Wed, 21 Jun 2000

Bad governance

The way Indonesia's major aid donors are going on about the need to establish good governance, both in public and corporate sectors, raises a question about the objective of this exercise. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the Asia Development Bank (ADB) and major foreign donor countries have repeatedly emphasized the need for Indonesia to put its house in order -- which what good governance is all about -- if their aid, which this country needs now more than ever, is to continue.

With little fanfare, good governance has effectively become a new string attached to the future aid for Indonesia, in the same way respecting people's democratic rights, human rights and labor rights have been incorporated over the past decade.

The IMF has twice delayed the disbursement of aid to Indonesia since December because it was unhappy with the way the government was implementing reform programs, including the promise of good governance. The World Bank and ADB have also served notice that they will closely monitor good governance in connection with their loan programs in this country.

All of the foreign pressure on Jakarta raises the question about the goal of good governance: Who is it for? There is no doubt that the ultimate beneficiary of good governance would be Indonesians. But it is not an exaggeration to say that Indonesians, and certainly the government, have cared far less than the international donor community about this issue.

Indonesia has not even bothered to find an appropriate translation of "good governance", limiting public discourse on such a crucial national issue to a very limited English-speaking community in this country. Good governance may have become a political buzzword, but only among a limited circle. If wider public participation is part of what good governance is about, then the government has committed a grave error by excluding, consciously or not, the greater public in this endeavor.

All those promises of establishing good governance, including the ones signed by the government in the letter of intent to the IMF, have become nothing more than lip service to keep the donors happy. Of course, the government fools no one but itself.

In keeping with its promise, the government has set up councils and watchdog commissions to help establish good governance in the public and corporate sectors. Because good governance is a recent phenomenon in this country, the donor community is giving Indonesia time to adjust. Sooner or later, they will want to see results. Recent statements from the IMF and the World Bank are warnings that they expect to see results soon.

Could the international community's persistence on good governance be construed as interference in Indonesia's domestic affairs? Some staunch nationalists are bound to use this to further their chauvinistic agenda. The Soeharto regime, for example, fanned nationalist sentiment quite successfully in rejecting international pressure to improve democracy, human rights and labor rights in this country.

If the experience from the Soeharto regime is anything to go by, then a little dose of outside pressure is probably what Indonesia needs in establishing good governance, especially in view of weak domestic pressure. We must momentarily swallow our national pride. Our political system is obviously not sophisticated enough to ensure good governance. We still need a little bit of prodding from outside, just like we needed them to put pressure on the Soeharto regime to respect democracy, human rights and labor rights.

The greatest danger of failing to establish good public and corporate governors however is not on the inflow of future foreign aid, but on the future of this country. Good governance, although little discussed in this country, is an important goal for the reform movement, along with a clean government. Without either of these, reforms will fail, and Indonesia will once again be condemned to the tyranny of the corruption, collusion and nepotism practices of the recent past. The only difference is next time, there won't be anyone else to bail us out from the brink of bankruptcy.