mr Sofian Effendi, who has been advising on the make-up of the Cabinet.

"But reality kicked in when they realised it would take two years to adjust to the change - and time is one thing this new government can't afford." Mr Joko also had to drop his idea of running a minority government.

Getting at least two other parties on board - and the only hopes there now are National Mandate Party (PAN) and United Development Party (PPP) - is crucial to him securing a parliamentary majority and overturning an opposition ploy to deny PDI-P the speakership of the incoming Parliament.

Mr Joko is creating three new ministries - Creative Economy, which is now part of the Tourism Ministry; Population and Social Services, which will focus on national family planning; and Investment and Business Licensing, currently the work of the Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM).

He is also taking higher education away from the Education Ministry and merging it with the Research and Technology Ministry - a plan not all educators agree with - and shifting fisheries out of the Maritime Affairs Ministry and into the renamed Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security.

Other changes include dissolving the Ministry of Disadvantaged Regions and merging it with Home Affairs, adding Climate Change to the Ministry of Environment and renaming Public Works the Ministry of Infrastructure to underscore one of the most important tasks confronting the new administration.

Mr Joko has resisted pressure from his handlers to disband the largely ineffective political, economic and social coordinating ministries, giving each of them overarching missions that link national security and food security, address economic competitiveness, and focus on an education system upgrade.

But in a country where getting even two ministries to work together is often a monumental task, how well the coordinating ministers do their jobs will depend on the support they get from the president-elect himself and his determination to see his policies through.

Unencumbered by coalition wrangling, former president Suharto had the luxury of choosing genuine professionals for his Cabinets.

But during the democratic era, only the finance portfolio has consistently been held by a technocrat in a nod to the importance of maintaining a stable macroeconomic environment.

Speculating over Cabinet choices is as meaningless as the wish lists trotted out by civil society groups.

But there is widespread speculation Mr Joko may well retain Finance Minister Chatib Basri, 49, even if he has put the mining industry offside and some of his budget projections have been wide of the mark.

Mr Joko also wants technocrats to fill the posts of agriculture, education, state-owned enterprises, research and technology and, most importantly, mines and energy, which for much of the Yudhoyono administration was held by political appointees who were either incompetent or allegedly corrupt.

But Mr Joko's real test will come with his choice of political appointees.

He has insisted they must be professionals with experience in their fields and who do not hold leadership positions in their respective parties.

That may be easier said than done, but one who seems certain to make the grade is PDI-P transition team leader Rini Soemarno, 56, the trade minister from 2001 to 2004 and former chief executive of car maker Astra International.

An even bigger challenge for Mr Joko will be to make the entrenched bureaucracy responsive to his policies and programmes.

Ministers complain that senior bureaucrats, used to having their own way on almost everything, often ignore or stonewall instructions.

That would never have happened in Suharto's day but, since then, the bureaucracy has become a force unto itself because of generally weak government leadership and shoddy law-making by political parties more preoccupied with self-interest rather than the national interest.

Mr Effendi, a former Gadja Mada University rector who guided last year's Bureaucracy Reform Law through Parliament, says it could take Mr Joko's entire five-year term for the changes to become effective.

"If we want to be Asia's third-biggest economy, we can't do it with the existing bureaucracy," he says.

He believes the key lies in the full implementation of the new law under which a seven-strong Civil Service Commission selects civil servants for senior management positions based on merit and with specific duties and built-in performance requirements.

That, he is convinced, will put a stop to political intervention in bureaucratic appointments and also unravel the network of patron-client relationships that have grown up around a civil service notorious for its red tape and corruption.


This article was first published on Oct 7, 2014.
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