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Sweeping civil service reform gathers pace in Indonesia

Jakarta Globe - October 18, 2013

Anastasia Winanti Riesardhy – The government has vowed to minimize political influence in the civil service, particularly in the appointment of senior bureaucrats, including ministers.

Azwar Abubakar, the minister for state administrative reform, said on Thursday that the new measures would be enshrined in the civil service bill, currently being deliberated at the House of Representatives to eventually replace the 1999 and 1974 laws on the civil service.

He said one of the key points in the bill was a provision for the establishment of a Civil Service Committee, or KASN.

"The committee will ensure that job promotions are given based on a system of merit, and that the recruitment process is free from corruption, nepotism and political interest," Azwar said. "To clean up a very dirty place, you have to use a special method."

The Indonesian civil service had long regarded as corrupt and highly inefficient, sapping at least a third of the total state budget every year just for the salaries of government workers. To reduce the bloat, the government instated a moratorium in September 2011 on recruiting new civil servants, but lifted it in December last year.

In October 2011, a month after the moratorium went into force, the country had 4.64 million civil servants, according to the Civil Service Administration Board. At the end of 2012, when the moratorium was lifted, the number was down slightly to 4.46 million as a result of older bureaucrats retiring and no new ones being brought in.

Eko Prasojo, the deputy minister for state administrative reform, previously said it would take five years before the benefits of the ongoing reforms to the bureaucracy would become apparent, given the messy and disorganized management of the current system.

The government has drafted a master plan for bureaucracy reform comprising nine elements, including improving the structure of the bureaucracy; improving the quantity, distribution and quality of civil servants; and ensuring a transparent selection process and system of merit-based promotion.

Other programs include developing an online system for public administration and registration services, dubbed an e-government system; simplifying the procedures for businesses applying for permits; requiring civil servants to submit wealth reports; improving the benefits for civil servants; and ensuring efficiency in the use of facilities and infrastructure.

The government is also seeking to ensure civil servants are placed based on their competency and establish supervisory bodies for state institutions, as well as to restructure ministries and government institutions and improve budget efficiency and integrity enforcement.

Eko said the problems in the bureaucracy were complex because they involved a huge number of people, and changing attitudes and mind-sets would not be easy.

He said the success of the bureaucratic reform effort could be gauged through public satisfaction and corruption perception indices. The government is aiming for a public satisfaction score of 85.5 by 2014, on a scale of 0 to 100. Its score last year was 76.6, up from 60 in 2010 and 50 in 2009.

Sofian Effendi, the deputy chairman of the government-sanctioned Independent Team for Bureaucracy Reform, said the bulk of the problems with the civil service could be attributed to the fact that many of the positions in the bureaucracy, both in the central government and at the regional level, are sold to the highest bidders rather than filled by the most qualified candidate.

He said those vying for the positions typically paid Rp 150 million ($13,700) in bribes to get the seats. He added it was the need to recoup this high cost that often led bureaucrats to take bribes or extort money from businesses and individuals seeking permits or other official documents.