On a recent visit home, an Indonesian ambassador told of how he had been scoffed at by his bosses at the Foreign Ministry for failing to include the title “Prof.” in banners that he had prepared to welcome former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono earlier this year.
Luckily for him, the error was detected before Yudhoyono arrived at the country he was representing. The envoy scrambled at the last minute to produce new banners, with the appropriate full title: “Welcome President Prof. Dr. H. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono”.
The omission of “professor”, a title Yudhoyono had earned from the Indonesian Defense University in June this year, could have meant an early recall to Jakarta, friends said.
There was no such inhibition with titles, or their absence, when President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo named his 34 Cabinet members on Sunday, and again when the names were read before he swore them in to their respective jobs at the Presidential Palace on Monday.
Each Cabinet member was introduced by name only. No academic titles and no references as to whether the 31 Muslims had completed haj pilgrimages.
It is not that the Cabinet lacks firepower, or is less Islamic. It has three rectors from top universities as well as many scholars with academic achievements. It has nine CEOs, including a successful businesswoman who did not even finish high school. And it has two former generals who are now in civilian clothes.
Jokowi’s Working Cabinet is as impressive as any that has gone before it. This time, hopefully, if the way the Cabinet was disclosed is any indication, they will not publicly flaunt their academic or other titles.
What matters more is that they work effectively.
Honesty and humility will be the hallmarks of the President’s team, something that many seem to have missed as they analyze the Cabinet in terms of its composition, the competence and track records of the members, or its religious, ethnic and gender mix.
While many hailed the Cabinet for having the highest ever representation of women (eight out of 34), and the appointment of the first woman foreign minister, some lamented the absence of any Batak, a prominent ethnic group in the country, in the Cabinet.
The President had to accommodate other interests and give some seats to political parties that helped him win the July presidential poll. Following the announcement on Sunday, he was criticized by supporters and opponents alike for having to eat his own words after promising there would be no “transactional politics” in forming his government.
On further reflection, however, the presence of some seasoned politicians in the Cabinet could come in handy because Jokowi will likely have to fight many policy battles in the House of Representatives, which is controlled by the opposition Red-and-White Coalition.
The Cabinet is still dominated by professionals, enough to give it some credibility to start working. Many of them are not completely unknown to the public, but admittedly most of them have been out of the media spotlight.
Jokowi may have picked them based on their personal character, as honest, humble and hardworking people. Like the President, who is a man of few words, many members of the Cabinet are not known for making public statements, but they are not necessarily less competent, with far more competence and impressive track records, as well as higher public standings over other frontrunners for the job.
The Cabinet members are the President’s men and women. Jokowi has used his constitutional prerogatives to select assistants who he can comfortably work with for the next five years.
When he introduced them to the public at the Presidential Palace on Sunday, he made them all wear white shirts with rolled-up sleeves, Jokowi’s trademark of a working man, which he carved out when working as Jakarta governor and now as President.
That is symbolic that they, like the President, are serious that they will work, work and work.
Source: The Jakarta Post