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December 22, 2020


INDONESIA: Common ties, experience are key features of new cabinet appointments

BY Bob Herrera-Lim

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President Joko Widodo today replaced six cabinet ministers, two of whom had been accused of corruption. Although maintaining party representation in the cabinet also often drives cabinet reshuffles, it did not seem to play as much a part in today’s changes. Rather, the changes signal Widodo’s attempt to improve governance with the appointment of several executives known for their work in the government, private sector and state enterprises. But established relationships were also evident.

The most prominent appointment politically is that of outgoing Surabaya mayor Tri Rismaharini as Minister for Social Affairs. She is both a member of his PDI-P party, therefore acceptable to PDI-P leader Megawati Sukarnoputri, but with an established track record and recognized credentials for governance and integrity. She was brought in due to the president’s disappointment with the disbursement of government assistance to those worst hit by the pandemic. If she performs well, Risma, as she is commonly called, could become a dark horse candidate for 2024. Her predecessor, Juliari Batubara, also of PDI-P, had been arrested in early December for allegedly skimming money from the budget for food aid.

The appointment of Sandiaga Uno as Tourism and Creative Economy Minister was meant to compensate the Gerindra party for the removal of Edhy Prabowo as Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister after the anti-corruption commission (KPK) arrested him a month ago for allegedly taking bribes for lobster larvae export permits. Uno was Jakarta’s vice-governor before running for the vice-presidency in 2019 with Prabowo Subianto. He had a successful career in private equity and his strong performance in last year’s election opened the possibility for a presidential run in 2024. This signals that Gerindra leader Prabowo Subianto is not considering leaving the coalition or even chafing at Edhy’s arrest.

In Edhy’s place as Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister, Widodo has appointed a trusted aide, Sakti Wahyu Trenggono. He was previously deputy defense minister, but also Widodo’s presidential campaign treasurer. Trengonno was an active member of the National Mandate Party (PAN) from 2009 to 2013. He was president of the Bersama Tower Group, the largest telecommunications tower firm in Indonesia.

Appointed Health Minister is Budi Gunadi Sadikin, who is deputy minister for state enterprises and head of the national recovery task force for Covid-19. Formerly the CEO of Bank Mandiri, the country’s largest bank, Sadikin became CEO of state aluminum mining company PT Indonesia Asahan Aluminium (Inalum) in 2017. During his term, the firm acquired the shares of Rio Tinto in PT Freeport Indonesia, the country’s largest gold and copper miner, to become its majority shareholder. Sadikin has no healthcare experience, which means his focus is on implementing the country’s vaccine rollout. His predecessor had also been widely criticized for his inadequate handling of the pandemic.

Finally, appointed as trade minister was Muhammad Lufti, Indonesia’s ambassador to the United States, who was chief of the Investment Coordinating Agency (BKPM) from 2005 to 2009. He also briefly held the position of trade minister under former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Lutfi had worked with Erick Thohir, the current minister for state enterprises, in the early 2000s to set up the Mahaka group, which invested in media and entertainment. Both Lutfi and Uno, the new tourism minister, knew each other from college and were former chairs of the Young Entrepreneurs Association (HIPMI). They were active in the organization at the same time as State Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir in the mid-2000s, although the relationship had formed previously when they were all graduate students in the United States.

Jacob Cholil Qoumas, who chairs the youth wing of the Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s largest Muslim social organization, was appointed Minister for Religious Affairs.