Indonesian President Jokowi appoints doctor as deputy health minister to shore up fight against Covid-19

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (right) inaugurating his new ministers at the Merdeka Palace in Jakarta on Dec 23, 2020.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo (right) inaugurating his new ministers at the Merdeka Palace in Jakarta on Dec 23, 2020.PHOTO: EPA-EFE/INDONESIAN PRESIDENTIAL PALACE

JAKARTA - President Joko Widodo on Wednesday (Dec 23) appointed Dr Dante Saksono Harbuwono to a new post of deputy health minister in a Cabinet reshuffle to better tackle the coronavirus crisis.

Although Indonesia could do with the strong managerial skills of newly assigned Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin to lead the Covid-19 vaccination programme early next year, his appointment has sparked worries as he does not possess medical qualifications like his predecessors.

However, the appointment of 47-year-old Dr Dante - an endocrinologist who also has a doctorate in molecular diabetes - to assist the former banker and corporate honcho might have eased those doubts.

In his statement after the inauguration, Dr Dante said that one of his tasks, as requested by the President, would be to accelerate disbursement of health expenditure "effectively and efficiently" to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic promptly. Another task would be to execute the vaccination programme.

"It is very important to prioritise the implementation of the vaccination because by doing that as quickly as possible, we will attain a better herd immunity," he said, adding that synergy with institutions would be key to performing the tasks.

Indonesia, the world's fourth-most populous nation of 270 million people, is South-east Asia's worst-hit country in the pandemic.

Front-line workers will get priority for the vaccine, followed by workers aged 18 to 59, who are considered the most at risk of exposure to the virus, as they go to work.

It has targeted 246 million doses to cover 107 million people, or 67 per cent of the target group, representing nearly 40 per cent of its total population.

The country welcomed the first batch of the Covid-19 vaccines totalling 1.2 million doses from China's Sinovac Biotech on Dec 6 and expects more to arrive early next year.

Dr Dante was among 11 Cabinet members - six ministers and five deputies - inaugurated at the presidential palace by Mr Joko, better known as Jokowi, in Jakarta on Wednesday.

The six ministers were Mr Budi, Social Affairs Minister Tri Rismaharini, Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Sandiaga Uno, Trade Minister Muhammad Lutfi, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Sakti Wahyu Trenggono, and Religious Affairs Minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas.

Three new deputy ministerial posts in the Health Ministry, Law and Human Rights Ministry, and Agriculture Minister were filled by Dr Dante, criminal law expert Prof Edward Omar Sharif Hiariej and treasurer of Indonesia's largest Muslim organisation Nahdlatul Ulama, Harvick Hasnul Qolbi, respectively.

Military chief of staff Lieutenant General Muhammad Herindra replaced Mr Sakti as deputy defence minister, while Pahala Nugraha Mansury, president director of state lender Bank Tabungan Negara,  filled the deputy minister of state-owned enterprises post left by Mr Budi.


Indonesian President Joko Widodo (left) with newly assigned Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin during the inauguration ceremony in Jakarta on Dec 23, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS/INDONESIAN PRESIDENTIAL PALACE

Apart from the Cabinet members, the President also installed Inspector General of Police Petrus Reinhard Golose as National Narcotics Agency chief, and former environment and forestry official Hartono Prawiraatmaja as National Peatland and Mangrove Restoration Agency chief.

The shake-up of the 34-member Cabinet comes at the time when Indonesia is struggling to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

As at Wednesday, the virus has killed 20,408 people and infected 685,639, and many hospitals are nearly full, while medical workers are suffering from response fatigue.

The prolonged health crisis and restrictions to curb movement of the people has sunk South-east Asia's top economy into its first recession since the 1998 financial crisis.

Civil society groups had earlier demanded the removal of health minister Terawan Agus Putranto, a former army doctor who initially downplayed the severity of the virus outbreak and was later widely perceived as mishandling it.