Indonesia's bureaucratic dead wood: The Jakarta Post

The mass lay-offs may have serious electoral consequences for the government of President Joko Widodo.
The mass lay-offs may have serious electoral consequences for the government of President Joko Widodo. PHOTO: AFP

The government has planned to lay off 300,000 civil servants from 2017 to 2019 as some of them find it difficult to follow the work pace of the central administration.

Bureaucratic reform in Indonesia has remained an unresolved debate for many years, despite the Civil Service Law, dubbed the panacea for the acute problems plaguing Indonesian bureaucracy, coming into force in 2014. 

A corrupt, rent-seeking mentality has to some extent been addressed through better remuneration and stricter supervision systems. 

It appears, however, the bureaucracy finds difficulties in following the rhythm of the government, which aims high and works fast.

Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform Minister Yuddy Chrisnandi says the presence of hundreds of thousands of incompetent, crooked, unaccountable civil servants has slowed the performance of the entire bureaucracy, which is why he has come up with a roadmap for bureaucratic streamlining.

According to the plan, the government will lay off 300,000 civil servants from 2017 to 2019 through golden handshakes and other mechanisms. 

During the period 500,000 civil servants will retire and 76 government institutions will undergo consolidation for efficiency reasons.

If strictly implemented, the rationalisation will affect a total of one million civil servants, probably the largest number in our history. 

The Civil Service Law stipulates that incompetence and gross violations of the code of ethics can lead to dismissal.

From the fiscal perspective the rationalisation makes sense. 

The government claims the programme will enable it to shave 176 trillion rupiah (S$17.9 billion) off its budget for bureaucracy, which it can reallocate for development spending. 

Regional governments will also benefit from rationalisation, given the fact that civil service pay devours more than 50 per cent of the budget in 244 regencies and municipalities across the country.

The mass lay-offs may have serious electoral consequences for the government of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, especially if he bids for re-election in 2019. 

Not many presidents would take such a risky decision; let alone approaching the end of his or her first term of office.

But Jokowi could face a far more devastating calamity if the plan is left unimplemented. 

The bloated bureaucracy is already a cause for concern as it creates or perpetuates inefficiency, overlaps and unfairness, as hard work does not count, and most importantly a cycle of corruption. 

There have been reports of people who take the risk of paying a lot to get admitted to the civil service and naturally they will do anything, including the abuse of their power, to recover their initial outlay.

The next danger of a bloated bureaucracy is the employment of people unqualified for civil service positions, who a senior government official once described as “dead wood” in the bureaucracy. 

Allowing parasitic, if not cancerous, elements to remain within the bureaucracy will only hinder the delivery of public services, lead to a slow realisation of government programmes and eventually erode public trust  in the government. 

For sure any failure to lay off incompetent civil servants will do more harm than good both to the government and people. 

Rationalisation will require transparency in the merit system used to appraise civil servants’ performance. 

The government could of course convince the public about its aim to create a more professional bureaucracy if it led by example, by dismissing its own incompetent ministers. 

The Jakarta Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 21 newspapers.