Coronavirus: Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo blasts ‘business as usual’ attitude, warns of Cabinet reshuffle

Indonesia's president Joko Widodo complained to his ministers of slow government spending in the face of a dire global economic outlook.
Indonesia's president Joko Widodo complained to his ministers of slow government spending in the face of a dire global economic outlook.PHOTO: INDONESIA PRESIDENTIAL PALACE

JAKARTA - Indonesian President Joko Widodo has threatened to reshuffle the Cabinet as he expressed frustration over the “lack of a sense of crisis” in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said the government ministers were working in a business as usual mode in tackling the crisis.

In a video of a Cabinet meeting released by the presidential palace on Sunday (June 28), Mr Joko said he was very disappointed with the slow disbursement of urgently needed funds such as aid for the poor, stimulus for businesses to pre-empt layoffs, money to buy medical equipment and special allowances for medical doctors and nurses.

Mr Joko, popularly known as Jokowi at home, was especially angered by a report which said that the health ministry has spent only 1.5 per cent of the 75 trillion rupiah (S$7.3 billion) allocated to it as emergency funds to deal with the pandemic.

The presidential palace did not explain why the June 18 video was released only on Sunday. Its public relations office regularly publishes highlights of Mr Joko’s meetings with his ministers and normally releases his opening remarks ahead of the meetings. 

“I am keeping open measures, politically as well as government policy-wise. I would take extraordinary measures for the sake of the 267 million Indonesians. I may disband government agencies (that have been shown to be ineffective), do a Cabinet reshuffle. I have considered various measures,” Mr Joko said.

He was addressing the ministers from a podium. 

More than 15 of the 34 Cabinet ministers appointed by Mr Joko come from various political parties in a coalition supporting him. The rest of the Cabinet is made up of technocrats as well as successful entrepreneurs and businessmen.

Mr Joko, who won re-election in 2019, is constitutionally barred from a third term in office.

“Immediately spend your budget as soon as possible, as it would fuel consumer spending. If you face any obstacle, make new policies to expedite the process,” Mr Joko told his Cabinet. 

He said that funds from the economic stimulus package should quickly go to businesses, stressing that it would be useless if the government helps only after they have gone bust.

“It is very dangerous if we have no sense of crisis.

“Micro, small, medium, large enterprises, banking and everything that is related to the economy need to be assisted. Manufacturing, labour intensive industries especially need to be prioritised so there won’t be layoffs. Don’t wait until there are big layoffs,” said Mr Joko.

Finance Ministry figures in May show the government has committed to spending 641.15 trillion rupiah to mitigate the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, including on businesses. 

Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country, has reported a total of 54,010 infections, the highest in South-east Asia, as of Sunday. The total number of fatalities was 2,754.