Indonesia leader reshuffles Cabinet amid virus crisis, graft

NINIEK KARMINI
·2-min read
Passengers sit apart to maintain physical distance as they wait to have their nasal swab samples collected to be tested for the coronavirus which is required for long-distance train trips at Gambir Train Station in Jakarta, Indonesia, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020. Indonesia has reported more than 600,000 cases of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesia’s president announced a Cabinet reshuffle Tuesday following the arrest of two of his ministers on corruption charges and his administration’s lackluster pandemic response.

The Cabinet shake-up comes amid surging coronavirus cases in the world’s fourth most populous nation. Indonesia's economy has fallen into recession for the first time since the Asian financial crisis more than two decades ago as the country struggles to control the pandemic.

Four ministers lost their jobs, including Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto, and two others were rotated to more important positions, ending weeks of speculation about the possible changes.

President Joko Widodo chose the mayor of Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city after Jakarta, to become the social affairs minister, replacing Juliari Batubara, who was detained by Indonesia’s anti-corruption commission on Dec. 6. Batubara was accused of taking bribes related to the government’s COVID-19 aid distribution.

Widodo replaced Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Edhy Prabowo, who was arrested by the commission last month for allegedly taking bribes related to exports of lobster larvae, with Sakti Wahyu Trenggono, who had served as the vice defense minister.

Widodo also appointed former Jakarta deputy governor and losing vice presidential candidate Sandiaga Uno as tourism and creative economy minister, replacing Wishnutama Kusubandio.

Uno, a businessman, is also the deputy chairman of the Great Indonesia Movement Party, or Gerindra, formerly a rival to Widodo’s party.

Widodo picked Muhammad Lutfi, the current ambassador to the United States, to serve as trade minister. Yaqut Cholil Qoumas was named the new religion affairs minister.

Current Vice Minister of State-owned Enterprises Budi Gunadi Sadikin is the new health minister, replacing Putranto, who was widely criticized for his handling of the pandemic.

A coalition of civil society groups, academics and social organizations started an online petition in October urging Widodo to fire Putranto for his alleged incompetence in handling the pandemic.

Indonesia has reported more than 678,000 cases of the virus, the largest caseload in Southeast Asia and second in Asia only to India’s 10 million confirmed cases. It has recorded more than 20,000 deaths from COVID-19.

Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy, contracted at a 3.5% annual pace in July-September, the second consecutive quarterly contraction.

The economy shrank at a 5.32% pace in the previous quarter and grew 2.9% in January-March, its slowest rate in almost two decades.