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Uphill task to transform Indonesia's bureaucracy

Publication Date : 05-03-2014


Last December, only three days before the Bureaucracy Reform Bill was scheduled to go before the year's final plenary session of Parliament, reformist watchdog Sofian Effendi was shocked to discover 12 discrepancies in the bill which civil servants had fought tooth and nail to forestall.

The legislation duly passed, but not before Effendi had managed to rectify nine of the changes, which had been mysteriously slipped into the draft after a marathon session of Parliament's Internal Affairs Commission.

Moving more hurriedly than he had done in a long time, perhaps because he had made bureaucratic reform a priority for his stuttering second term, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed off on the measure less than a month later. While the legislation was greeted with little public fanfare, its eventual impact may make it one of the most important reforms to come out of Parliament since Indonesia embarked on the road to democracy 16 years ago.

"If we want to be Asia's third- biggest economy, we can't do it with our existing bureaucracy," says Effendi, a former rector of Yogyakarta's Gadja Mada University. "We have to transform it into a dynamic, high-performance public service."

That has meant creating what will be known as the Indonesian Civil Service, built around private-sector-style human resource management with a merit-based system of recruitment, placement and promotion at both the provincial and national levels.

The employee, in other words, becomes the most valuable asset in a new public service culture that hopefully will be morally driven and based on the ethics of public responsibility and accountability - everything it is not today.

For Effendi, deputy head of the state-sanctioned Independent Team for Bureaucratic Reform, the passage of the law was the end of a long struggle begun under the B.J. Habibie presidency when he wrote amendments to the 1974 Civil Service Law.

Most of those changes were needed to adjust to the rapid post-Suharto move to decentralisation. But with 76 other bills in the pipeline, there was no time for any substantial reforms apart from a mandate to create a Civil Service Commission.

Most of the opposition to the bill, tabled in mid-2010 as a parliamentary initiative, came from the home affairs ministry and its now-retired secretary-general Diah Anggraeni, who campaigned tirelessly across the country to turn provincial officials against it.

One of the articles Effendi had to correct in those final days last December sought to keep the appointment of local government staff in the hands of the ministry's bureaucrats, instead of allowing the task to go to elected governors and district officers.

It was a crucial issue given that senior civil servants are long known to auction off positions to the highest bidder, one of the many practices that have perpetuated corruption in the nation's 4.7-million-strong bureaucracy.

It took Parliament just seven months to craft the legislation. Effendi had an ally in Internal Affairs Commission vice-chairman Taufiq Effendi, who had served as administrative reform minister in the previous Yudhoyono administration.

"I told him he had never left a legacy and if he wanted to leave something for the country, here it is," says his namesake. But, as with a lot of issues in Indonesia, that was only the start of the process.

Despite the President's endorsement, the bureaucracy's dogged resistance to change ensured it would take another 30 months - and more than 80 meetings - for the executive branch to sign off on a final version of the bill.

The bureaucracy of the future will have two distinct employment streams: civil servants, recruited to implement policies and carry out routine administrative tasks, and contract-based employees, mostly teachers and health workers.

The law also mandates the establishment of a Senior Executive Service, supervised by the seven-man Civil Service Commission instead of the current in-house Final Appraisal Team, and with top echelon positions from director to secretary-general.

"The commission will ensure job promotions are based on merit, and that the recruitment process is free from corruption, nepotism and political interest," Administrative Reform Minister Azwar Abubakar said last year.

That means civil servants can now be dismissed for consistently poor performance, criminal conviction or political affiliation. As Abubakar noted: "To clean up a very dirty place you have to use a special method."

As well, the compulsory retirement age has been extended from 56 to 58 for administrative employees, 60 for senior executives, 65 for teachers and health workers and 70 for university professors.

Another important change is the introduction of a single-scale salary, lumping together a civil servant's basic pay and allowances into one and, in doing so, eliminating what have been known as "wet" and "dry" jobs.

Effendi says that while a secretary-general's basic pay is 4 million rupiah (US$344), unsupervised remuneration for travel, attending meetings, overseeing projects and other routine duties can inflate a monthly salary to 10 times that amount.

To call Indonesia's bureaucracy a force unto itself is an understatement, particularly at a time of weak government leadership and when shoddy lawmaking reflects badly on political parties more preoccupied with self-interest than the national interest.

Still on the broader reform agenda is a long list of other requirements, including civil servant wealth reports, the development of an e-government system for public administration and registration services, and simplified procedures for business permits.

While the effort to sabotage Law 4/2014 may have failed, Effendi and his team are under no illusions. They estimate it will take another five years - the full term of the next president - to change attitudes and mindsets before the benefits of the reforms start to make an impact.


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