Indonesian president vows stronger government to tame corruption

Indonesian President Joko Widodo.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

JAKARTA (BLOOMBERG) - Indonesian President Joko Widodo vowed in his annual address to ramp up his faltering campaign against corruption, an impediment to boosting South-east Asia’s largest economy.

Widodo, better known as Jokowi, said he wants to strengthen government institutions to better tackle wealth inequality and weak law enforcement.

“The government acknowledges there are still many problems in our path,” he said in the first part of an annual pre-Independence Day address on Friday. “The government will work hard to wage war against them.”

The first Indonesian leader to hail from outside the country’s elite, Jokowi, 54, has largely failed to live up to expectations of better governance and faster development.

He took office in October promising to spend more on long neglected infrastructure, attract investment and reboot an economy growing at its slowest pace in more than five years.

The anti-corruption commission has been embroiled in a dispute with the police, hampering efforts to curb rampant graft and hurting his popularity.

Widodo’s cabinet shuffle on Wednesday saw two respected technocrats named to top economic positions in a bid to speed up reforms and secure stronger political backing for his leadership.

New trade minister Tom Lembong signaled he was ready to push back against protectionist policies, a contrast to the approach of his predecessor.

“History over the last 100 years all around the world proves clearly that protectionist policies always backfire,” Lembong told Bloomberg Television in his first interview.

“It’s a tough situation, balancing domestic constituencies versus international relations and commitments,” but policy makers have to “fight these protectionist instincts,” he said.