Jakarta officials quit over poor results

Resignations of two top officials a sign of Jokowi's push for more accountability

JAKARTA • Two of Indonesia's top civil servants have resigned over their performance, suggesting President Joko Widodo's push for greater government accountability in South-east Asia's largest economy is making headway.

Land transportation chief Djoko Sasono quit last Saturday, citing a failure to anticipate monster traffic jams that ensnared millions as they left the capital Jakarta ahead of the Christmas holiday and prompted an onslaught of negative media coverage. His departure came weeks after the head of the tax office stepped down for falling short of promised revenue targets.

Mr Joko, who is better known as Jokowi, took office in October last year pledging to make public officials more accountable and shake up the civil service.

His first year was characterised by policy U-turns, ministerial bickering and a dispute with police over how to fight graft.

He fired five ministers in August in an effort to improve governance. While this month's resignations are promising, it is too soon to say if they herald a new era of accountability, said politics professor Djayadi Hanan at Paramadina University in Jakarta.

DAWN OF NEW ERA

The resignations come from ministries which are undergoing internal reform. When you look at it that way, we can have a hope that we are seeing the start of a new culture among Indonesian public officials.

PROFESSOR DJAYADI HANAN

"The resignations come from ministries which are undergoing internal reform," Prof Hanan said. "When you look at it that way, we can have a hope that we are seeing the start of a new culture among Indonesian public officials."

The leader of the Lower House of Parliament was another casualty of the push for better governance. Mr Setya Novanto stepped down as Speaker on Dec 16 amid an attorney-general's probe and a legislative ethics inquiry into allegations that he sought shares in Freeport-McMoRan's local unit in return for a licence extension. Mr Novanto, who has denied wrongdoing, kept his seat in Parliament.

The transport and tax ministries have both touted their commitment to efficiency and other bureaucratic overhauls.

Indonesia was ranked 107th among 175 states and territories in Transparency International's 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Mr Sasono announced his resignation in a hastily arranged evening briefing last Saturday, after some drivers took 16 hours to make the 160km trip from Jakarta to the West Java city of Bandung.

Mr Sigit Priadi Pramudito, who became tax chief nine months ago, left after it became clear this year's revenue would fall about 15 per cent shy of budgeted forecasts.

While Mr Joko has not commented publicly on the bureaucrats' resignations, he told a meeting of village chiefs in Central Java on Sunday that he would fire unproductive officials, such as those who held up infrastructure projects.

"I just call the ministers immediately and give them a month and a half," he said in remarks reported by Koran Tempo newspaper. "I check if there is still a problem. Then, I note it in their performance review. If it is red, it's easy. I reshuffle them."

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 31, 2015, with the headline 'Jakarta officials quit over poor results'. Print Edition | Subscribe