Questioning the New Cabinet

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  • TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Many of the ministers selected do not have the right competencies: key posts in the cabinet that should go have gone to technocrats were awarded to politicians or former members of the President’s campaign team.

    This is worrying given the tough challenges facing Jokowi’s administration in his second term. Uncertain global economic conditions and the lack of Indonesian export products, for example, call for an economic team that is competent and solid. The shrinking forest coverage and the serious environmental damage in many areas need ministers who are able to mitigate the climate change crisis.

    The wave of student demonstrations in the last month is an indication of the increasing strength of opposition to the weakening of the anti-corruption movement and the decline in people’s freedoms. With the added problem of escalating tensions in Papua, a region which has been mismanaged for years, the intelligence of the political teams in the cabinet is crucial. Then there is the problem of increasing intolerance and radicalism, and the mediocre quality of public services in the education and health sectors. All of these must be addressed by a skilled public welfare team.

    Unfortunately, there is the impression that the cabinet has been appointed based more on political calculations rather than meritocracy. Senior politician Airlangga Hartarto, who is the coordinating minister for the economy, clearly does not have the background knowledge and experience in the field of macroeconomics of his predecessor, Darmin Nasution. Fortunately, Sri Mulyani has been retained in her job as finance minister. But her resolute stance and freedom to issue policies will not be as it was in her first years in government. From 2005 to 2010, in the era of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Sri Mulyani was relatively free to discharge her obligations and maintain her principles of managing the state’s finances without compromise. But now the political reality around her is very different.

    The presence of Erick Thohir in the vital job of minister for state-owned enterprises, with two bankers, Budi Gunadi Sadikin and Kartika Wirjoatmodjo as deputy ministers, should bring a breath of fresh air to our economy. However, they will have to change the government approach from the last period, which gave too much prominence to state-owned enterprises. As a private entrepreneur, Eric has an understanding of the importance of giving enough room for healthy and fair competition. Apart from Sri Mulyani and Erick Thohir, the composition of the economic team in Jokowi’s new cabinet will leave many people scratching their heads. Many ministerial posts are held by politicians who do not have backgrounds that are related in any way to their new responsibilities.

    In the area of politics, law and security, Jokowi’s emphasis on the endeavor to deal with radicalism seems at first glance to be praiseworthy. But without a comprehensive understanding of the roots of the problem, there are concerns that the government will simply repeat the repressive, reactive and piecemeal way of trying to solve problems.

    For example, the banning of the Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia in Jokowi’s first term clearly did not lead to radicalism immediately disappearing or declining. Without protection of civil freedom and human rights, the seeds of radicalism will always sprout again. The three generals, Prabowo Subianto, Tito Karnavian and Fachrul Razi, who have respectively been appointed minister of defense, minister of home affairs and minister of religious affairs, will have to understand the importance of allowing space for civil rights in a democracy.

    The selection of ministers in the field of public welfare and human development has also sparked many questions. The Indonesian Medical Association is certain to be uneasy because the health ministry is now led by Terawan Agus Putranto a doctor who was once judged to have committed serious ethical violations. The position of the founder of GoJek, Nadiem Makarim as minister of education and culture was praised by some, but others were worried. Some are concerned that an excessive emphasis on the mission of schools to produce people ready for work will diminish our education system.

    With all of these reservations, there are not many hopes that can be pinned on this new cabinet. As he said in his speech when he was inaugurated for the second term, President Jokowi seems to be determined to prioritize socio-political stability and economic development above everything. As well as being mistaken conceptually, this emphasis could become a blunder when most of the ministers selected are not the right people in the right place.

    Read the Complete Story in this Week's Edition of Tempo English Magazine