On the Point of Policy Implementation in Indonesia

If you want to know how things in Indonesia generally work, look at mall security checks. It’s pointless, but it employs a lot of people.


I’ve once made a comment that if you want to know how things in Indonesia generally work, you look at mall security checks. It’s pointless, but it employs a lot of people.

Sadly there’s a truth to my remark above, it is because generally in Indonesia there is a gap in effectiveness when it comes to implementation.


When you visit a mall in Jakarta, every car that comes inside gets inspected, presumably to see whether you carry a bomb in your car. How does the security guards check them? They open the car’s door or trunk, usually it takes less than 5 seconds, and they’re done.

Do you expect to find a bomb in that short amount of time beside an annoyed passenger? The better security guards have one of those detectors, the stranger ones just glaze over you (and not your car) as if they have x-ray visions or paranormal abilities to identify dangerous explosives.

The same thing happens when you enter the mall itself, your bags go through some sort of security checks, with or without detectors, with fancier malls having scanners like the ones we encounter in the airport.

Are they effective?

How do you measure that what they are doing is actually preventing criminal activities or deterring terrorism acts in Jakarta’s malls, buildings and hotels?

We don’t know for sure, but since we assume it’s working and it’s creating jobs, why not do it anyway?

So to summarize: sometimes we don’t know whether a proposed policy is effective, but nevertheless, we invest on our resources to do it because it “sounds” or “looks” good. What is missing: finding the gaps in your implementation. More often than not, if you want to look for the gaps in implementation, you look at the front-line workers dealing with the client or problem directly.


You see, the idea of having security checks are not bad, considering that Jakarta suffered from the JW Marriot bombings several years ago. But when it comes to implementation, the security guards are the ones that have autonomy and discretion to exercise whether to have tight or loose security checks. This will in turn affect the implementation outcomes.

Let’s say you have two probabilities of making an error in this situation, a type I error (one rejects the null hypothesis when it is true) means that the security guards perform a very tight security check to a 70-year-old lady with an arthritis; or a type II error (one accepts the null hypothesis when it is false) whereby the security checks are loose like business-as-usual but it turns out that person that you just let inside was indeed a suicide bomber.

The implementation decision lies with the security guards, and considering that the probability for error are more dire if they don’t do their job well (regardless of the old lady), they simply just don’t do it. No incentives? Perhaps. Or perhaps it is just that the policy or how things are run that needs to change.


Another example of policy implementation: driving licenses. I had to renew my driving license this year and I dreaded the fact that I have to go to the police station and having to deal with those policemen. Indonesian policemen are seen to be not the most sympathetic people around, which is ironic because they are supposed to be the ones who protect the citizens.

One day, I came into a police station in South Jakarta and asked the first policemen I saw at the door, “Excuse me, where do I go to renew my driving license?” and he replied, “Inside. There’s a clear signage. Do you want me to help you with the process?” I politely said no, knowing that it was an implicit offer to “speed-up the process”.

I went inside, and indeed, there was a clear signage. There was even someone dressed as an information guide that kindly directed me where to go.

If I can remember correctly, the order of sequence for my driving license renewal was as follows:

  1. Provide the photocopy of your ID;
  2. Pay at the counter – get a registration form and an official receipt;
  3. Fill out your registration/renewal form;
  4. Wait for a health check (which is a simple eye test) – pay for the health check and get the receipt;
  5. Go to the insurance counter – pay and get a receipt;
  6. Submit at the counter your: photocopy of ID, registration form, your old license, your health check form, insurance receipt and payment receipt – get a queue number;
  7. Your number is called, the officer takes your photo and signature;
  8. Wait for a while and your name is called – you get your shiny new license; and
  9. Go to insurance counter, get your insurance.

All of this were done in under 30 minutes. I was impressed. I expected that it was going to take at least an hour of my time, plus additional “unofficial” charges. But everything was done very smoothly and the expenses that I made are all legal (complete with receipts).

However, remember the front door policemen? A friend of mine said yes to his proposal and got his license done in 15 minutes – with “additional” charges. Sadly, even if you have a good operational system, if the implementing workers still have the discretion to deviate from the system, the outcomes will be different too.

All in all, I’m saying that when it comes to policy implementation, think about those doing the actual job. It’s a comfortable position up there at the top when you’re the ones making the decisions, but it all boils down to who’s really implementing it at the bottom.

So, to the newly appointed ministers and deputy ministers in Indonesia, have a moment or two to think about your street-level bureaucrats too.

One thought on “On the Point of Policy Implementation in Indonesia”

  1. I used to have a pick-up truck that required an emissions testing every six months. Why it required emissions testing when it was still six-months old eludes me, but I digress…I traveled to North Jakarta to get it inspected. The official told me that it was Rp.200,000. No signage or info of any kind. It looked like a repo or impound lot. I forked over the rupiah, and the vehicle was passed through some conveyor belt contraptions, but testing of the emissions ever took place. Ritual over substance.

    Have you noticed that many people who wear helmets don’t have the strap closed? Ritual over substance.

    Here in Bali, I often ask my neighbors about the significance and meaning of the various and sundry daily rituals. Many times I am met with blank stares. They actually don’t know. Ritual over substance.

Comments are closed.