Some pluses, some minuses disappoint reformers who expected more
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's new 37-member cabinet – if you include three state officials of cabinet rank – which was sworn in Wednesday can probably be viewed as a marginal upgrade from the one that left office in terms of professionalism and openness.
The appointments disappointed reformers, who had expected more professionals in the wake of Yudhoyono's 60.9 percent victory in the July national election, given his supposed credentials as a reformer. Among the 34 cabinet members are 19 political appointees.
Islamist parties that had supported Yudhoyono's presidential candidacy were rewarded, seemingly out of proportion to their influence, particularly the Prosperous Justice Party, which was given four posts -- the Information and Communication, Research and Technology, Agriculture and Social Services ministries. The United Development Party was rewarded with the Religious Affairs Ministry and the State Ministry for Public Housing. The Ulema National Awakening Party of former president Abdurrahman Wahid, which got only 1.5 percent of the vote in legislative elections and no seats in the house, nonetheless, received two cabinet appointments – the State Ministry for Acceleration of Development in Underdeveloped Regions and the Ministry of Labor and Transmigration.
Three more are from the scandal-scarred Golkar, which joined the ruling coalition just in the last few days, pushed via adroit moves by Aburizal Bakrie, one of Indonesia's richest men and the new head of the party, which was viewed as deeply corrupt and which gave former strongman Suharto a thin facade of democracy during his 33 years in political power.
The Bakrie group of companies have never been far from power, going back to the days when Achmad Bakrie, the patriarch, benefited from government programs to develop indigenous businesses. The group continued to grow from government contracts and monopolies in the oil, electricity and media sectors, according the website Asean Affairs. During the 1997-1998 Asian crisis, Bakrie's Bank Nusa was saved by a government fund injection of US$240 million. He was saved again by government inaction in October of 2008 in the global financial crisis when Bakrie companies' financial manipulation led to the closure of the Indonesian stock market. Despite demands by minority stockholders, the Indonesian market watchdogs took no action.
As head of Golkar, Bakrie is expected to have deep tentacles into the government, including through Agung Laksono, former speaker of the house and Golkar vice chairman, who replaces Bakrie as Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare. Laksono was the founder of Adam Air, a now-defunct startup airline with a dreadful safety record including a crash in January 2007 that resulted in the deaths of 102 passengers and contributed to the two-year ban on all Indonesian airlines from European airspace.
The other Golkar ministers are Mohamad Sulaeman Hidayat as Industry Minister, the former chairman of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin). He replaces Fahmi Idris. Fadel Muhammad was named the minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.
Businessman Taufik Kiemas, the husband of former President Megawati Sukarnoputri, failed to win any cabinet posts for the Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P, the second-biggest after Yudhoyono's Democratic Party. Taufik's attempts to maneuver the PDI-P into the ruling coalition were thwarted by Megawati, who preferred to stay in opposition. Democratic Party support however, did help Taufik win the chairmanship of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), the largely ceremonial upper house of the legislature.
Perhaps the biggest plus in the new administration is Yudhoyono's vice president, Boediono, the respected former central bank governor, who has a strong reputation for honesty and competence, and who replaces Jusuf Kalla, whose connections to the business community through the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, or Kadin, created conflicts of interest. Boediono, appointed by Megawati as Minister of Finance when she was president, played a major role in revamping the economy so that it grew by 4 percent in 2002 and set the stage for its continuing development.
Yudhoyono has brought back 10 officials from his previous cabinet, most conspicuously his economics team, now headed by Hatta Radjasa, the former state secretary, who becomes coordinating minister for the economy, a job formerly held by Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati, who was performing both jobs. The appointment of Radjasa, a mining engineer, has been criticized because he is not an economist. He was, however, one of Yudhoyono's most aides and can be expected to play a vital role in communicating economic policy to the president.
Sri Mulyani is a former executive director with the International Monetary Fund who has won international acclaim for her economic policies. During the previous administration, she waged intensive campaigns to keep the government from bailing out the capsizing Bakrie companies in 2008.
Also returning is Mari Elka Pangestu, another internationally prominent economist, who continues as minister of trade, and who formed a bulwark in the previous administration against attempts by the former Industry Minister, Fahmi Idris, to introduce measures to protect Indonesian industries such as shoe manufacturers.
Another major advance is the selection of Gita Wirjawan, former country head of JP Morgan Indonesia who later formed his own investment company, Ancora Capital. He was selected head of the National Investment Coordinating Board, a non-ministerial position but a vital one nonetheless. He has publicly vowed to clean up Indonesia's private equity sector. A master's degree graduate of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he is considered one of Indonesia's brightest young stars.
Endang Rahayu Sedya-ningsih, a general practitioner educated in the United States, was named health minister, replacing Siti Fadilah Supari, a loose cannon who was dumped because of some views that could only be described as bizarre, including accusing the US in 2008 of leading an international conspiracy to develop the avian influenza virus into a deadly bio-weapon. A cardiologist, Supari also said she suspected that the H1N1 strain of swine flu might have been man-made and that it couldn't survive in tropical countries although it is believed to have killed more than 150 people in Mexico. She demoted her replacement, Siti, for giving bird flu virus samples to US disease control researchers and refused to share all but a small handful of Indonesian virus samples to the World Health Organization.
Marty Muliana Natalegawa, a seasoned diplomat who most recently served as Indonesia's permanent representative to the United Nations and previously as ambassador to the United Kingdom, replaces Hassan Wirajuda, also a seasoned diplomat who took on Burma for the dictatorship's treatment of the Rohingya, hundreds of whom had to flee the country and
Purnomo Yusgiantoro, who did a lackluster job as energy and natural resources minister, becomes Defense Minister, which has been a traditional receptacle for lucrative commissions from arms peddlers. Under his reign as energy minister, Indonesia fell far behind on its commitments to vastly increase energy output. Its so-called Fast-Track energy program, which is mainly made up of coal-fired plants, is at least two years behind schedule and saddled with problems.