The latest Cabinet shake-up announced by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on the eve of the third year of his second and last term in office has sent a negative signal to the market and the public in general, as his new working team has simply strengthened our perception of his being strongly beholden to the political parties within his coalition government.
The reshuffle of his working team, long overdue, was the last chance for the President to show the people that he is really in charge and ready and willing to take bold, firm decisions for the interests of the country.
However, contrary to the Cabinet reshuffle he made in early December 2005, during his first presidential term when he established perhaps the best economic team since 2000, headed by Boediono (now the Vice President), the new Cabinet simply trumpets, “it is business as usual.”
Instead of bringing in more professionals, regardless of their political affiliations, Yudhoyono has overloaded his Cabinet with so many deputy ministers that his working team is at the risk of self-destructing in the areas of coordination and job implementation.
At a time when bold, quick decisions and firm actions are needed to cope with the big uncertainties about the global economy, due to the government debt woes in Europe and economic slump in the United States, the President has instead erected “bumps” in the way of decision-making and job execution.
Even with clear-cut job descriptions and scope of responsibilities, it would be difficult to achieve strong teamwork in the ministries because each of the ministers and deputy ministers would feel accountable only to the President, who appointed them.
Who then is really in charge in the ministries? Will the President give the deputy ministers — many of whom are experienced professionals with considerable technical competence — adequate political backing to ensure their policies and actions are not second-guessed by the ministers, which would thereby make them vulnerable to political attacks?
This is an incredibly divisive administration, and a dangerous one for that matter, because what is sorely needed now is a Cabinet dominated by professionals, who enjoy strong political backing to cope with the external threats from the discouraging global economic conditions.
The President never seems willing to learn the lessons from the failure of his coalition to advance his legislative agenda because of the constant backstabbing by his coalition partners.
True, there are concerns that a Cabinet without representation from the coalition partners would not be able to survive in such a fragmented political system, where there are nine parties in the legislature.
But after gaining almost 62 percent of the vote in the 2009 presidential election, Yudhoyono should have exercised more courage to reach out directly to the people, communicating and marketing his vision and programs of action to alleviate poverty, combat corruption and other measures to improve people’s welfare.
But Yudhoyono seems to remain aloof, far removed from the nitty-gritty of governing, continuing to pander to popular sentiment and polishing his image, while doing nothing to assure people that the government is in charge and is doing its best to boost economic growth and reduce unemployment and poverty.
At most, the Cabinet has only about 18 months remaining to function as a united working team because, starting in mid-2013 at the latest, the ministers representing six different political parties will embark on their respective political agendas, as they gear up for the legislative elections in April 2014 and presidential election thereafter.