Widodo Vows Stronger Government to Tame Indonesia Corruption

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Exclusive Interview With Indonesian President Joko Widodo

Joko Widodo, President of Indonesia.

Photographer: Dimas Ardian/Bloomberg

Indonesian President Joko Widodo vowed to ramp up his faltering campaign against corruption, an impediment to boosting Southeast Asia’s largest economy.

Widodo, 54, who on Wednesday revamped his cabinet, 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,” Widodo, better known as Jokowi, said in the first part of an annual pre-Independence Day address to parliament. “The government will work hard to wage war against them.”

The first Indonesian leader to hail from outside the country’s elite, Jokowi 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.

“Jokowi can hardly ignore reality as the rupiah heads for the floor and growth continues to disappoint,” said Keith Loveard, head of political risk at Jakarta-based advisory company Concord Consulting. “Presumably he feels he needs to explain why he doesn’t have a chance of meeting his campaign promises.”

KPK, Police

The anti-corruption commission, known as the KPK, has been embroiled in a dispute with the police, hampering efforts to curb rampant graft and hurting his popularity. A commission is currently selecting a new leader of the KPK.

“I hope the chosen figure can make the institution effective and work together with other law enforcement officers, so we clean the cloak of this republic that has been stained by corruption,” he said.

Anti-graft campaigners are “very disappointed, very depressed” about Jokowi’s performance so far, said Ade Irawan, head of non-governmental organization Indonesia Corruption Watch. Jokowi may feel combating corruption gets in the way of his infrastructure development agenda, Irawan said in an interview.

Widodo also said he would focus on bringing peace to the easternmost province of Papua, the scene of a small, long-running separatist insurgency, and allow foreign journalists access.

Widodo’s cabinet shuffle 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.

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