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.

A Case for the Presidential Plane

I’m not against the idea of buying a Presidential Plane, I’m just questioning whether it is necessary at this point of time.

I’m not against the idea of buying a Presidential Plane, I’m just questioning whether it is necessary at this point of time.

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President SBY is planning to buy a presidential plane, a Boeing 737-800 Business Jet 2, which seems to be a favorite aircraft among State VIPs in other countries. How much? Some estimate from US$ 68 million to US$ 85 million, but we don’t exactly know the actual price, although Sudi Silalahi, the State Secretary said that the government already sealed the deal on December 27, 2010.

Boeing Business Jet
Who wouldn't want to be in this lavish plane?

Some arguments for buying the plane would be for security and economic efficiency, not about foolish pride or showcasing the strength of the Presidency.

Security should be the number one priority, as flying on commercial planes pose a greater threat for security rather than a military-run presidential plane like the US Air Force One. The next question is to ask whether the operational budget will come from the military or the presidential post.

To my knowledge, President SBY travels either by Garuda Indonesia Airways or Pelita Air Service to this date. However, the intricacies of how much SBY and his entourage spend for each time they fly using these planes are not clear. Thus, if economic efficiency were the case, they should lay down the numbers of how much savings will be gained if the government were to purchase its own presidential plane rather than renting to a third-party for each flight (read: a cost-benefit analysis).

I’m sure all of this is public information, no? If they are reluctant to share it then we should be suspicious if there’s any shady transactions behind these deals. For example, aren’t you curious why the plane deal was signed on December 2010, but DPR said they haven’t agreed to anything?

If you look at the interior of the plane (picture above), it’s very lavish. I’m sure SBY or any future president of Indonesia will need that level of comfort because, well, being a President of the second-largest democracy in the world is a tough job, right?

I’m just questioning whether the same amount of money of buying that plane could be put to better use and for more pressing matters for its citizens, i.e. basic infrastructure such as water and sanitation, health and education.

If buying the plane is necessary and urgent, the government should really make the case why buying the plane is a priority, rather than leaving its citizens second-guessing why and how much money is actually being used.

The Rumors Game

Why is SBY concerned about rumors sent over an SMS and immediately made a press conference about it?

Why is SBY concerned about rumors sent over an SMS and immediately made a press conference about it?

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President SBY held a press conference today clarifying the rumors sent over a series of text messages (SMS), one of them was the rumor that he had a sex scandal with one of his male presidential staff member.

His points in the press conference was more or less like this:

  1. He had several rumors against him for the past six years, but this time he said it’s getting out of hand and he has the right to give an explanation;
  2. He’s concerned (prihatin – wouldn’t be an SBY press conference without this word) if people who spread rumors don’t feel bad about what they’re doing;
  3. He cautioned on the use of social media that proliferates the spread of rumors, rather than educating the nation;
  4. He said that the Century Bank mega scandal and the Democrat’s savings of IDR 47 trillion are simply rumors; and
  5. He encourages Indonesians to be civilized, be aware of situations that might cause them to turn against each other and for the media to be more responsible in choosing their news sources.

Based from my observation, the rumors started from twitter. If we put it into context, twitter users in Indonesia (despite being the third largest next to Americans and Brazilians) are only a small number of the electorate. Most people are not into twitter and thus don’t have the access to these rumors or allegations (some people don’t have access to electricity, let alone the internet for God’s sake).

The fact that SBY made a press conference about it, only made other people who were clueless about it before, into eager beavers wanting to know more and discuss about it.

Allegedly, these rumors came from a Singaporean phone number and many suspect that it came from Muhammad Nazaruddin, a former Democrat Party  treasurer who left for the country before he was made into a suspect for a graft case and bribery attempt.

The Democrats fired Nazaruddin from his position due to the allegations towards him on the Southeast Asia Games dormitory corruption case and the unsolicited gift to Constitutional Court Secretary General MK Janedri M amounting to IDR 840 million. Possibly disappointed that he was fired, he lashed out on his fellow Democrat members, calling that they are also involved in other corruption cases and SBY, the party’s head of Advisory Board, is also included.

Simply put, Nazaruddin is in a position where he’s taking everyone else down if he himself were to fall.

At one point, I wondered which hat did SBY wore when he gave the press conference. From what I observed, he used his podium of presidency to defend the acts of the Democrat Party.

So, what happens now?

It is up to the judiciary to shed some light upon these rumors and allegations. Courts involve the due process of law involving witnesses, evidences and the rational thinking of the judges, in which rumors such as these can be scrutinized in the name of justice. Indeed, one can argue that the Indonesian courts cannot be trusted, but it is better compared to the court of public opinion in Indonesia. As much as I question the effectiveness of the legal system in Indonesia, it is better than hearing these ongoing he said-she said debacles in the media.

The immediate step would be to bring Nazaruddin back home to Indonesia. Unfortunately Indonesia and Singapore don’t have an extradition agreement, which does strain the foreign relations between both countries. Funnily, Singapore has now become a favorite getaway for Indonesians, ranging from movie fans, medical patients and even alleged corruptors.

