President Jokowi’s recent Cabinet picks may not necessarily be the best persons to do their jobs. It seems the President may have prioritised consolidating power instead.
On 15 June 2022, President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo carried out a Cabinet reshuffle which saw him replacing two ministers and adding three new vice-ministerial positions. The President appointed Zulkifli Hasan as the Minister of Trade replacing Muhammad Lufti, and appointed Hadi Tjahyanto as the Minister of Agrarian Affairs and Spatial Planning replacing Sofyan Djalil. He also picked Raja Juli Antoni as the Vice-Minister of Agrarian Affairs and Spatial Planning, Afriansyah Noor as the Vice-Minister of Manpower, and John Wempi Wetipo as the Vice-Minister of Home Affairs.
While it is obvious political considerations and the desire to consolidate his power drove Jokowi’s appointments, have they come at significant cost to technocratic effectiveness? Oftentimes, cabinet reshuffles are used as a way to deal with leadership stagnation that hinders the Cabinet’s ability to perform – something that Jokowi’s Cabinet also suffers from. The challenges have become more acute over the past two years, as the country deals with the ongoing crises of Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine which have resulted in cooking oil scarcity, increasing fuel prices and a looming food crisis. In addition, the Jokowi government has to deal with the ambitious project of relocating the nation’s capital from Jakarta to East Kalimantan.
On many occasions, President Jokowi has said that his ministers must possess a sense of crisis. Yet, in this reshuffle, Jokowi seems to have prioritised political consolidation over technocratic capability.
In the light of these technocratic challenges, how would the new ministers and vice ministers measure up?
First, the Minister of Trade position is highly crucial as the public has become increasingly concerned over the price increases of basic needs, especially food, and it is the responsibility of the ministry to ensure their availability and accessibility in the market. Yet, the appointment of Zulkifli Hasan, the Chairman of the National Mandate Party (PAN), is not likely to guarantee any significant breakthroughs in this sector as he practically has no technical experience in dealing with trade issues. He had served as forestry minister under former President Yudhoyono from 2009-2014 but had generally made little headway in dealing with rampant corruption within the ministry. In fact, the Corruption Eradication Commission had also questioned him concerning a corruption case in 2014. Less than a month after his appointment as trade minister, he has already received a reprimand from President Jokowi to focus on his job when he politicised an event in which he distributed cooking oil to residents in Lampung while campaigning for his daughter.
Similarly, the two new vice-ministers have failed to inspire public confidence in their technical and professional abilities. Many believe that their appointments reflected the political accommodation of Jokowi’s allies. Raja Juli Antoni, the Secretary of Indonesia Solidarity Party (PSI), has little experience in government affairs and is more a religious scholar closely associated with the mass-Muslim organisation Muhammadiyah. He has himself admitted that agrarian affairs was not his area of expertise and appealed for the public’s support.
Afriansyah Noor, Secretary of the Crescent and Star Party (PBB) has extensive private sector experience, having held several director positions in private companies before he joined politics. But he has had no bureaucratic or government experience. He is likely to have his work cut out for him as he oversees important issues such as the revision of regulations on the social protection for migrant workers, setting up the regulatory framework for poor informal workers, and expanding the extension of social protection for the extreme poor – all of these issues require intensive bureaucratic coordination across ministries and agencies.
The choosing of John Wempi Wetipo from PDIP as the Vice-Minister for Home Affairs was one of Jokowi’s better choices. As an indigenous Papuan who has had long experience working in the bureaucracy and public sector, including serving as regent (bupati) in Jaya Wijaya municipality for ten years, John enjoys a measure of credibility in representing the interests of both the people and the region of Papua in dealing with development issues.
The minister expected to make the most substantial contribution to the performance of Jokowi’s Cabinet is former Army Commander Hadi Tjahyanto. As the Minister of Agrarian Affairs and Spatial Planning, he carries the heavy-duty job of dealing with the thorny issues of agrarian reform and land acquisition for the new capital. He is seen as a good fit for this post as he has the leadership capabilities and networks to mobilise the resources necessary to accelerate land clearing and secure the area for developing the new capital. In addition, Jokowi probably sees Hadi as the right person to speed up the agrarian reform as many agrarian conflicts involve the TNI’s interests which Hadi would know how to deal with.
On many occasions, President Jokowi has said that his ministers must possess a sense of crisis. Yet, in this reshuffle, Jokowi seems to have prioritised political consolidation over technocratic capability. What he really needs for the next two years is a Cabinet that represents a solid team that can really focus on getting things done. Those who have been placed in their roles out of a desire to reward political loyalists rather than because of their competency would struggle to deliver the outcomes necessary for the Jokowi government to steer the country through these difficult times.
Yanuar Nugroho is Visiting Senior Fellow, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. He was the former Deputy Chief of Staff to the President of Indonesia 2015-2019.