Thu, 26 Jun 2003

Corrupt, lazy, but loyal

How would you characterize a typical government worker in Indonesia? If Minister of Home Affairs Hari Sabarno has his way, a typical civil servant would be loyal to the cause of the unitary state (however the minister defines "loyal"), but would still be corrupt. You can throw in lazy for good measure, to complete the picture.

Hari is taking the government's fixation with NKRI, the Indonesian acronym for the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia, to new heights by requiring a new loyalty test for all civil servants, including those in central and regional administrations, beginning next month.

Forget fighting corruption, supposedly the chief objective of this government when it was elected back in 1999; let alone improving efficiency. The greatest danger to this nation, at least according to Hari, is the poor loyalty of civil servants to the cause of the unitary state.

With a single stroke of his pen, he has relegated the fight against corruption in the bureaucracy from the top of the national agenda, and replaced it with his own mission.

As far as the minister is concerned, civil servants can be as corrupt as possible. They can even plunder the nation's wealth to the point of bringing this nation to the brink of economic collapse as they did in 1998 (of course, in collaboration with the powers that be), so long as they are proven by his office to be loyal to NKRI.

The idea of carrying out a loyalty test was broached early this month when the minister learned that some government workers in Aceh province had been supporting the separatist cause of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

As part of Jakarta's campaign to crush GAM to its roots, the government has decided to weed out separatist or disloyal people from its own ranks by announcing the test.

But barely a week after disclosing his controversial plan, Hari, an Army general by background, decided to go one step further: He wants all civil servants nationwide to take the test.

Calling his plan "re-registration", he made it clear that this would involve more than civil servants renewing their documents, but also interviews to determine whether or not they were loyal to NKRI.

The ease with which he expanded the scheme -- there was little public opposition -- raises concern that he might also extend this loyalty test requirement to every citizen in the country.

Presumably, he would employ psychologists and experts to help his office draft the questions that would detect one's loyalty to the state. He seemed so assured that his office would be able to net those who are not loyal, as he put it, "from their answers".

While we have no problem with the government's wish to remove disloyal elements from the bureaucracy, we strongly object to the approach, which essentially puts the burden of proof of loyalty on every civil servant. This approach essentially tells us that every civil servant's loyalty is in question until he or she proves the contrary. (This, however, would be a novel approach to eradicating the rampant corruption in the bureaucracy.)

We also object to the idea of screening because the nation has been down this road before, and is still deeply traumatized by it.

The Soeharto regime introduced all kinds of screening during its 32-year repressive rule as a way of controlling and terrorizing the people. We had screening to weed out communists, which went on long after the communist party was outlawed and crushed in 1965; we had screening for good behavior; screening for bersih lingkungan, which essentially meant that you and your extended family were not "tainted", as defined by the powers that be; there also was screening for your loyalty to the state ideology, Pancasila.

These screenings were mandatory, not only for civil servants, as many were expanded to other professions, including politicians, teachers, journalists, even young people intending to study abroad. Very often, papers proving that you had passed these tests were required when applying for passports, ID cards and other documents.

Our concern goes beyond the time and expense, not to mention the frustration, that we had to go through in taking these tests and getting these papers. There were always middlemen who offered their services for a fee. Undoubtedly, Hari's new screening test proposal will produce a new batch of middlemen.

Past screenings led to rampant abuses that killed lives, livelihoods and careers. Given this recent history, there is a likelihood that Hari's loyalty test would lead to renewed abuses and a violation of people's basic rights.

Our biggest concern is on the definition of "loyalty" to the NKRI cause: Who gets to define it?

With a general election just around the corner, there is concern that loyalty to the state would be defined more in terms of loyalty to the powers that be -- just as in the Soeharto years -- and not loyalty to the people they are supposed to serve.

Given that rampant corruption, both within the bureaucracy and outside it, is the single-greatest problem this country faces today, should that not be the chief criterion used to define one's loyalty to the unity and integrity of this country?

With Hari Sabarno's loyalty test seemingly unstoppable, we propose that he expand it to make sure that all civil servants are clean (ie. not corrupt) and hard-working, as well as loyal.