Tue, 09 Aug 1994

Red tape bottleneck matter of bureaucratic pathology

Improving productivity and efficiency of the bureaucracy has been the government's obsession for a long time. The work week which will be tried out soon is seen as to achieve that goal. Sociologist Kastorius Sinaga argues that bureaucratic reform is imperative in this globalization era.

JAKARTA (JP): The World Bank recently discussed the red tape of Indonesian bureaucracy in its latest annual report.

The Indonesian bureaucracy was assessed as one the main bottlenecks with the major potential to inhibit Indonesia's economic growth. This report has been drawing public attention ever since its release.

According to the Bank's assessment, if Indonesia wants to sustain a high economic growth of eight percent per year, bureaucratic reform is an absolute must as a follow-up step to market deregulation.

To some extent, the Bank has heralded the already classic problem in a new fashion. By the early 1970s, this problem was widely recognized. For the first time, the Bank announced the inability of highly bureaucratic political and administrative systems to stimulate development processes in developing countries.

This awareness has accordingly led to the shift of the Bank's development aid emphasis from state-controlled "modernization" to the concept of "people-centered development".

Now, in the 1990s, the Bank's critique of the limitations of public bureaucracy is reconsidered. This is done, however, in line with the program of private sector promotion which consequently means a further strategy is required to cut off structural bottlenecks.

The aim is to enable the capitalist system to be rooted more deeply in the Indonesian economy, which in this case has potential, either as the source of natural resources, or as a potential market for industrial products.


In line with this context, the focus on the problem will revolve around the chronic bureaucratic red tape and the future agenda for treating and eradicating the pathology.

As frequently pointed out by many intellectuals, the function and the problems of Indonesia's bureaucracy, like those in other developing countries, reflects the chronic topology of the "traditional" notion of bureaucracy.

In the Weberian sense, it typifies "a patrimonial bureaucracy" in which the civil service symbolizes the "arena of unequal power relationship" between the "patron and client". In this context, the bureaucracy represents the state's hegemony over the society.

And last but not least, the state bureaucracy presents itself as political vehicle for the self-interest-oriented relationship between the existing around-power strategic groups which are struggling for the appropriation of political and economic assets.

With such notions of performance, the bureaucracy means neither a "rational organization" accepting the necessity of rules and regulations, nor a social instrument recognizing competence, fair competition and standards of excellence in public service.

In contrast to the ideal, the pathological dysfunctions of a bureaucracy appear: low self-esteem, graft and corruption, inefficiency and lack of professionalism.

In relation to this pathology, the misconception of what public service actually constitutes is widespread in most of our bureaucrats' minds. There is a casual relationship between the lack of acceptance of public duty and the concept of civil service with deviant behavior in government, which generally results in inefficiency.

This manifests itself, for instance, in the fact that civil servants tend to make and want to maintain a public office and public facilities as their individual preserve, instead of viewing them as a public trust. This can constitute a strong temptation among those who are in the state bureaucracy and in the corridors of power in any nation.

Feudalistic society

This tendency is manifestly acute in a feudalistic society like that of Indonesia where standards of recruitment are strongly influenced by deep-seated, although grossly out-dated, values and where the mechanism of bureaucratic and social control is still relatively weak.

We have witnessed that while several feats have been achieved in the arts, science and technology, our state bureaucracy, as the engine of development, has retained its old style: sluggish and centralized.

Hence, the future of the bureaucracy will largely depend on what hard decisions the Indonesian government will make. If it continues to treat the existing pathology within the bureaucracy as a bundle of problems of secondary priority, then the deterioration of the bureaucracy will continue unabated.

This is potentially dangerous in terms of the reality that the pressure of global economic dynamics will be tremendously challenging to the Indonesian bureaucracy in the coming decade.

Apart from this, the increasing population, greater demands for services, dwindling resources, coupled with archaic administrative systems, and the traditional bureaucratic mentality will not allow the bureaucracy, with its continued pathology, to be productive.

Any call for bureaucratic reform from any source is, therefore, an urgent demand at this present time.

And one of the most important entry points for such reform is the "depoliticizing" of the bureaucracy. This consequently means liberating our bureaucracy from the political domain of specific groups or parties, thus enabling it to develop as the professional agent of the nation's development.

The writer holds a doctorate degree from the University of Bielefeld, Germany, and now works as visiting lecturer for the Post-graduate Program in Social and Political Sciences at the University of Indonesia.