Tue, 08 Aug 2000

Cabinet reshuffle crucial to improving performance

JAKARTA (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid must reshuffle his discredited Cabinet to improve the performance of his administration, particularly on the economic front, economists said.

An economist from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Pande Raja Silalahi, said want of an effective economic team was one of the major weaknesses of the current administration.

"The problem has been in the absence of a solid economic team. So a Cabinet reshuffle is a must," Pande said.

He stressed that the new economic team must be filled with professionals not affiliated with any political party.

Abdurrahman said on Monday in his progress report to the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) that he planned another Cabinet shake-up. The President did not provide any details of the plan, but there has been speculation the reshuffle would take place later this month.

Critics have said the economic ministers have performed poorly in attempting to resolve the country's economic crisis. There also have been suggestions the ministers are more devoted to their respected political parties than to the President.

"There was a clear acknowledgement in the President's speech that the performance of the economic ministers has not been optimal," said Gadjah Mada University economist Sri Adiningsih. "And to avoid widespread dissatisfaction among the people, a Cabinet reshuffle is needed."

Sri also said the new economic ministers should be independent and professional to ensure full loyalty to the President.

Meanwhile, an economist at a state-owned securities firm said word of the impending Cabinet reshuffle was not new to the financial market.

"The market is now waiting to see who will fill the posts. The market wants professional people," he said.

Separately, Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Finance and Industry Kwik Kian Gie said he was prepared to step aside if the President chose to dismiss him.

He said a Cabinet reshuffle was the prerogative of the President. "I'm ready to be reshuffled," he added.

Kwik is a senior official with the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), the largest party in the legislature. It is not clear whether the President has spoken with Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri, the chairwoman of PDI Perjuangan, about a Cabinet reshuffle.

The recent dismissal of economic ministers Laksamana Sukardi, another PDI Perjuangan official, and Jusuf Kalla, a member of Golkar Party, has been condemned by legislators from the two parties, adding to the uncertainty surrounding Abdurrahman's presidency.

In a related development, Minister of Mines and Energy Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said he was unaware of any plans by the President to appoint him "first minister".

"I have heard about the rumor, but I don't know anything about it," the retired Army lieutenant-general said.

There have been rumors Abdurrahman will create the powerful "first minister" post to help him run his administration. People also say this move would help the President win the backing of the military.

In other matters, Abdurrahman also said in his progress report that Indonesia's economy had emerged from its worst crisis in decades but the recovery was still in its early stages and had yet to gain strength.

He admitted the economic gains during his 10 months in office were relatively small. The President said that looking ahead, economic recovery would be based on four main pillars: macroeconomic stability, empowerment of economic institutions, structural policy reform and protection of the poor.

The President also said the government would remain committed to implementing the economic reform program agreed to with the International Monetary Fund.

The IMF signed an agreement with the current administration in January to provide some US$5 billion to help finance the country's economic recovery.

Meanwhile, traders said the market responded positively to the President's apology for the performance of his administration.

After trading at an intraday high of Rp 8,725 to the U.S. dollar, the rupiah ended at Rp 8,630 against the dollar in late trading on Monday. However, this was still lower than its Rp 8,608 close on Friday.

The President told the 700-member Assembly, the country's highest legislative body, that he would learn from his past mistakes. The apology is seen as an attempt to reduce the opposition to his administration.

The rupiah dropped to a 21-month low of Rp 9,570 per dollar last month amid political uncertainty ahead of the Assembly's 10- day Annual Session that began on Monday. (rei/bkm)