The Jakarta Post
After a string of abrupt and confusing policy reversals six months into his term of office, the credibility of President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo in producing sound policies has been called into question.
The cancellation of a recently signed presidential regulation authorizing a substantial rise in car-purchase allowances, worth Rp 158 billion (US$12.2 million), for top officials and legislators has exposed Jokowi's personal weakness with regard to detail and policy making.
It was as a result of public outrage that Jokowi revoked the regulation on Monday but in his defense on Sunday he admitted that he had not fully read the draft regulation before he signed it, and blamed his finance minister for not warning him of its impact.
'I don't know 100 percent of the content of [drafts and documents submitted to the President]. This should be handled by ministries. They should screen whether the drafts will have a good or bad impact on the country,' he said.
The incident has added to a long list of questionable policy-making decisions to have ensnared the administration, which is led by a former mayor of a small town who gained nationwide prominence in less than three years.
Last month, Jokowi issued a policy during a Cabinet meeting to expand visa-free policies to a further 30 countries, but it was scrapped several days later after senior officials warned it would violate the Immigration Law.
The government also succumbed to pressure from Muslim groups when the Communications and Information Ministry reopened last Tuesday access to 22 websites that the ministry had blocked only a day before after the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) warned they promoted extremism.
Also last week, the government lifted a ban put in place in November prohibiting government bodies and officials from conducting events and meetings in hotels, after a nationwide slump in hotel occupancy rates.
'With constant changes in policies and flaws in their arrangement, investors are unsure of what will lie ahead,' Center of Reform on Economics (CORE) Indonesia executive director Hendri Saparini said.
'There have been reports that the current situation has triggered confusion among investors,' she said.
Jokowi's attempts to learn the ropes of managing the nation also created contradictions and confusion in the diplomatic community when he approved Industry Minister Saleh Husin's trip to Taiwan less than a week before he was set to arrive in Beijing for a state visit on March 25.
As Indonesia recognizes the One-China policy, Saleh's visit might have been counterproductive as it was made ahead of Jokowi's attempts to attract huge investment from China and to persuade President Xi Jinping to attend the Asia-Africa Summit in Bandung, West Java, on April 24.
'We met Taiwanese ministers and CEOs. They have committed to invest in Indonesia,' Saleh told The Jakarta Post recently of his visit to Taiwan.
'They said Indonesia was the primary destination for their investment. They will gradually move out from China and Vietnam,' said Saleh of his success in attempting to lure Taiwanese investments.
While China is aware of the visit, the Chinese government's response has yet to be made clear.
Political communications expert Gun Gun Heryanto of the Jakarta State Islamic University believes Jokowi's poor policy making stems from his reluctance to read and check every detail of the planned policies.
'If he repeats the same mistakes again, many will regard him as a less-than-capable leader. This could eventually diminish his authority,' he said.
Significant reversals of Jokowi's policies
1. Hotel ban policy. In November last year, the Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform Ministry issued a circular prohibiting government bodies from conducting events and meetings in hotels. On April 1, the ministry revoked the circular and issued a new regulation relaxing the ban.
2. Visa-free policy. On March 16, the government announced it would waive visa requirements for 30 countries as early as April to boost the country's foreign exchange income from tourism. Several days later, the policy was scrapped after senior officials warned the policy would violate the Immigration Law unless it was made on a reciprocal basis.
3. Website censorship. Responding to a public outcry accusing the government of infringing on freedom of speech, the Communications and Information Ministry reopened access to 22 websites the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) had condemned for promoting radicalism. The ministry had blocked the websites the previous day.
4. Car allowances. Jokowi scraps recently signed presidential regulation for a rise in car-purchase allowances for top officials and legislators. He claimed in his defense that he did not fully read the draft regulation before signing it.
5. Cilacap power plant. The government announced in November it would build a 5,000-megawatt power plant in Cilacap, Central Java, as part of the new government's ambitious program to add at least 35,000 MW of capacity. The plan was put on hold as the cost to ship coal to the plant was deemed uneconomical.
6. Executions of drugs convicts. The government had announced it would carry out the second batch of executions of death row inmates in February. The executions have been postponed several times, and officials are unsure whether they will ever be carried out.
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