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Sharing out ministerial seats in a big cabinet

Tempo Editorial - May 10, 2024

Jakarta – Prabowo Subianto intends to form a cabinet of 40 ministers. This will result in a bloated bureaucracy and wasted public money.

It is likely that the Prabowo Subianto-Gibran Rakabuming Raka cabinet will be far from slim and agile. The plan by the president-elect and the vice-president-elect to form a government that includes almost every political party is a sign that they will exercise power-sharing through ministerial positions.

Some people may think that there is nothing wrong with this kind of politics because support from all parties in the House of Representatives (DPR) will result in a stable government. However, as well as weakening the balance of power, which is an important element of a democratic nation, this sharing out of cabinet seats will be a burden on the state.

Just look at Prabowo's plan currently doing the rounds among the parties supporting him. The parties that supported Prabowo from the beginning that won DPR seats will be given between three and five ministerial posts. And it is reported that even parties that did not win seats at Senayan will be given one or two ministerial or deputy ministerial jobs.

The parties that joined Prabowo's coalition later, such as the NasDem party and the National Awakening Party (PKB) will be given one or two positions. And there are reports that Prabowo supporters who are not party members will be given deputy-ministerial positions. According to politicians from the parties supporting Prabowo, almost every minister will have a deputy minister.

No wonder the number of ministers will increase. From the previous 34 ministers in line with the State Ministries Law, it is reported that the number will rise to between 38 and 40 ministers. Of course, before the new cabinet is announced, the State Ministries Law will need to be revised – which it appears that the deliberations and passing of this revision will go ahead without any problems.

If the next cabinet is formed this way, the government might well be stable because Prabowo will control the DPR, but it will not work optimally. The larger the cabinet, the more bloated the bureaucracy. And there will be overlaps between programs from different ministries.

Another consequence is that spending will rise. Every newly established ministry will be accompanied by the recruitment of new officials underneath it. And more officials means more state funds for them. This will not only be at the ministerial or deputy ministerial level, but also expert staff, special staff, first echelon officials and so on.

Compare this with the cabinets of developed countries. For example, the United States has only 15 departments, no matter whether the president is a Democrat or a Republican. And Germany also only has 15 ministries. In Japan, there are no more than 20 ministers. The number of ministers and the names of the ministries in these jobs hardly ever change. These smaller cabinets reflect the fact that governments have been formed effectively and efficiently, not through horse-trading.

But rather than streamlining his cabinet, Prabowo plans to produce a bloated cabinet by splitting a number of ministries. For example, the Environment and Forestry Ministry, combined into one in the era of President Joko Widodo, will be split into the Environment Ministry and the Forestry Ministry. This is despite the fact that these areas are two sides of the same coin – every policy related to one influences the other.

Prabowo even plans to establish a new coordinating ministry for agricultural affairs. The establishment of this post, like the other three coordinating ministries, is not a matter of urgency. Many people feel that the coordinating ministries have not been working optimally in their coordination of policies or programs and the ministries they oversee. A number of experts and academics have even suggested these ministries be dissolved. As well as not being required by regulations, the coordinating ministries actually reduce direct coordination between technical ministries and the president.

Unfortunately, even if there are also mergers of ministries, this will not reduce the total number of cabinet seats. If these mergers were part of a plan to streamline the cabinet to between 20 and 24 ministries as per the 2014 study of the State Administration Institute, it would show the goodwill of the incoming administration.

But this plan to form new ministries is completely at odds with the principles of forming a cabinet that is effective and efficient. The statements from politicians that the Prabowo's cabinet will work better than a cabinet of experts are only illusions. From the outset, the sharing out of ministerial posts in the forthcoming government has resembled more to sharing out the spoils of power to expand the cartel, than bringing about consociationalism – representation by a group that has a clear platform to reduce conflict.

– Read the complete story in Tempo English Magazine

Source: https://en.tempo.co/read/1865184/sharing-out-ministerial-seats-in-a-big-cabine