Indonesia needs a government that works together: The Jakarta Post

Indonesian President Joko Widodo speaks with Reuters during an interview at the presidential palace in Jakarta, on Feb 10, 2016.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo speaks with Reuters during an interview at the presidential palace in Jakarta, on Feb 10, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

In its editorial, the newspaper urges the Indonesian president to stop tolerating the repeated public disagreements involving ministers.

Perhaps President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo is blessed with an extraordinary level of composure that has prevented him from taking action against aides who have ignored his instructions several times. Many wonder then whether he is really in command despite his prerogative to appoint and dismiss Cabinet members.

The latest argument in public between his ministers should therefore give the President solid ground to take sterner action instead of issuing the usual warnings, not for a show of force but simply for the sake of Cabinet unity and, hence, delivery of services to the public.

A performing government is all that a president needs to bring prosperity, security and justice to the nation.

Mr Jokowi expressed anger on Wednesday after another round of mudslinging occurred between Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister Rizal Ramli and Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Sudirman Said, who have been embroiled in a war of words over a plan to develop South-east Asia's largest gas field, the Masela block in South Maluku.

The spat between them is public knowledge and turned personal as evinced when Mr Rizal uploaded a meme on his Twitter account attacking Mr Sudirman.

Shortly after his inauguration in July last year, Mr Rizal, once a prominent government critic, openly criticised State Enterprises Minister Rini Soemarno for instructing national flag carrier Garuda Indonesia to buy new planes to enhance its fleet. Mr Rizal also threw down the gauntlet to Vice-President Jusuf Kalla over the government's 35,000 megawatt power generation program.

Another feud involves Ms Rini and Transportation Minister Ignasius Jonan over the controversial high-speed railway connecting Jakarta and Bandung.

During a press conference that Ms Rini gave a miss to a few weeks ago, Mr Jonan, a former president director of the state railway company, said he was the most knowledgeable about railway among ministers.

The President selected Cabinet members from the political parties that endorsed his nomination as well as his volunteer groups and non-partisan professionals. Mr Jokowi, who only set foot in Jakarta as a politician in 2012 and climbed to the national level two years later, may have limited knowledge of his ministerial candidates, forcing him to listen to whisperers around him, who could have instead misled him.

But this deficiency does not justify his avoidance of responsibility for the frequent squabbling that has marred his government.

Although he has reprimanded his ministers for allowing their differences to spill over into the public arena, a rebuke is hardly enough.

While reconciling the warring ministers is unlikely, given their penchant for discrediting each other, the President should have the guts to show the door to Cabinet members who jeopardise the teamwork.

When Mr Jokowi reshuffled his Cabinet for the first time last year he may have expected to accelerate his team's work pace, which has not turned out to be the case.

The President should consider the repeated public disagreements involving ministers intolerable this time around because they have disrupted efforts to accomplish many of his priority programs.

Mr Jokowi is known for his inaugural motto "work, work, work", but it does not work without teamwork.

* The Jakarta Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 newspapers.