Judging from the amount of money involved, the corruption case implicating the Directorate General of Taxation in the Finance Ministry can be regarded as a slap in the face of Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati.
The finance minister has just experienced a tough time in connection with the bailout of Bank Century and demand for her resignation can still be heard from some sections of parliament.
She has been the champion of reform in her ministry, using the power she has to increase the pay and allowance structure to make the ministry the source of envy from staff in other ministries.
She seemingly believes that increasing pay and allowance structures will help lessening if not eradicate corrupt practices in directorates such as taxation.
Unfortunately the case of the disgraced taxation official Gayus Tambunan proves she is wrong and her policy is only part of the solution. Increasing pay and allowances cannot solve the outdated and systemic problems in Indonesia’s bureaucracy. Broader reform is needed.
In the regions, the problem of civil servants’ engagement in the political machinery of incumbents has become common practice. Senior civil servants find it difficult to avoid political entanglement since their careers, to some extent, depend on the goodwill of the heads of regions.
Regional heads understand well that a political party’s machinery is unreliable and the only possible effective mechanism to ensure that the people deliver their votes is civil servants. Using both budgetary power to deliver populist program and local civil servants as instruments can help the heads of regions win consecutive terms in office.
Corruption implicating staff at the Finance Ministry and involvement of civil servants in political power games in the region are only a small part of the picture of the problems Indonesia’s civil servants have to cope with and reflects the urgent need to reform Indonesia’s bureaucracy.
Time has now come for the government to take up the challenge of reforming Indonesia’s bureaucracy. It is the government’s duty to ensure it has the capacity to deal with a competitive global economy and create a professional bureaucracy based on duty and responsibility.
World Bank pointed out in 2006 and again in 2010 some important aspects that need urgent reform. The grading pay and allowance structure has been there for decades without taking into consideration the current financial situation.
The prospect of retirement is a nightmare for many civil servants due to the fact that civil service pension is underfunded. For active civil servants, most of them have to deal with rigid and centralized human resource management policies which do not help professional development and negate incentives needed for capacity building among civil servants.
The World Bank also points out a lack of reliable staffing data and poor human resource management, which is responsible for making modern human resource management.
In response to this challenge, the Administrative Reforms Ministry has come up with its own version of civil servant reform. The ministry in 2009 published its Roadmap toward Bureaucratic Reform, and in 2010 the Guidance for Civil Service Reform. The decision to task the Vice President’s office as the responsible agency to lead the process of civil service reform can be applauded.
One of the main tasks of the Vice President’s office is to find how to help build stronger coordination among three important agencies, State Ministry of Administrative Reform (KEMPAN), National Institute of Public Administration (LAN) and National Civil Service Agency (BKN). All of them are responsible for the professionalism of Indonesia’s civil servants.
Building a professional civil servant is an integral part of maintaining national unity. In India, civil servants have the reputation for being the chain that hold the country together. To expect the civil servants to play such a role, their function, career, remuneration and even pension schemes need to be thoroughly reformed.
The development of professional civil servants should be carried out simultaneously with the strengthening of the capacity of government training institutes.
Possibly with the exception of the Finance Ministry’s State School of Accountancy, a majority of government training institutes need to redefine their roles as centers of excellence and reform.
Civil servants need to be prevented from political interference. Gone are the days when ministries were divided among various political parties that one can find during the heyday of parliamentary democracy in 1950s. But at the same time, civil servants also need to learn how to respect their political masters.
The implementation of regional direct elections has provided the opportunity for many politicians, who have little experience in running regions, to be elected as the heads of regional governments.
A lack of respect on the part of the civil servants can cause tension in relations between bureaucracy and the head of a region. This is further complicated by the fact that a number of senior civil servants in the regions have also contested as candidates in regional direct election.
Allowing career bureaucrats to contest in local direct elections is responsible for the deterioration of quality and professionalism of civil servants. This policy needs to be thoroughly reconsidered.
Having neutral and professional civil servants has long been an aspiration of the people. The 2004 Local Government Law has so far failed in directing the development of civil servants in the region.
Too many loopholes can be found that provide the entry point for political interference in the management of local civil servants.
The only hope is now with the follow-up of the Bureaucratic Reform Road Map designed by the Administrative Reforms Ministry. However one should not forget that reforming the civil services is not solely the responsibility of the ministry but of all ministries and other government agencies.
The decision to handover the responsibility of reforming the bureaucracy to the Vice President’s office is a step in the right direction. However, a lack of coordination among various ministries is notorious in this country.
It is finally up to the power and prestige of the Vice President’s office that will determine that civil service reform can really be implemented. The momentum is now to reform the bureaucracy or Indonesia might lose the chance of becoming a competitive country due to its poor public services. The country needs good public service delivery and it needs it now.The writer is deputy team leader of the German Technical Cooperation for Decentralization as Contribution to Good Governance (GTZ-DeCGG) in the Home Affairs Ministry and a member of the Steering Committee for the Asia-German Governance Sector Network.