Of Government Lies and Performance

There are times when I disagree with the House Speaker, Mr. Marzukie Alie. I even wrote an open letter to him once. But there are also those rare moments when I agree with what he said, for instance, about not blaming the President (only) about government lies.

To put things into context, Prof. Din Syamsuddin, the leader of Muhammadiyah, spoke in a Muhammadiyah gathering on Monday (19/12) stating that the year of 2011 is full of lies committed by state officials. He further claimed that the only way out is a “big bang” from the highest commander of this nation.

As a response, Mr. Marzuki Alie asked that the public should corner President SBY about government lies, because those lies actually happen in the local government level.

Though I disagree that those lies might not happen only in the local government level, but also in the central government level, what I second from Mr. Marzuki’s remarks is that “the government” consists of many levels, from the Regencies (Kabupaten), Cities, Provinces, and many other state institutions related with the implementation of governance. It is thus better to clarify what kind of “lies” that are meant by Prof. Syamsuddin, because when you say “government lies”, the government does not consist of a single party.

I believe in this situation the softer term for lies are undelivered performance. In order to measure the performance of government institutions, we must first clarify their mandate and scope of authority, their goals and timeline, and therefore those who did not manage to deliver are those who we can say are under-performing institutions. This should then be the public’s benchmark to differentiate those who’s worthy of our votes in the next round of elections and those who should be sacked (and even penalized if they’re involved in corruption).

Post-Reformasi, the presidential system and separation of powers doctrine that Indonesia adheres to truly materialized (though not perfect), making the powers of the President limited. The executive, led by the President, is no longer the authoritative institution because its powers are checked by the legislative (House of Representatives – DPR) and the judiciary. What was then centralized, are now decentralized, with local government heads (Governors, Mayors and Regents) directly elected by the people.

It is thus unfair if we were to judge the performance of SBY and the late Soeharto based on the “strongman” characteristics alone because how things are run in the past is obviously different than now. Maybe then, the President can fire any Governor, Mayor or Regent who is non-compliant, but it is not possible to do so in the current institutional arrangement in Indonesia.

Of course, SBY’s cabinet performance is also not perfect, with red marks still on human rights issues, corruption and infrastructure despite the rising economic growth. However, what needs to be understood by the general public is that there are changes in Indonesia’s state institutions, and if we were to give productive criticism and demand better performance from the government, we need to know where to direct our concerns rather than, quoting Mr. Marzuki again, shooting bullets in the air.

Being the head of DPR, I hope Mr. Marzuki also truly understood what he said – that these bullets might come to him – bearing in mind that DPR should also be the place where we direct our concerns, not the subject of it.

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2 thoughts on “Of Government Lies and Performance”

  1. I guess you are so right. The speaker can take some lessons from you :).

    Though perhaps there is a difference between guilt and responsibility. Only the one who betrayed her/his constituency can be considered guilty. But (s)he might not be the only one to be held accountable. Perhaps the (wo-)man where the buck stops may also be considered to be responsible. Even for matters at a local level that may include the President.

    And, pardon me, forgive me for another take at nitpicking (;)), perhaps we should distinguish between not delivering, not fulfilling political promises ( which can be settled at the ballot box) and lying in office by officials and politicians. I mean deliberately misrepresenting the truth. In that case that person deserves to be, should be, removed from office at once.

    1. Not nitpicking, appreciate that you read the details. You are right to say that there is definitely a difference between not fulfilling political promises (what I still see as not delivering) and lying as in bribery, fraud, and corruption. If only Din Syamsuddin would be a little bit clearer on what kind of lies, and who… I’m sure that Muhammadiyah have their own political interests at hand and his remarks are not without basis.

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