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Jakarta Post

Low-hanging fruit

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, October 28, 2019   /   09:03 am
Low-hanging fruit Indonesia Onward Cabinet after the announcement on Wednesday. (JP/Seto Wardhana)

The lineup of the new Cabinet is bewildering to many, but all the President’s men and women will have to be able to work as a team. A key word seems to be “coordination”.

A number of ministers have said they will take the first few months to consult with stakeholders, a first vital step, especially as some like businessmen Nadiem Makarim have zero experience in bureaucracy. Many expressed shock that the 35-year-old was appointed education minister — but critics may be appeased by the fact former education minister Muhadjir Effendy is now coordinating minister for human development and culture.

Replacing Puan Maharani, now the House of Representatives speaker, Muhadjir, a representative of the nation’s second largest Islamic organization Muhammadiyah, will oversee the ministries of health, education and culture; research and higher education; social affairs; religious affairs; women’s empowerment and child protection; youth and sports affairs; and villages and disadvantaged regions.

When a president has relatively ineffective coordinating ministers, the ministers make up for their shortcomings. In the current Cabinet, Muhadjir’s appointment also appeases disappointed members of Muhammadiyah, who failed to get their usual education minister post.

However, besides being of political value, Muhadjir is also well-placed to bring together and lead the newbies in government by encouraging them to pinpoint the low-hanging fruit within their mandate, which would be a good place to start to grow trust among their subordinates in addition to the public.

For instance Muhadjir’s policy of school zoning attracted much criticism but was recognized as crucial to address the unequal access to quality education; it may need improvement and better campaigning, which Nadiem, founder of the popular ride-hailing app Gojek, could continue.

Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto could also gain better trust from doubters if he can, with Muhadjir’s help, lead the vital campaign to increase immunization coverage. It is utterly tragic that diseases are reemerging and deaths are even occurring due to declining immunization coverage for infants, with many parents seemingly influenced by the antivaccination movement.

Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Minister I Gusti Ayu Bintang Darmawati has also been dismissed as the mere spouse of a former minister. But the low-hanging fruit related to her office is clear, as advocates for women and children say: continue the work of her predecessor and push for the passing of the sexual violence eradication bill and the increasing of the legal marrying age to 19 for males and females. Politicians and officials too often bring up “religious sensitivities” for laws aimed at protecting women and girls. But the women’s wing of Muhadjir’s Muhammadiyah, Aisyah, has voiced full support for the sexual violence eradication bill, among other legislative items.

Muhadjir will also be one of the Cabinet figures who will prove valuable in selling “moderate Islam”. He will need to help tone down continued suspicions that President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, with the help of retired Army general Fachrul Razi as religious affairs minister and retired police general Tito Karnavian as home minister, will clamp down on any “radical” looking Muslim just like Soeharto.

It means Muhadjir will at least need to help prevent further restrictions on civil liberties, if President Jokowi is to regain some credibility through his coordinating minister for human development and culture.