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Jakarta Post

Editorial: Realigning the economic team

  • The Jakarta Post

    The Jakarta Post

  /   Thu, August 13, 2015   /  09:10 am

Certainly, the most important part of the Cabinet reshuffle President Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo made on Wednesday was the realignment of the economic team because it was in the economic sector that the 9-month-old government performed the worst.

Only four economics portfolios were changed, but this small change is strategic and would go a long way toward strengthening the economic team and its teamwork because the two new coordinating ministers are responsible for the most important components of economic policy making and management.

In terms of integrity, technical competence, managerial capability, political independence and leadership quality, Darmin Nasution, who was appointed as the new coordinating economic minister, and Rizal Ramli as the new coordinating maritime affairs minister are most qualified to join the economic team. Likewise, Thomas Lembong, a Harvard-educated economist well known for his internationalist stance and for being a close confidante of Jokowi, fits well for the trade minister'€™s portfolio.

Darmin'€™s previous experiences as the governor of the central bank, director general of taxation and director general of non-bank financial institutions well equip the Sorbonne-educated economist to comprehend the importance of a coherent and credible strategy that outlines how the various individual policies hang together.

 Rizal, a US-educated economist, also brought with him a body of experience as the finance minister and coordinating economic minister and the chief of the National Logistics Agency in the early 2000s. The market may initially feel uncomfortable for his well-known brand as a '€œstrong economic nationalist'€, but his record working within the government showed he is actually a pragmatist.

Yet more important is that Rizal is well known for his strong personality, having the courage to publicly express different views from the President even when he was considered part of the administration. He was abruptly fired as the chief commissioner of the state-owned PT Semen Indonesia, the country'€™s largest cement group, because of his criticisms of the policies of the government under Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2008.

Strong personality and leadership are quite important for Rizal'€™s portfolio because he is responsible for coordinating policy making and implementation in sea transportation, the fisheries and mining. Mining is an important component of the economy and one of the largest sources of exports and energy, which, besides food, is key to a country'€™s macroeconomic and political stability. Transportation is fundamental to reducing our logistics costs, the highest in the ASEAN region. Likewise, the ocean fisheries are a crucial part of Indonesia'€™s natural resources, given its position as the world'€™s largest archipelagic country.

The main message Jokowi conveyed through the realignment of the economic portfolios is the urgent need for strong teamwork. Only with solid teamwork will the government be able to demonstrate how the various individual policies hang together in moving toward the broad direction into which the economy is being steered. Yet more important is that both Jokowi and Vice President Jusuf Kalla must protect the economic team from intervention by vested interests.

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