Jokowi appoints doctor to new Cabinet post

Deputy will aid new health minister in vaccination drive, fight against Covid-19

President Joko Widodo (far right) congratulating former Jakarta vice-governor Sandiaga Uno, who was installed as the new tourism and creative economy minister during the inauguration ceremony in Jakarta yesterday. Eleven Cabinet members were inaugura
President Joko Widodo (far right) congratulating former Jakarta vice-governor Sandiaga Uno, who was installed as the new tourism and creative economy minister during the inauguration ceremony in Jakarta yesterday. Eleven Cabinet members were inaugurated at the presidential palace. PHOTO: SANDIAGA UNO/INSTAGRAM

President Joko Widodo yesterday 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, those doubts might be eased by the appointment of Dr Dante - a 47-year-old endocrinologist who has a doctorate in molecular diabetes - to assist the former banker and corporate honcho.

In a post-inauguration statement, Dr Dante said that one of his tasks, as requested by the President, would be to accelerate the 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 better herd immunity," he said, adding that synergy with relevant 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 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 yesterday. 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 Ministry were filled by Dr Dante, criminal law expert Edward Omar Sharif Hiariej, and the treasurer of Indonesia's largest Muslim organisation Nahdlatul Ulama, Mr Harvick Hasnul Qolbi, respectively.

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

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 a time when Indonesia is struggling to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

As of yesterday, the virus had killed 20,408 people and infected 685,639. Many hospitals are nearly full, while medical workers are suffering from response fatigue.

The prolonged health crisis 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.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 24, 2020, with the headline 'Jokowi appoints doctor to new Cabinet post'. Subscribe