Indonesian President, Joko Widodo replaced his trade minister on Wednesday over a cooking oil crisis that has roiled global markets, saying “the people need someone experienced”.
Despite being the world’s biggest palm oil producer, Indonesia has been dealing with domestic shortages and sharp price increases for months as the Ukraine war chokes global supplies.
In April, the government imposed a now-lifted palm oil export ban, further stunning global markets after Russia invaded its neighbour.
On Wednesday Widodo removed Muhammad Lutfi from his post in a cabinet shake-up, naming Zulkifli Hasan, who sits in the ruling coalition, as his successor.
“He (Hasan) will be good as the trade minister. Right now for food problems, the people need someone experienced, someone who goes to work on the ground directly,” Widodo told reporters.
The new minister said his first priority would be to “immediately” fix the cooking oil crisis plaguing Indonesia’s 270 million people, many of whom rely on the commodity for food and business.
Lutfi, who once served as Indonesia’s envoy to Japan, had blamed a “palm oil mafia” for stymieing efforts to bring cooking oil prices down.
Indonesia produces about 60 per cent of the world’s palm oil, which is used in products from chocolate spreads to cosmetics, with one-third consumed by its domestic market.
The cabinet revamp came as Widodo tries to respond to a series of issues in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy with domestic shortages of edible cooking oil the most pressing, experts said.
“It’s okay to replace the players during injury time as long as it is aimed for better performance and not for political consolidation,” Hendri Satrio, a political analyst from Paramadina University told AFP.
A survey published Monday by pollster Charta Politika on Monday found nearly two-thirds of respondents supported Widodo reshuffling his cabinet.