Jokowi seeks to fight lumbering bureaucracy

Mr Joko Widjojo at an event at the Attorney-General's office in Jakarta on Wednesday. The President is reportedly frustrated that infrastructure projects have been hindered by staffing delays and ministerial meddling with selection panels.
Mr Joko Widjojo at an event at the Attorney-General's office in Jakarta on Wednesday. The President is reportedly frustrated that infrastructure projects have been hindered by staffing delays and ministerial meddling with selection panels.PHOTO: REUTERS

Delays in key projects lead him to consider sidelining civil service panels for faster way to pick suitable candidates

JAKARTA • Frustrated with his bureaucrats over delays in road and port building projects crucial to reviving the economy, Indonesia's president is pushing for a new, faster selection process to find officials who can deliver on time.

With economic growth at its slowest in nearly six years and his popularity ebbing, Mr Joko Widodo is considering sidelining civil service panels set up to pick the most capable candidates for top jobs.

Mr Joko took office last October with the reputation of a reformer, in a country consistently ranked among the world's most corrupt by watchdog Transparency International. However, staffing delays and ministerial meddling with the selection panels that take 10 times longer than the old system, itself criticised as being patronage-driven, have made it tough to launch projects, fuelling the impatience of investors.

"The President was thinking out loud, with some of the Cabinet, whether he should put on hold temporarily all the selection schemes for public officials," one senior official at the presidential palace told Reuters, referring to Mr Joko's understated style of giving orders.

It was not immediately clear what course Mr Joko will follow. But the comment reflects his frustration that public officials did not live up to expectations, said the official, who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the subject.

SEARCH FOR MOST SUITABLE

Having the highest rank doesn't mean the candidate is the most suitable.

MR SOFIAN EFFENDI, chief of the civil service commission

Mr Joko wants to spend about US$20 billion (S$27 billion) this year on new ports, roads and other projects, but the bureaucracy has so far disbursed only around a tenth of the capital spending budget.

A revival in infrastructure projects would boost growth in South-east Asia's largest economy from a first-quarter figure of 4.7 per cent to the 6 to 7 per cent rate analysts say is needed to ensure jobs for those entering the workforce.

Still, sidelining the panels could be a risky move.

"That would send a very ambivalent message about clean governance reform," said consultant Kevin O'Rourke, who advises investors on political risks in Indonesia.

Mr Joko remains committed to governance reform, however, said his chief of staff, Mr Luhut Panjaitan. "The President really wants to discipline the bureaucracy," he told reporters.

He said he did not know of plans to revamp the selection panels, although the administration was looking into their functioning.

The selection panels, used by every ministry and about 100 local government bodies, were meant to take the politics out of the civil service appointments, giving more weight to merit.

Mr Sofian Effendi, who is chief of the civil service commission, said Mr Joko wants to cut to three weeks the time the panels take for appointments. They currently need about 10 weeks, versus just one under the old seniority-based system.

"The new system has not been perfect," he said. "But having the highest rank doesn't mean the candidate is the most suitable."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2015, with the headline 'Jokowi seeks to fight lumbering bureaucracy'. Print Edition | Subscribe