Indonesia’s new cabinet being sworn in at the presidential palace in Jakarta yesterday. The 34-member cabinet comprises mainly technocrats from business and academia. AP pic

THERE are Malaysian connections in the Joko Widodo (popularly known as Jokowi) cabinet that was announced on Sunday. Research, Technology and Higher Education Minister M. Nasir, who is, in fact, newly appointed as rector of the Diponegoro University, has a PhD from Universiti Sains Malaysia.

Marwan Jafar, the development of villages, underdeveloped regions and transmigration minister, obtained his PhD from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. Rector of Gadjah Mada University, Pratikno, is now the cabinet secretary, while Yohana S. Yambise of Papua is women’s empowerment and child protection minister. She was also plucked from academia, having been a professor at Cenderawasih University.

Likewise Culture, and Elementary and Secondary Education Minister Anies Baswedan was the president of Paraminda University.

As for the Malaysian angle, Indonesia’s first female foreign minister, Retno Marsudi, will enjoy greater name recognition here because of the nature of her job. She is a career diplomat, who, until the announcement, was Indonesia’s ambassador to the Netherlands. Hanif Dhakiri, the manpower minister, may gain some visibility in Malaysia, too, as the issue of maids has unfailingly exasperated many Malaysian households.

The traditional universal response or refrain to a new leader’s decision — “mixed”, “cautious” — greeted the line-up of 34 ministers, which featured eight technocrats.

Emblematic of the attitude of every decision being potentially flawed, some international pundits looked at the presence of academics in the line-up, concluding, sadly, that there is a dearth of such talent in Indonesia. An international media outlet added for good measure that even if there was outstanding talent, the appointee might turn out to be the wrong choice for a government role. This is a bewildering take.

Jokowi is not the leader of any political party. That is an advantage, as he is free, to a certain extent, to appoint the best available talent. The party that fielded him for the July 9 presidential election, PDI-P (the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle) is in a coalition. Realistically — in fact, it is a given — the president will have to appoint representatives of PDI-P and its coalition partners.

Conversely, it was always going to be daunting to honour pledges of appointing a cabinet made up of an entirely brilliant cast.

In reality, the Jokowi cabinet features some promising appointments.

A Barclays’ emerging markets research bulletin said the team should facilitate policy implementation, and alluded to the five key economic posts of finance, economics, energy, trade and state-owned enterprises going to technocrats.

“President Jokowi took the unprecedented but sensible step of asking the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) to vet his shortlist.”

Barclays applauded the appointment of Bambang Brojonegoro as finance minister ahead of the fuel subsidy reform along with tax reforms and broader fiscal consolidation.

“At 48, Bambang is one of the youngest permanent secretaries (or vice-ministers) in the Indonesian civil service, and well regarded as an economist. He is international in his outlook, having managed the Fiscal Policy Office and Debt Management Office — two portfolios in the Finance Ministry which entail frequent interactions with professional investors.”

Bambang has a PhD in urban and regional planning from the University of Illinois.

Rachmat Gobel, head of the Panasonic Gobel Group, is the new trade minister. He graduated from Chuo University, Tokyo, in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in international trade.

Arief Yahya, chief executive officer of state-owned telecommunications company Telekomunasi Indonesia (Telkom), named Marketeer of the Year 2013, is tourism minister. The marine and fisheries minister is Susi Pudjiastuti, who started off as a fishmonger and whose business expanded gloriously that in 2004, she acquired two Cessna Caravan planes to fly lobsters from South Java to Jakarta. That was the genesis of Susi Air.

Kereta Api Indonesia head Ignnasius Jonan, credited with the transformation of rail services in Java and Sumatra, is transport minister. He had been overseeing, among others, the 780km double-tracking project on the Jakarta- Surabaya line. Sofyan Djalil is the co-ordinating economics minister.

PDI-P is headed by Megawati Sukarnoputri. Rini Soemarno, the daughter of Soemarno, a former central bank governor, and reportedly a confidante of president Sukarno, was made a minister when Megawati was president. Rini was also made head of the Jokowi transition team. Now, Rini has been appointed state-owned enterprises minister. A retired general, Ryamizard Ryacudu is defence minister, while Tjahjo Kumolo is home minister.

These three are reportedly Megawati nominees.

Jokowi’s cabinet has been dubbed Kabinet Kerja (Work-oriented Cabinet). That Jonan, of Kereta Api Indonesia, had routinely slept in trains was mentioned by Jokowi at the announcement. He was also impressed with the marketing credentials of the tourism minister, and singled out ministers who had authored books.

Of an immediate interest to Indonesians, and the region, would be the upcoming announcement on the fuel subsidy revamp. Realistically, that would be the real tangible test of the Jokowi brand of leadership.