Jakarta. President Joko Widodo says he is looking for the right people to fill key administration posts, in the strongest signal yet that a cabinet reshuffle may be imminent.
“I need staffers I can trust,” the president said at a meeting in Jakarta on Thursday with chief editors from Indonesia’s major news organizations.
“My [ideal] staffers would be those who, when they speak, the public believes them, investors believe them, the markets believe them. Their words are irrefutable,” he said, but did not give any names. “I’m still racking my brains. It’s hard [to find such people].”
Some nine months into his term in office, Joko has yet to name a presidential spokesman, the absence of which has caused substantial discrepancies between statements made by the president and those by his vice president and ministers.
The lack of unison has fueled distrust among both constituents and overseas investors who once saw Joko, a former furniture businessman and a political outsider, as someone who could institute much-needed reforms in a bureaucratic system plagued with corruption, favoritism and red tape.
Joko conceded that he needed the help of a credible spokesman to regain public trust.
“It is not easy to look for a suitable spokesman. I have been looking… but I haven’t found one,” he said.
Drawn on the issue of a possible reshuffle, which Vice President Jusuf Kalla has repeatedly said in imminent, the president declined to say whether it would happen at all.
“I never mentioned a reshuffle; the press keeps talking about a reshuffle,” Joko said.
However, he acknowledged some of the arguments made by various analysts and experts calling for a cabinet shakeup.
“I admit that our economy is slowing down,” he said. “I am trying [to address it] day and night.”
Calls for a reshuffle have intensified since Joko’s administration failed to show as much as a working plan in April, six months into his presidency.
Political observer Cecep Hidayat of the University of Indonesia noted that since then, many have scrutinized the performance of his ministers, some of whom have been squabbling among themselves.
Home Affairs Minister Tjahjo Kumolo, for example, has accused a key cabinet member of insulting the president. Although he refused to give a name, there is little doubt his accusation is targeted at Rini Soemarno, the minister for state-owned enterprises, who has had run-ins with Tjahjo and Joko’s political patron Megawati Soekarnoputri, the chairwoman of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).
“There is no unity [inside Joko’s cabinet],” Cecep said, adding that some ministers had even issued policies that went against the president’s instructions.
One notable example was Joko’s instruction to open the restive province of Papua to foreign journalists. However, chief security minister Tedjo Edhy Purdijatno defiantly insisted that foreign journalists should continue to seek permission from a multitude of government agencies and that they should be monitored at all times during their time in Papua to prevent them from “abusing their permit by reporting unfavorable stories.”
Cecep said there should be compromise for ministers who act against the president’s commands, but Joko’s continued attempt to appease his political supporters may be holding him back from forming a more credible and effective cabinet.
Joko’s inner circle of political elites, Cecep added, may even have tried to persuade him to replace credible ministers they deem “disloyal” to their agenda for power and control.
“If Joko indeed plans to reshuffle his ministers, he should consider this matter carefully and thoroughly so he won’t make the same mistakes again ̶ particularly in the economic and defense sectors and in the coordination posts,” Cecep said.
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