Jokowi’s Civil Servant Shake Up

By Jeremiah Magpile

Traffic in Jakarta is emblematic of its own bureaucratic inefficiency. Lack of civil service efficacy is a key hurdle for investment in Indonesia's capital and is now the focus of reform. Source: Vasenka's flickr photostream, used under a creative commons license.

Jakarta governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo summoned 267 neighborhood and 44 sub-district heads October 24, giving them six months to improve bureaucratic procedures and services. The announcement came a day after Jokowi found empty offices and absent department heads during impromptu inspections of three subdistrict and one district office in Central Jakarta.

The former Solo mayor’s victory over incumbent Fauzi Bowo in the September 2012 Jakarta governor elections signaled dissatisfaction with a political establishment widely considered inefficient and corrupt. The surprise inspections were part of a larger push for transparency and accountability.

The success of Jokowi’s civil servant shake-up will be a significant litmus test for future reforms. An improvement in Jakarta bureaucracy will signal a shift away from business as usual politics. Failure to follow through, however, will be a major setback for Indonesians intent on reforming its political system so it is nimble enough to address problems such as urban congestion, sanitation and corruption.

For now, the majority of Jakarta citizens recognize that even under Jokowi’s aegis, resolving the city’s multidimensional issues will take time. However, political elites may seize on slow progress as a means to reduce the governor’s political captial.

Jokowi’s candid recognition of Jakarta’s structural inefficiencies is based on his proximity to the situation on the ground, a practice that won him a nomination for the 2012 World Mayor Award as the governor of Solo. Maintaining this approach is crucial to sustaining reform down the road.

Jakarta is the driving force behind Indonesia’s 6.3 percent growth but remains one of the region’s worst run capitals. Reforms are needed so that it can continue to attract foreign investment, streamline systems for current investors, and help provide better returns. If successful, Jokowi’s shake-up will bode well for Jakarta, as well as Indonesia’s long-term economic stability.

As part of his reform efforts, Jokowi intends to revise the existing structure of an administrative reform team established in 2008 under Bowo. The past administration failed to bring about meaningful results due to budgetary restrictions and lax implementation, and programs were watered down to ineffective seminars for public servants.

Jokowi plans to implement “one-roof” integrated services centers that will be a one-stop-shop for paying taxes, capital licensing for investors, and other business related issues, and plans to evaluate municipalities every six months based on public satisfaction surveys which involve local communities’ active participation. This will also reinforce Jokowi’s popular support, a necessary counterbalance to the administration’s disadvantage in the Jakarta legislative council. Jokowi supporters from the Gerindra Party and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) currently hold only 17 of 94 seats.

It remains to be seen whether Jokowi will fall prey to transactional politics associated with past administrations. He will need former Bowo supporters to address an inflated budget that was previously finalized for 2013, as well as additional refoms, and is already receiving pushback.

Jokowi’s leadership has inserted much needed life into Jakarta’s lethargic bureaucracy, but whether or not he can repeat his Solo success in Jakarta remains to be seen. Even without reform, as a city of more than ten million Jakarta will remain a crucial hub. The question is more about how many opportunities – for investment, entrepreneurship, poverty alleviation – will be lost if his reform efforts falter.

Mr. Jeremiah Magpile is a researcher with the CSIS Chair for Southeast Asia Studies.



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