And Jakarta voted…

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For Jakartans, 20 September 2012 would be a historical day and for some, it’s a free leave day to plan your long weekend out of the city (offices in Jakarta are given a holiday for people to go out and vote). It is the day when the fate of commuters in Bogor, Depok, Tangerang and Bekasi (Bodetabek) are decided by the voice of Jakartans. Most likely it is also the day when the fate of property developers in the Bodetabek area are decided as well.

Quick count results show that Joko Widodo (“Jokowi”) won against the incumbent governor Fauzi Bowo. Many articles already point out why Jokowi stands out from Fauzi Bowo, such as this piece in NYTimes or in Foreign Policy about Princeton’s case study on Jokowi’s leadership in Solo, but I’m interested more in the level of participation of voters – only 67.35% (the first round of elections was 64.4%).

When people vote, they vote for the leaders on top, but the real impact is indirect because voters mostly deal with the street-level bureaucrats on a daily basis (diagram below). My hypothesis is that the low turnout of voters is caused by people assuming that whom they vote for won’t matter because business-as-usual in the Jakarta bureaucracy will be implemented – thus voting won’t change a thing. Personally I believe we need to persuade voters that there are leaders that can change how the bureaucracy work and they can deliver results – though there are still few in Indonesia. It is just unfortunate that in Indonesia these leaders are pre-selected by political parties and not by the people.

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Technically Jokowi hasn’t won yet. The official results from KPUD needs to be announced some time in October and he has to formally resign as the Mayor of Solo (with entailed risks if he’s not permitted by DPRD). Jakartans on the other hand, are impatient and they want to see quick results (i.e. less congestion, less floods). No matter who becomes governor, it depends whether he/she can change the way things work in the bureaucracy through his/her leadership, program and policies. And this doesn’t come instantly.

Then there’s that problem unique to Jakarta. It is Indonesia’s engine of growth (see figure above from the World Bank) and it definitely attracts people from the rest of the country. What the future governor needs to realize is that policies to prevent people from coming to Jakarta is futile, because in principle, cities attract poor people. What Jakarta needs is a governor that is committed to develop its people as complete human beings (education, housing & health) and not just develop places that caters to the rich.

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?

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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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.