Bottom line, if President SBY does his job correctly, he shouldn’t care about any rumors involving him. People will judge him based on his performance; on his actions and not his political image per se. Like I said in my previous post, legally he can’t be re-elected for 2014 so he has nothing to lose to take the much needed risks in order to get things done.

Oh, FYI, he did his press conference in Bahasa Indonesia. The full text of his speech is here.

Who’s in charge?

An analysis of Indo Barometer’s recent survey on the Indonesian public’s preference for Soeharto over SBY.

An analysis of Indo Barometer’s recent survey on the Indonesian public’s preference for Soeharto over SBY.

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Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (Indonesian President's Office: Abror Rizki)

Indo Barometer’s recent survey on the evaluation of 13 years of Reformasi and SBY-Boediono’s government have caused quite a stir. One of the most intriguing findings is how the Indonesian public favors Soeharto’s rule over SBY’s. Consequently, the Presidential Office were quick to comment on the motives behind the release of this survey. Despite Heru Lelono’s infamous track record, his suspicions are valid, as one must question Indo Barometer’s methodology in the survey and examine the results carefully.  However, one result out of this survey is certain: the public is unhappy with SBY’s performance.

In the first part of the report, the survey firstly asked an open question towards the 1200 respondents of Indonesia’s 33 provinces, over what they think Reformasi is. While 24,2% simply states Reformasi as the existence of “change”, actually a majority of 29,6% of the respondents are clueless or did not have an answer on what is the meaning of Reformasi.

The survey continues to ask which condition is better, is it Soeharto’s New Order or the current condition. It is found that 31% agrees that the current condition is better than the New Order, 28,2% believes that it is actually much worse, while 27,2% are indifferent about it.

If you simply add-up the numbers of 28,2% who believes that the current condition is much worse with 27,2% who thinks the old Soeharto days is just as bad (or as good – we don’t know for sure) in comparison with today’s Indonesia, we end up with 55,4%, which can be implied that the majority of Indonesians believe that the changes of Reformasi fell short from what has been promised.

This is related to the next part of the survey, in which I think is the most intriguing of all the findings: in general, 40,9% of Indonesians prefer the conditions under Soeharto’s New Order. An Indonesian layperson feels that the New Order condition is superior in terms of economy and security, while it is only slightly better in terms of politics and social conditions. The only thing that is better in the current condition, albeit a little, is Indonesia’s legal condition.

Public Perception on Which Regime is Better

I have my own arguments on why Indonesia’s legal condition is better now, but one thing that is apparently missing based on the public’s perception, quoting from Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, “It’s the economy, stupid”.

Many economists agree that Indonesia did well on the last 2008 financial crisis. While many countries slumped, Indonesia’s economy was stable and it can be considered as one of the factors why SBY was re-elected in 2009. Little do the public know that Sri Mulyani Indrawati – who was the Finance Minister and one of the backbone to the decision-making on the economy – resigned (or politically ousted by SBY, as some rumors among Indonesians suggested) in May 2010 over the issue of the Century Bank bailout, which has not yet been resolved until now. This is among the early addition to the list of disappointments over SBY.

Corruption is still rampant, taxpayers are wary of Gayuses and don’t know where their money is going, minorities are being physically harassed, illegal logging of forests are still ongoing and infrastructure is problematic. These are just a small part among Indonesia’s long list of issues, but the institutional-building process that is needed in the government is moving very slow.

Without strong institutions and an efficient government, the economy will not grow as fast as it is needed. Even with Indonesia’s current economic growth and its G20 status, the economic pie is not yet distributed equitably because only the few elites can enjoy it.

My fear is that those elites who reminisces the glory days of Soeharto are still in the system and have not yet been swept by the tides of reform. Yet, they establish themselves as Neo-New Orders posing as reformists, but still act on the basis of collusion, corruption and nepotism while the practices of honesty and meritocracy is not yet applied. These, unfortunately, cannot be unveiled by surveys alone.

Indo Barometer’s survey seems to imply that Reformasi and SBY’s regime are of the same creature and the public’s disappointment to SBY is intertwined with the failure of Reformasi. That is why in the survey, Indonesians prefer Soeharto over SBY and why the New Order regime is seen to be better than the current conditions.

I question whether the respondents in the survey know consciously in their mind, or whether they were at least informed by the researchers, that Soeharto’s authoritarian rule span for over 32 years while Indonesia’s transition to democracy after Reformasi had only been for 13 years, under the leadership of four presidents: BJ Habibie, Abdurrahman Wahid, Megawati Soekarnoputri and SBY. The process of “change” is not instant and therefore, one can argue that comparing New Order and “current condition” was never a fair comparison to begin with.

It is unfair to shoulder the failure of Reformasi on SBY’s shoulder alone. However, it should be noted that SBY is the first re-elected President of Indonesia thus he has the opportunity to ensure that Indonesia’s reform made progress and not regress. SBY’s current leadership is more of a shadow of his first presidential term and the public is disappointed due to his lack of firmness in action. He himself has nothing to lose, since legally he can’t run again for presidency in 2014.

President SBY, if the survey tells you anything, is that you have three more years ahead of you and you should focus on your programs and policies – that is if you have any. If your programs and policies are effective, it’s more potent than building your political image and any advice that your PR consultancies have offered to you.

The Indonesian public simply demands your leadership to be in charge of this country.