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Jakarta Post

Deputies by the dozen

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sat, October 26, 2019   /   08:24 am
Deputies by the dozen President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and the new deputy ministers in the Indonesia Onward Cabinet after the announcement on Friday. (JP/Seto Wardhana)

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has continued to leave many guessing as to how he will navigate the country in the coming five years. On Friday, Jokowi swore in a dozen deputy ministers in an apparent move to accommodate his allies who have yet to be adequately represented in the Cabinet he formed on Wednesday.

Jokowi must not emulate Jesus Christ, who like Jokowi was a carpenter, and who selected 12 disciples to help him spread the Gospel. Instead, the need to reward as many parties or groups as possible who sweated it out during the electoral campaign is likely the main reason behind Jokowi’s decision to have 11 ministers seconded by one or two deputies.

The new deputies come from various walks of life, with five representing political parties that supported Jokowi’s reelection bid. Interestingly, two of the deputy ministers are from two political parties that failed to meet the parliamentary threshold, the United Indonesia Party (Perindo) and the Indonesia Solidarity Party (PSI). Jokowi also assigned his campaign team’s former treasurer to assist Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto and the chief of a volunteer group to help the villages, disadvantaged regions and transmigration minister.

Jokowi has also named a politician with a Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) background the deputy religious affairs minister, apparently to appease the country’s largest Muslim organization. The President breached convention when he entrusted the ministry to a retired Army general, rather than an NU figure as usual.

Some ministries do need reinforcement due to their huge responsibilities, such as the State-Owned Enterprises Ministry, which oversees 142 state companies, and the Foreign Ministry. That other overburdened ministries like the Education and Culture Ministry were exempted from the luxury only indicates the predominance of political considerations behind the appointment of the 12 deputy ministers.

Surely in politics there is no such free lunch. Jokowi, too, may find justification for his decision in uphill challenges facing his government in continuing infrastructure development, reinvigorating manufacturing, boosting state revenues and addressing poverty.

But adding too many key actors to the Cabinet does not bode well for Jokowi’s own wish to run an efficient, fast-moving government. Only on Sunday Jokowi told the nation of his plan to reform the bureaucracy in a radical manner.

Jokowi today is the opposite of his self five years ago. Early in his first term in 2014, Jokowi cut deputy ministerial seats to only two, compared to 13 in the second term of his predecessor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, to promote efficiency.

The implication of so many deputy ministerial posts is certainly Jokowi’s willingness to compromise his vision for the sake of accommodating his big coalition. It goes without saying that politicians who secure such strategic posts will seek every way to influence policymaking to benefit their respective parties. In turn this may slow, if not complicate, decision-making, particularly if the deputies dare to challenge their bosses.

The other consequence is of course additional spending on salaries and perks for the new high-ranking officials. Let’s hope they all perform, or else taxpayers’ money will be wasted.