Frustrated Jokowi demands answers over Indonesia's slow pace of reform

Mr Joko was elected with the hope of hastening infrastructure development, but there has been little real progress.
Mr Joko was elected with the hope of hastening infrastructure development, but there has been little real progress.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

As the Indonesian economy continues to struggle, a clearly frustrated President Joko Widodo on Wednesday (June 17) demanded answers over the slow pace of reform and said heads could roll.

In a site visit to Jakarta's main port of Tanjung Priok, which is notorious for erratic clearing times, he said: "I need this port to function faster, be more efficient and give better service to import or export goods."

He added that he was told dwelling time was between 4.7 and 5.5 days on average, but he found out that it could stretch up to 25 days.

"Don't keep telling me things are good when in reality it is not. We need to improve. We must be open, and if I don't get an answer, I will find it out in my own way," he added.

A day earlier, the International Monetary Fund cut its annual growth forecast to 4.7 per cent, matching the World Bank's estimate issued in its global outlook summary published on June 10.

His comments and the lowered forecasts reflect the gloomy outlook for Indonesia as the president's reform plans appear to have stalled.

Southeast Asia's largest economy, which just a few years ago was the star-performer as it led GDP growth in the region, saw its slowest quarterly expansion in six years at 4.7 per cent, blamed on falling demand for commodities from China, weakened local consumption and lack of government spending.

Mr Joko was elected with the hope of hastening infrastructure development, across the maritime, roads and logistics sector, but while he has been launching infrastructure projects, there has been little real progress.

Meantime, his ministers continue to send out confusing signals as they play the blame game.

Yesterday, Trade Minister Rachmat Gobel told foreign journalists that his biggest challenge in implementing trade policies was the coordination and lack of agreement among ministers.

"The mindset is sometimes different, and it is a challenge (for me) to convince them," he said on the sidelines of a talk.

One example is the government's recent decision to import staples like chilli and shallots ahead of the fasting month of Ramadan as the period usually sees prices spike and supply dwindle just ahead of the harvest season.

The decision to import has been met with fierce opposition by the Agriculture Minister Amran Sulaiman who said farmers could lose their income.

"Sometimes they don't want to import but I show the President that we need to calculate production... I have to protect the consumer," Mr Rachmat said, adding that the Agriculture Minister called him up to five times a day during the past weeks to persuade him not to allow import of staples.

Trade figures, which have showed a dip in both imports and exports, showed Indonesia's surplus continued to widen in May for the sixth straight month, at US$950 million.

Imports fell sharply by 21.4 per cent from last year, in a sign of a weakening consumer demand, while exports fell, though less steeply, at 15.2 percent year-on-year at $12.56 billion, according to the data from the official statistics agency.

Mr Rachmat said the numbers may only start rising next year.

But the president, who is fast losing his patience on seeing progress, issued a stern reminder after his port visit yesterday.

"I will say this, that if it becomes too difficult to deliver, I will sack the director-generals, the in-charge in the field or the ministers," said Mr Joko.

The former businessman demanded answers on how best things can be done.

"I am used to managing (issues related to business) for 28 years... and seeking facts have become my daily diet."

zubaidah@sph.com.sg