Having shunned Orde Baru in 1998, democracy and democratization have marked Indonesia’s history.
The country has since been regarded as poster child by Western democracies to showcase a relatively successful transition from a repressive government to a democratic one, and how democracy can work in harmony with Islam.
Indonesia has also been considered as having a resilient, emerging economy that thrived after the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis and the later 2008 global slowdown.
Being an Indonesian, I am proud to have my country respected in such a way and frequently mentioned in positive contexts.
Finally, Indonesia is no longer simply associated with corruption.
In 2010, we started bureaucracy reform on top of other ongoing reforms, like electoral, judicial and financial. Bureaucracy reform is a tall order, something reflected in the disbelief people showed when I saw that the government was reforming itself. It appears to be a mind-staggering idea that a government of our size can actually undergo reform.
Where do we start? How are we going to do it? Who’s leading the process? Where are we going with the reform? Is there a role model to follow? What do we do if a minister is not compliant to the national reform agenda? Those are just a few of the questions that the government needs to answer — and keep in mind — while reforming itself.
Dictionaries define reform as: improve, refine, make better, reconstruct, revamp, reorganize and restructure, the very opposite of a status quo. Reform doesn’t mean staying the same or retaining the old ways. Even if they are good, old ways always have room for improvement.
Our neighbors in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are waking up and pushing ahead as emerging markets. If Indonesia wants to stay competitive, reform is the only way to go. Reform is not just a program that the government should set for the next 15 years. Reform, or to be precise, continuous reform should be the business principle of our government. Reform is how we got our recent recognition and it is the only way to remain above mediocrity.
Our justice system cannot remain vague. Our legal system should be cleansed of all contradicting and overlapping laws and regulations. It is a must to replace all obsolete and irrelevant laws and regulations, dating back to our colonial times, or the successive post-independence governments.
Our public administration and public management have to strive toward a world-class level. Sure, it is unrealistic to expect this to happen overnight or even by 2014, but I don’t expect to hear the same old excuses that reform is difficult, that change is hard or that it will take another Noah-sized flood for the government to change.
In December, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said at a year-end cabinet retreat that corruption, underdeveloped infrastructure and bureaucracy slowed the country’s economic growth.
“There is no reason for us to not be serious about making the fundamental changes,” he said. “It is not enough to just have an action plan for a bureaucratic reform. What we will see is [whether] there is change in the output, the outcome. And if those who do not and cannot change have become real obstacles, we have to release them [from their duties], because they hamper everything.”
It would be interesting to actually see people hindering reform — be it judicial, electoral, legal and bureaucratic — be dismissed and replaced by reform-minded professionals. A mere midterm cabinet reshuffle is no longer enough. We also need to reshuffle and expel those bureaucrats who prefer to conduct business as usual.
Yudhoyono nailed it. Bureaucratic reform is about restructuring the entire government.
Here are some questions that I think we should ask ourselves in the midst of our bureaucratic reform: How do we see Indonesia in the next 15, 25 or 50 years? Will we need as many directorate generals in a ministry? Does the central government need to be streamlined to make decentralization more meaningful? Will we make each government agency responsible for their own human resource management?
If we adjust public official’s salary to be competitive with the private sector, should we also expect professionalism and have the right to fire under-performing ones or those breaching the law or convicted in a crime or corruption case?
Yudhoyono and his government have been active in battling corruption, vowing in December 2009 to lead “a jihad against corruption,” ratifying the UN Convention Against Corruption in 2006, and in May signed Presidential Regulation No. 55 on the 2012-2025 National Strategy for Corruption Prevention and Eradication.
Now the work begins. Having a presidential regulation means nothing without implementation and enforcement. In 2011, Indonesia became a founding member of open government, committing itself to promoting openness, engaging citizens in decision-making, implementing the highest standards of professional integrity and increasing access to new technologies to help people access information and voice their concerns.
Our commitment to open government leaves us no more reason or excuse to maintain the status quo. No more excuses for the government to dodge or stall reform. No more excuses for the House to ignore its constituents’ concerns in law-making. No more excuses for citizens to accept less than an open and ever-improving Indonesia.
The question waiting to be answered is: How far and how fast do we want to go on this path of reform?
Maggy Horhoruw is an Institutional Reform Advisor with the Governance Assistance Team (TBTKP)