Reforming the Indonesian Bureaucracy

Prof Sofian Effendi, Professor of Public Policy at University of Gadjah Mada presented at Indonesian student association’s (PPIA) academic discussion on 16 January 2012 in Adelaide. Prof Effendi talked about reforming the Indonesian bureaucracy.

One key question Prof Effendi raised was “How to improve government officials’ performance?” Work integrity and corruption were some of the key aspects being highlighted.

In Indonesia, bureaucracy has been attached to a negative stigma. From the business sector’s perspectives, it is believed that 26% of investment costs in Indonesia is to get business license. Doing Business indicators published by the World Bank suggested that in 2011 Indonesia ranked at 129, much worse than its neighbours Singapore (1), Thailand (17) and Malaysia (18).

On the other hand, there seems to be insufficient incentives for government officials to improve their performance. In Indonesia, 250,000-300,000 government officials are recruited annually. The number is to replace retired officials keeping the employment growth in public sectors at 0%. As there is no incentive to cut down the number of government officials, government expenditure on officials’ salaries account for about 70-80% of total government spending.

Given the above problem, bureaucratic reform is a necessity due to various reasons. To achieve democratic governance, Indonesia must clearly separate its executive, legislative and judicative power. Widespread corruption has always been an issue in all three bodies putting emphasis on the needs to reform. Ongoing decentralisation reform, whilst may facilitate government’s attempts to improve public sectors, to some extent is considered to be ‘excessive’ (Prof Effendi used the term ‘kebablasan‘ ie excessive).

There are some steps that can be conducted to improve the Indonesian bureaucracy. However, earning people’s trust should be put on the top of our agenda. Prof Effendi explained four ways to earn people’s trust, namely (i)  improved budget efficiency; (ii) better public services; (iii) improved bureaucratic accountability; and (iv) improved the capacity of public employees. At the regional government, Indonesia has experienced some success stories. ‘Jokowi’, Joko Widodo – Surakarta mayor, for example showed that better services in processing identity cards through cutting down the time required to get an ID card from weeks to only 3 hours may increase the popularity and, more importantly, credibility of a regional leader. One important lesson is to make changes that directly impact people’s life. To achieve a successful reform, change in culture is required and this would be highly affected by leaders’ commitment. Regional governments, for example, should be allowed to modify the structure of their organisations to suit their needs.

At the moment, the House is reviewing the Civil Servants Bill (Rancangan Undang-Undang Aparatur Sipil Negara or RUU ASN). The Bill is expected to be enacted into Law by March 2012. It regulates various aspects covering corruption practises, governance integrity as well as simplification. Government simplification is crucial to ensure that government institutions are developed based on clear objectives and managed under the ‘right’ bodies. Distribution of authority should also be looked at carefully. For example, there is an ongoing discussion to delegate some of the Ministry of Finance’s functions to other bodies. At the moment, Ministry of Finance is holding three key roles including collecting revenues, budget allocation and monitoring expenditures. These three roles might have made the Ministry of Finance ‘too powerful and dominant’ position.

Source: Worldwide Governance Indicators (

All would agree that there is still a long way to go before Indonesia can achieve an ideal form of democratic governance. Using Singapore as a comparison, said to have one of the best governance practises, the worldwide governance indicators suggest some of the key aspects that Indonesia still lacks of, particularly in terms of political stability and corruption.

Prof Effendi ended the discussion by expressing his hope that young government officials (as well as wider communities) would become ‘the reform leader’ and this means we should move beyond just becoming an agent of change.

Are you up for the challenge?

This article is prepared by Risti Permani.



Filed under Conference, Democracy, Indonesia, PPIA academic discussion, Reform

3 responses to “Reforming the Indonesian Bureaucracy

  1. Yeri

    I’m one of that such young govt officials. I work as an English teacher at a remote area in Yogya province where the local Javanese culture is very strong with highly bureaucratic leadership system. My aggressive manuevre has shaken up the established system.

  2. Thanks Pak Yeri for your comment – I agree that it is not easy to be ‘the reform leader’ as Prof Effendi said. But as said by Theodore Roosevelt “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”. From little things big things grow! Goodluck and we are looking forward to hearing your further comments. (Risti)

  3. Hi, cool post. I have been thinking about this issue,so thanks for sharing. I?ll probably be subscribing to your blog. Keep up great writing.

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