Does President SBY really need to reshuffle his Cabinet?

Posted: October 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

There have been talks in the elite political circle in Jakarta about the possibility of a Cabinet reshuffle, similar to the first year of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s first administration in 2005.

The ministers whose names have been circulating for likely replacement are the communications and information technology, transportation, energy and mineral resources, public works, and justice and human rights ministers.

The main reason is that the President is not happy with their performance. However, there has been no clear move on the part of Yudhoyono to reshuffle soon.

If performance is the reason, a Cabinet reshuffle is necessary. Despite a robust growth of the economy, the performance of those ministries has disappointed in facilitating investment and building the sector in a more competitive way.

In the case of telecommunications, the policy is the reverse of what it is supposed to do in facilitating the sector that has been growing in double digits over the last five years. Related to infrastructure, whether it is transportation, basic infrastructure or energy, the condition is getting worse.

The interest for investment is high from domestic as well as international investors, but the policy is unclear and practically no execution has been undertaken.

Infrastructure and energy constraints have become the main obstacle for the economy to grow and even it could choke the growth itself. There has been no indication of improvement.

Meanwhile, the main issue related to the justice and human rights minister is that there are too many remissions granted for corrupt officials that create public uproars.

Certainly, it is not just those ministers who are supposed to be responsible for the underperformance.

The situation also creates a unfavorable condition for improvement to take place. We can give an example of how difficult it is to execute and implement infrastructure development.

The problems that become classical, such as land acquisition, the laboring process of public project tenders, a high standard for audit and accountability that cannot be fulfilled and aggressive anticorruption investigations, discourage infrastructure development in particular and the work of bureaucracy in general.

However, this cannot be used as an excuse all the time. Common sense is something that can be utilized to overcome all these problems, at least gradually and in a more focused effort.

The Bank Century bailout case that politically expelled then finance minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati created a phobia among ministers that they would not get enough political protection when faced with a political problem.

Similarly, in many corruption cases, high-ranking bureaucrats do not get enough legal protection.

This problem is lingering into the inertia of ministers’ and bureaucrats’ work. Meanwhile, the economic activities that are liberalized, such as in retail, finance, housing, coal mining, palm oil plantation and automotive industries, run in high growth but are not facilitated adequately by the public sector.

While line ministries are having serious problems in executing and implementing their policies, there has been over-coordination at the top level.

The President has been chairing a lot of Cabinet meetings. In addition, there is redundancy in coordination between coordinating ministers and the Vice President, including the agency for monitoring performance of the ministers.

In general, the coordination does not provide a clear result and ends up in a series of exhausted meetings. Given that condition, what the President needs are ministers that already have a certain standard in their professional carrier, so that they do not have to have an excuse for all of that, but can focus on problem solving.

This is especially important for ministers chosen by Yudhoyono who have technocratic or professional backgrounds. Indonesia has enough professionals with these high credentials. There is no room for a novice to be in charge of the economic line ministries no matter how prospective they appear.

Politically, a Cabinet reshuffle is important in regaining a political coalition that is needed, especially to get political support in parliament. Certainly, there is no guarantee that members of the ruling political coalition would give enough political support in the parliament, but the alternative is even worse.

At this time, members of the political coalition are waiting for a Cabinet reshuffle. In their interest, they would like to gain more seats in the Cabinet and also political competitions among the party leaders to get the Cabinet seats.

For the ministers with a political background, what Yudhoyono needs are those who get strong political back up from the political parties and are able to work in a team in the Cabinet. This is not easy, only if the professional members of the Cabinet are strong can political ministers easily adjust.

However, if the professional ministers are weak, political ministers may create a serious problem.

The prospect for the economy and democracy in Indonesia is very bright. The challenge is always about how to make that prospect into a reality. Certainly, there is no straight path to do that. There are so many dynamics that often discourage the progress.

Despite the low performance of the Cabinet and inertia in the bureaucracy, the economy can grow relatively high. And if the performance of the Cabinet and the work of bureaucracy are just a little bit better, we can imagine how high the growth can be.

The Cabinet reshuffle is about how to improve Cabinet performance, beside it is also regaining ruling political coalition support. If that is the purpose, a Cabinet reshuffle is necessary.

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