Penny K. Lukito (Advisor and Founder IWI)
Amid continuing criticism of the government for its complicated bureaucratic system, the Administrative Reforms Ministry announced recently its bureaucratic reform acceleration program.
In a recent government meeting, President Susilo Bambang Yudho-yono reiterated his concern about three obstacles to Indonesian economic growth, which were convoluted by bureaucracy, infrastructure backlog and corruption. “We need not only commitment, but also fundamental reform,” said President Yudhoyono, emphasizing the bureaucracy problems plaguing the central and local governments.
The President also asked government agencies to regularly publish their performance results and provide a quick reporting system, to indicate the government’s goodwill in showing its accountability to the public.
More recently, Vice President Boediono said that working in the government was only for those who want to contribute to the state, not for those who want to get rich. This statement underlines the fact that bureaucracy is for those who want to work for a benefit beyond just salary increases. Therefore, bureaucracy should be based upon values and merit, so that for those working in the bureaucracy, being part of a noble effort to improve the nation should be the greatest incentive to pursue.
However, the current bureaucracy is characterized by feudalism, a lack of transparency and a lack of egalitarianism. All these features reveal the bureaucratic issues that tend to undermine optimum performance.
Indeed, the importance of transparency in the bureaucracy is related to the idea that the best public policy can only be produced by open, honest dialogue and aimed for the wider public interest. Perhaps it is considered a utopian idea, but it can be realized through sweeping bureaucratic reform based on merit, and under strong leadership.
Therefore, bureaucratic reform without developing a performance-oriented leadership would be ineffective, and this kind of leadership should be based on strong and authentic values. Some say leadership is a combination of strategy and integrity, but if you have to choose one, integrity is preferable.
With strong character and values, strategic leadership can be developed through training and the accomplishment of one assignment through the career path and leadership development in bureaucracy.
This leadership challenge is required at all levels of the bureaucracy in view of the fact that within an organization, the creation of ethics and a working culture lies not only with senior management but also with those at the implementation level. Leaders at all bureaucratic levels should be expected to appropriately identify problems, set the agenda and direction, and have the courage to immediately take action and, if necessary, take risks in the implementation of their programs. Another important matter is the capacity to monitor and evaluate the results of the measures taken, which can be used as input for the improvement of programs and policy.
It has been characteristic of our public sector to be vague in defining who should assume responsibility for development results or the quality of public services, such as education, water supply, sanitation, housing, health facilities and so on. This situation may even create a misperception of a kind of leadership strategy that was introduced by John Maxwell, to “get things done through others”, by those who basically do not want to assume responsibility but only want to enjoy their lofty positions and, if possible, shift the responsibility onto others.
Therefore, transparency and accountability by a state’s executive to the public is deemed equally important for both individual bureaucrats and the bureaucracy itself. Accountability implies a commitment to explain and answer all matters relating to measures taken and the processes involved, as well as accountability for each individual’s performance.
For the government, the “demand” for a performance report to the public will eventually enhance the capacity of its performance. Therefore, valid and good quality performance data should be made available to the public. In this way, something that is measured and reported would be considered important, and get done.
The use of public budgets should come also be scrutinized using good performance indicators, undergo evaluations and be reported to the public, serving as part of overall accountability and transparency to the public; it should also adopt a performance feedback system. What the Presidential Working Unit for the Supervision and Management of Development (UKP4) has done in monitoring development priorities and performance targets should be expanded not only for the purpose of assessing the performance of a ministry but also to provide input for the sake of creating a more efficient and effective planning and budgeting process of development programs.
The fourth president of the United States, James Madison, said in a speech at the James Madison Memorial, Library of Congress in Washington, DC: “The essence of government is power, and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse.” It reminds us of the importance of overseeing the government’s performance.
For that purpose, government performance supervision, along with the enforcement of related laws and regulations, should be implemented strictly. Leadership development should be part of the bureaucratic reform process so as to produce leaders with values and integrity. Eventually, the abuse of power and poor performance will no longer characterize the government.
The writer works for the National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas). The opinions expressed are her own. (The Jakarta Post)