Much ado about emails

It is not just emails, but there are serious problems underlying DPR’s institutional capacity.

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It is not just emails, but there are serious problems underlying DPR’s institutional capacity.

During their “study trip”to Australia, members of DPR’s Commission VIII that oversees religious and social affairs made a mishap by stating a fake email address when asked by one of its constituents on how to contact the Commission during their discussion that was held by the Indonesian Students Association of Australia (PPI Australia).

Other IMO Bloggers have posted their story on DPR’s study trip and also on the video capturing the whole commotion. PPI Australia have also made an evaluation of  DPR’s visit here (in Bahasa Indonesia).

It’s not entirely surprising that this pandemonium happened, because this only adds up to the list of “mistakes” that DPR have made. The email incident is just the tip of the iceberg, because I would argue that the problem lies deeper and it has something to do with the dire condition of DPR’s institutional capacity.

Firstly, the much needed institutional capacity building in DPR did not happen during the course of Soeharto’s 32-year authoritarian regime. MPR/DPR were pretty much the President’s rubber stamp when it comes to the government’s policies. While other parliaments in the world have developed themselves as an effective political institution for checks and balances of the executive’s power, MPR/DPR was very much under the executive’s control.

It was only until 1998 onwards, post-Reformasi and Indonesia’s transition to democracy that people realize that DPR can actually do something, that they have an authority that can balance the executive by representing the voices of its citizens. As a result, even though the DPR building exists there for a long time, but inside the building, the process of DPR’s evolution as an institution that truly represents the interests of the Indonesian constituents have only started slightly more than a decade ago.

Second, DPR needs to know that its constituents matter. The real voice of the people matters. Public scrutiny such as the video that was made by students of PPI Australia is a form of feedback on DPR’s performance. Being defensive about this whole incident and not saying sorry just truly show that they are not working for the interests of the people. We would like to know how to contact DPR, but if they don’t have any interaction or a forum of communication with its constituents, how are we going to make sure that they’re doing their job?

Social media, thankfully, has been an effective tool to monitor the performance of our legislators, our government officials, and our political parties, especially since the mainstream media have also been captured by the elite’s interests.

Rather than going abroad, wouldn’t it better that during DPR’s recess week that they go back to their constituents and do their work back home in Indonesia? I know some legislators do this, but unfortunately this is not the norm – only the exception.

I’ve mentioned in my other post that we’re partly to blame because we were the ones who put these people in DPR. Voting matters, but I know most of us randomly ticked whoever name is listed on the election paper based on the party – because we simply don’t know whom to choose. Thus, the biggest underlying problem in DPR is that the process of selecting the best candidate in Indonesia’s political party system is defunct.

If we were given a good candidate, we would’ve voted him/her to be in DPR or DPRD. Alas, the candidate selection mechanism in the party is opaque, not merit-based and it is a common perception that whoever owns the more amount of money can be selected. In the end, the names listed in the ballot paper are unknowns with no credentials – and on the point of emails – it’s people that we can’t even contact with!

It takes good leadership for someone inside DPR right now to make performance evaluation and connecting with constituents as a norm, institutionalize it in the system.

It also takes good leadership for those who are in the top posts of the political parties to understand that people are growing tired of these rhetorics and we want concrete programs and policies with results, because we simply want the best people with the best competence working for our best interests.

3 thoughts on “Much ado about emails”

  1. Amen, sista’! This is a point that I’ve raised before: the lack of capacity of state institutions to plan and implement. The lack of capacity of the DPR is a special case of a broader problem of governance in the public sector in Indonesia.

    Correct. The DPR atrophied during the New Order precisely because it is the nature of dictatorships and authoritarian government to suppress capacity.

    One reason is VIP-culture. Those trips abroad are a manifestation of a sense of entitlement and VIP culture. The Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq first coined the term to describe the Pakistani elite. I’ve incorporated the term and concept into my analysis of the Indonesian elite and Indonesian society. Here’s what Haq said about VIP culture:

    “What is real VIP culture
    The easiest steps have already been taken to abolish the VIP culture: VIP rooms closed, elaborate motorcades abolished, no stoppage of traffic for important officials, travel in economy class. These are commendable gestures. But the more difficult steps remain.

    …But Pakistan’s VIP culture continues to take from the poor for the benefit of the rich. Its abolition will take more than simple gestures. It calls for fundamental reforms.

    Take the credit system. The banks (particularly, the nationalized banks) take their chance only on the rich and the powerful. They hardly ever lend to the poor. There are Rs.130 billion of stuck-up loans in the nationalized banks and the DFIs. The rich have exploited the system for their own benefit. There is no Grameen Bank, as in Bangladesh, which would lend small amounts to the poor for income earning activities, without giving any subsidy, and showing a recovery rate of 98 per cent. The popular myth is that the rich are creditworthy, the poor are not. But the reality is that the rich have stolen most of the money from the government-owned banks and we have never banked on the poor. The abolition of VIP culture means recovering all the stuck-up loans from the rich and the politically powerful and to start a Grameen-type Bank for the poor. [Shades of Bank Century?]

    Take even the matter of government expenditure on Haj and Umaras for top officials and influential people. It runs into vast sums every year compared to a paltry Rs.20 million given each year from the budget (author5ized since 1985) to finance Haj for low-income government servants through balloting. The abolition of VIP culture means abolishing all Haj and Umaras for the affluent class at government expense and to use the savings to finance more of such facilities for all lower-income groups.

    These examples can be multiplied in every walk of life. Our VIP culture has created an affluent rentier class which pre-empts most of the patronage of the state. If we are really serious about abolishing the VIP culture, the patronage of the state should go to the poor, not the rich and government allocations should be guided by competition and merit, not by influence and contacts.

    The VIP culture concerns not only allocations of government’s patronage, it is also about arrogance of feudal power, about disregard of the laws of the land, about totally arbitrary decisions by those in power. Each time the corrupt escape accountability, each time some honest officials are transferred or punished without even a formal charge sheet, each time the government adopts different rules for those in power from those out of power, each time that citizens are denied equal justice, it is a blatant abuse of power. The VIP culture is not a VIP room: it is feudal mentality, it is exercise of arbitrary power; it is a deeply-ingrained attitude.

    The illustrations given above still do not touch more fundamental reforms. … The VIP culture can be abolished only by improving the present distribution of income and sharing of the benefits of growth Pakistan’s politics in dominated today by the culture of money. Abolition of VIP culture requires abolition of money politics so that a new breed of honest and committed people can emerge on the political scene.

    It is the feudal power structure which is at the heart of the current VIP culture in Pakistan. It does not get reformed or abolished by abolishing VIP rooms. If the aim is to abolish the real VIP culture, we have hardly begun.”

  2. I have an aunt who was as member of DPR when Megawati Soekarnoputri was President. Months later, she resigned due to enormous “envelopes” flying from one place to another. I don’t know whether this still happens today, but we do have several good-quality representatives such as Angelina Sondakh and Meutya Hafid, in my opinion. Seems like bribery culture in that tortoise building is very solid, so for honest people, often it’s a “take it or leave it” situation.

    And even for the smartest member of DPR, he/she still have to follow rules from their party, because much of their ability to sit there was due to the support of party. Going against it will be considered betraying the party and stamped “peanuts who forget their skin..” hahaa! Very complicated indeed.

  3. A pertinent concept related to VIP culture is Prebendalism, first coined by academic Richard Joseph. In 1996 he wrote, According to the theory of prebendalism, state offices are regarded as prebends that can be appropriated by officeholders, who use them to generate material benefits for themselves and their constituents and kin groups…

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