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Paying the price for a slack civil service

Jakarta Globe - August 29, 2013

Yuli Krisna, Novy Lumanauw & Robertus Wardi, Sumedang, West Java/Jakarta – Need a land or birth certificate? Or a driver's license or car registration? Or a place at a public school or medication at a public hospital? You'll stand little chance of success without paying a bribe or procuring the services of an intermediary, such as is the state of the Indonesian civil service.

"It's a fact of life here in Indonesia. The civil servants are actually trying to make things difficult so that people give them money to get things done. In many cases, civil servants work together with middlemen and get a cut," Dadang Trisasongko, a representative of integrity activist group Transparency International Indonesia, told a forum in Jakarta on Monday.

He said many state offices conceal official fees for their services so that officials can charge a higher amount. "There is no transparency. In most cases, people have no choice but to follow the game," Dadang said, adding that without "grease money" people sometimes wait for hours, weeks or even months to get things done.

Deputy Administrative Reform Minister Eko Prasojo admitted recently that corrupt bureaucracy led to poor-quality public services.

He said bureaucrats have lethargic work habits and often cut corners. Eko admitted that the country's bureaucracy was bloated, with many state workers doing jobs for which they were not qualified. "All of these characteristics cause bad public services," he said.

Eko added that the government and public must unite to eradicate a culture of corruption in order for the country to achieve a healthy and clean bureaucracy. A survey by Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy in 2010 ranked India, Indonesia and the Philippines as the countries with the worst bureaucracies.

India scored 9.41 out of 10 – with 10 being the worst – followed by Indonesia with 8.59 and the Philippines with 8.37. The top two countries in Asia were Singapore with 2.53 and Hong Kong with 3.49. The organization said that Indonesia's bureaucracy discouraged foreign investment.

Recruitment problems

Sofian Effendi, deputy chairman of the government-sanctioned Independent Team for Bureaucracy Reform, said problems with public service began with the practice of civil service jobs in the central or regional government being able to be bought. He estimated that a candidate for a civil service position must pay on average Rp 150 million ($13,700) to be accepted.

"If, for instance, a district head needs 2,000 new civil servants in his or her district, and each of them pays Rp 150 million, you can imagine how much money he or she will get in the one-time recruitment process," he said earlier this year.

Sofian said that district heads, governors and mayors raise as much money as they can because they want to recoup money spent during the campaign and election period. "The recruitment process becomes an ATM for regional heads," he said.

Karyono Wibowo, a senior researcher at the Indonesian Public Institute, a think tank, said a key factor in provincial corruption was the high cost of running for and staying in public office.

"It's this high cost that compels elected officials to commit corruption" to recoup their money, he said. Karyono added that running for mayor or district head required candidates to spend at least Rp 5 billion, the IPI estimated.

"In some areas, the cost can go up to Rp 20 billion or even Rp 50 billion. It all depends on the region's economic potential," he said. Running for governor can cost upward of Rp 100 billion, Karyono added.

Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi has previously acknowledged the problem, revealing earlier this month that 298 governors, district heads and mayors had been jailed since regional autonomy was introduced in 1999.

New civil servants – after having paid such large amounts – want their money back, said Emerson Yuntho of activist group Indonesia Corruption Watch.

"They will start to do whatever it takes to get their money back. And once they enjoy the easy money, they will continue to accept bribes or stolen state money. That's why so many civil servants are involved in bribery and corruption," he said.

Sofian said that in an attempt to reduce bribery in the selection process of civil servants, the reform team had proposed to cut the authority of regional head to take on new employees.

'It's on the right track'

Welcoming the graduation of 1,300 students of the Home Affairs Ministry's Public Administration Academy (STPDN) in Sumedang on Wednesday, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said that bureaucratic reform was on track.

"We should be grateful with the implementation of bureaucratic reform at a number of ministries and government offices. It's on the right track," he told the graduates, who will become civil servants at regional administration offices across Indonesia.

There has been recent progress in improving performance and managing the budget in several government offices, with the number of corruption cases decreasing, the president said.

"Good officials will not make things difficult and be accountable on what they are doing," he said.

The president said he would continue to implement a system of reward and punishment as part of a push for furthering bureaucratic reform. "We should give appreciation to those who have done their job well and hand down sanctions for underperforming civil servants," he said.

Administrative Reform Minister Azwar Abubakar told the new graduates that the government will recruit new officials despite claims that the state already employs too many civil servants.

He said that ministries and regional offices will accept 170,000 new recruits this year, adding to the 5 million existing state employees and 500,000 contract and temporary workers.

Azwar guaranteed that the recruitment process will be different from that in place previously, with the process closely monitored to avoid bribery practices.

In a speech earlier this month, Yudhoyono said the state had allocated Rp 276.7 trillion for the salaries of civil servants next year, up by Rp 43 trillion on this year's figure.

The increase came despite spending on programs such as infrastructure and social aid being cut significantly next year.

"Rather than increasing the number of civil servants, we should trim them. They have become a burden to the state budget," University of Indonesia public policy expert Andrinof Chaniago said.

He said the country had enough civil servants, adding that many of them do little actual work. Andrinof said the government should move civil servant jobs from Java to other parts of the country.

"Many regions, for instance, don't have enough teachers, doctors, nurse and other skilled civil servants while provinces in Java have an excess of human resources," he said.

Indonesia two years ago introduced an amnesty on hiring new civil servants, but that policy included myriad exceptions and has since lapsed.