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.


Disillusioned by Corruption

The current Nazaruddin saga have perfectly captured Indonesia’s struggle in the fight against corruption. Did Indonesia’s government lost the battle, or was the duel insincere to begin with?

The current Nazaruddin saga have perfectly captured Indonesia’s struggle in the fight against corruption. Did Indonesia’s government lost the battle, or was the duel insincere to begin with?


It worries me that some Indonesians deals the issue of corruption with cynicism, followed by apathy, and are sometimes subdued to its practices because it is seen to be “entrenched” in the system – as if there is no exit and no hope in trying to curb it out.

What also worries me is that the whole issue on corruption has taken over Indonesia’s mainstream and social media, leaving other important issues such as public health, education, the environment, and many others behind.

Last year, Prof. Robert Klitgaard, a renowned scholar on corruption, gave a talk on his five ingredients for the recipe to fight systemic corruption:

  1. Improve structure, leadership and incentives
  2. Take a whole-government approach
  3. Involve business and the people
  4. Subvert corruption
  5. Emphasize morality

Prof. Klitgaard firstly argues that we shouldn’t target corrupt individuals, but target corrupt structures. Corruption, can be seen in this formula:

Corruption = Monopoly + Discretion – Accountability

By using this formula, a successful anti-corruption effort is to reduce monopolies over a good and service, limit and clarify discretion, and raise accountability. My question to this statement is that just by raising accountability, it does not necessarily mean that it can control corruption straight away. I looked at the Worldwide Governance Indicators and compared Indonesia with its neighboring countries in Southeast Asia and China, based on voice and accountability and control of corruption.

World Governance Indicators on Voice and Accountability and Control on Corruption for selected countries in Southeast Asia and China

Indonesia tops the list in terms of voice and accountability, but when it comes to control on corruption, it is one of the poor performing countries. Based on the chart above[1], it gives me a certain confidence that voice and accountability[2] alone is not enough in controlling corruption. A critical media and transparency principles are needed to perform the checks and balances that are needed, but I would argue that the rule of law, especially the law enforcement agencies and judiciary institutions are pertinent to this equation.

An insulated and professional law enforcement agencies and judiciary are thus important, and it is what I see still lacking in Indonesia.

The Corruption Eradication Commission (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi – KPK) is one of the approach that Indonesia takes into curbing corruption. But this is where Prof. Klitgaard’s second ingredient comes in: a whole-government approach. Putting the weight into KPK as a single institution to fight corruption will not work, because a national anti-corruption agency is futile “if it cannot coordinate with the other ministries and agencies vital to prevent, prosecute, and punish corruption“. It is also dangerous to put all the power in KPK, as KPK itself is not free of political interests, and its investigators and prosecutors do come from the police force and the attorney general’s office as well.

Rather than focusing too much on who’s going to head KPK, tell me, how are we going so far with our reforms in the police force, attorney general’s office, and the supreme court? Not to forget our bureaucracy reform progress to correct Gayus and the likes in the tax department.

The basic concept of supply and demand in my sense can also be applied in corruption. The reason why bureaucrats and public officials become corrupt is because there is a demand and incentive for them to do so. And if the system provides that window of opportunity for misbehavior, then you got yourself a case. Businesspeople, lawyers, accountants, and other stakeholders involved with state institutions in general in their daily business, must be engaged actively in reducing corruption from the demand side.

This is exactly what is also happening in India, as an op-ed in the New York Times have suggested that there is a selective rage over corruption, whereby their citizens direct their rage towards the corrupt government, but they’re lenient towards the companies who did it too. It takes two hands to clap, anyway.

Now, if people were strategic about subverting corruption, one would make use of whistle-blowers. In Indonesia, however, the price for being a whistle-blower is too high. Sadly, sometimes if you’re telling the truth, you are offering yourself in a risky position.

Take for example the case of Siami, a housewife and mother from Surabaya, whereby she was forced by her neighbors to move out from her house after she reported a national exam cheating case in her son’s class at a state elementary school. How can you say no to corruption when cheating is seen as a customary practice in schools? Have society gone mad now that an honest person is seen as the bad guy?


I fear that corruption is an issue which is now used as a political rhetoric. Every politician talks about it, how serious and detrimental it is, but no one has actually an idea and the strong will to get rid of it.

Perhaps because the very institution where these politicians come from are the breeding grounds for corruption itself. Nazaruddin was the (former) treasurer of the ruling political party after all.

[1] Chart methodology: Kaufmann D., A. Kraay, and M. Mastruzzi (2010), The Worldwide Governance Indicators: Methodology and Analytical Issues

[2] According to WGI, voice and accountability captures perceptions of the extent to which a country’s citizens are able to participate in selecting their government, as well as freedom of expression, freedom of association, and a free media