The Future of Indonesia’s Bureaucracy

AFTER the cabinet reshuffle, many have scrutinized President Yudhonoyo’s decision to appoint several deputy ministers in ministries which did not have the position beforehand, or his decision to favor ministers from political parties than those who have a more professional background. Although one can only guess the reasons behind his decisions, one thing out of the commotion is clear: there is definitely a greater demand from the people of Indonesia to have a more competent and professional bureaucracy. The question is, how do we ensure that we get it?

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AFTER theĀ cabinet reshuffle, many have scrutinized President Yudhonoyo’s decision to appoint several deputy ministers in ministries which did not have the position beforehand, or his decision to favor ministers from political parties than those who have a more professional background.

Although one can only guess the reasons behind his decisions, one thing out of the commotion is clear: there is definitely a greater demand from the people of Indonesia to have a more competent and professional bureaucracy. The question is, how do we ensure that we get it?

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First of all, let me be clear that when I say bureaucracy, I am referring to the Weberian notion of bureaucracy, a formal hierarchical structure of non-elected officials working in a governmental organization that carries out the rules and laws of its institution. A competent and professional bureaucracy is therefore needed to guarantee that the state is able to deliver public goods to its people.

Without a doubt, I position myself in seeing that the role of the state is crucial, and agrees that investing in the capacity of state institutions should be first and foremost a necessary step for government policies to work.

The people inside those state institutions, consequently, are those who will shape the outcomes of whatever it is that they are producing. Getting the right people to work there, however, proves to be difficult.

I once asked a quick survey to my twitter friends (who are 20-somethings who work in the private and public sector) on what are the factors that deter you from working for the public service. Three major reasons on why they don’t want to work for the government: low pay, bad organizational culture, and limited room for professional growth.

It is a well known fact that most civil servants in Indonesia don’t pay as much as the private sector. A government job is not easy, and yet there is that added level of difficulty because it’s already hard for them to make their ends meet due to the low pay. Some, therefore, argue that this is why corruption is so rampant in Indonesia.

As a part of their bureaucratic reform strategy, some government ministries have raised the main salary of their workers, on top of other additional remuneration and facilities. Singapore for example, benchmarks the salary of their civil servants in a level where it is competitive compared with the private sector.

Although salary is an important financial incentive, it is not enough.

Some civil servants that I know often complain about the bad organizational culture that is apparent in their agencies as well as the limited room for their professional growth. Bright, young and optimistic civil servants often have to deal with their seniors who conducts business-as-usual and often not receptive towards their ideas and proposals that might shape up their organization.

It could be because of the hierarchical structure, but it could also be due to the fact that there is no incentive for better performance. It is not uncommon for me to hear that if you work in a government agency, whether you do good or bad you end up getting the same take-home pay. I’m glad to hear that some performance management principles are already applied into some ministries, but unfortunately this is still the exception.

Ultimately, in building a career in the bureaucracy, you want to reach to the top. But as we have witnessed with the recent cabinet reshuffle, the person at the top might be someone who is alien to the whole ministry and might not even have the matching professional background. The trade-off then, perhaps is the reason why professional deputy ministers are appointed. This might be inevitable because in the end, you can’t separate government from politics.

The only hope that I have is that despite any unwanted political changes at the leadership position, we would still need to have an efficient working bureaucracy.

I would see that the future of Indonesia’s bureaucracy depends on Indonesia’s youth. The Youth Pledge to unite Indonesia was 83 years ago, and the current challenge for Indonesia’s youth is to ask whether they want to serve for their country.

I am proud of my friends who are now working for the government and their sincerity and credibility is attested because they have gone through a competitive merit-based selection process in which most Indonesian civil servant entry tests are now conducted.

It is now up to the current government officials to realize that in order for their organizations to work efficiently, they need to not only attract, but retain the best talent that they can get.

4 thoughts on “The Future of Indonesia’s Bureaucracy”

  1. The future of Indonesia’s public sector hinges on this fundamental issue:

    The Indonesian state cannot afford its state machinery and its military so that it turns a blind eye, in the case of the former, and gives it carte blanche, in the case of the latter, for illicit and illegal revenue- and rent-seeking activities. Corruption is not incidental to the system. Corruption is central to the system, for without it the machinery of state would grind to a halt.

    1. Wait, are you then implying that corruption is necessary? It is either Indonesia fix its institutions (and eliminating corruption) so that any revenue would be sufficient to pay for the bureaucracy (and the military) or strive for a leaner bureaucracy (if the problem is that we simply cannot afford to pay them). But of course it would not be *that* simple.

  2. No, what I am saying is that, for instance, the Indonesian state cannot afford its military because it does not generate enough revenue (why? that’s the subject of another thread) to be able to fund it fully. Therefore, it only funds it minimally in the yearly budget approved by the DPR while the bulk of the revenue needed for its operation are derived from off-budget licit and illicit, legal and extralegal activities. A similar phenomenon exists for the bureaucracy and civil service. The fundamental fact is that the Indonesian state cannot generate enough revenue to properly and sufficiently fund itself. Ergo, corruption is not incidental to the operation of the machinery of the state, but rather central to it.

    1. In the course of thinking about this, ask yourself: why does Indonesia really need such a big military (angkatan darat, really)? No, the answer is not because it faces an external threat.

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