Shuffle or not to shuffle: Joko Widodo faces calls for cabinet shake-up

Indonesian President Joko Widodo is facing growing calls to make some changes to his cabinet amid concerns about the effectiveness of his economic team and his leadership.

The economy  grew 4.7 per cent in the first quarter, the slowest pace in more than five years, and eyes are inevitably on Jokowi’s economic ministers, headed by Sofyan Djalil.

Analysts have blamed the slowdown on a delay in spending, as revisions to the 2015 budget were only completed in February, and the global economic malaise in general.

“The 2015 budget was prepared by the previous government and it did not factor in subsidy cuts and additional capital expenditure from subsidy savings,” said Aldian Taloputra, an economist at Mandiri Sekuritas.

“We’re still optimistic things will be better as the government starts spending on infrastructure, but growth won’t be as fast we want it to be,” he said.

But government critics are not as optimistic, with some blaming the failings on what they see as Jokowi’s weak leadership.

“Poorly calculated economic policies have hit people’s purchasing power and given rise to ambitious economic targets, and the government is busy finding scapegoats,” said Enny Sri Hartati, executive director of the Institute of Development of Economics and Finance (INDEF).

The government’s decision to cut fuel subsidies and raise electricity and gas prices has resulted in  higher costs for basic commodities.

Sofyan Djalil has defended the economic team’s performance, saying that whoever in his position would face the same problem: unfavourable global economic conditions.

“Many good policies are unpopular, one of them removing subsidies,” he said.

Politicians from Jokowi’s own Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle have urged the president to replace some ministers they viewed as incompetent.

Some have singled out Cabinet Secretary Andi Widjajanto, Jokowi’s former campaign advisor and a former lecturer at Universitas Indonesia, for criticism. They say because he is inexperienced in government, he sometimes gives Jokowi ill-informed advice.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla hinted last week that a cabinet reshuffle was imminent, but Jokowi has refused to comment about the speculation, saying only that he constantly evaluates the performance of his ministers.

Ari Kuncoro, economics lecturer at Universitas Indonesia, cautioned against pressuring Jokowi to reshuffle his cabinet.

“Panicked ministers could resort to doing hasty things to be seen as performing well, including engaging in publicity stunts at the expense of team work,” he said.

“There should be a healthy combination of leadership, as well as reward and punishment,” he said.

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