Barack Obama: “In a democracy, laws alone are not enough: hearts must change.“
I used that quote in Part One of this series, but it’s also most pertinent in this section.
If we define democracy as “an elected system of government by the people for the people” and people as members of “a community as distinguished from any privileged class” then unelected bureacucrats are there to serve the citizenry. In the UK, the state’s bureaucrats are called civil servants, so their role is implicit in their job title.
“Rules Is Rules” applies in the UK state bureaucracies. The problem is that “when the rules are arbitrary and rigid, anyone can find themselves on the wrong side of them,” and treated without empathy or compassion.
Brexit is causing panic among many Europeans (i.e. non-Brits) who have made the UK their home. For example, there is the man told to take the citizenship test despite having lived his entire life in the UK! But he’s not alone:
The 85-page (!) permanent residency application form has been heavily criticised as not being fit for purpose, with some Europeans rejected because of some bureaucratic mix-up that meant they were sent letters asking them to “prepare to leave” the country.
Here in Indonesia, rules are not so rigid, but they certainly seem to be arbitrary, and/or less than transparent. All are in thrall to whoever sits behind the counter or on the opposite side of the desk.
There is a determined and popular drive to reform Indonesia’s bureaucracy, but there is resistance to it from within.
Yes, ‘we, the people’, expect neutrality and impartiality from the bureaucrats tasked with ‘processing’ policies. As does the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) who commissioned a report Transforming administration – strengthening innovation. This was to be carried out by Indonesia’s Ministry of Administrative Reform with a clear objective: that the “public administration acts more effectively and efficiently with a greater focus on accountability and is more citizen-centred.”
Most laudable considering that “the productivity of the public service is usually low: not all civil servants are well trained, act in a professional manner and work transparently. On the whole, administrative processes are not geared towards performance. Government and administrative structures are characterised by unclear competences, a competitive attitude and political power struggles, which result in a large number of conflicting provisions, regulations and laws.“
One such law is Law No. 5/2014 on State Civil Apparatus (pdf, in bhs. Indonesia) which is a legal basis for bureaucratic reform as it stipulates that promotion and rotation should be free from conflicts of interest. The law acknowledges meritocracy as the only consideration for appointment of civiI servants to certain jobs through recruitment systems, which should provide a level playing field for all.
However, the neutrality of the State Civil Apparatus is influenced by, among others, the factors of the ambition of employees, primordialism, and the working environment.
One primordial’ factor is institutionalised corruption which is ‘normalised’ in Indonesia. It is practised by strategically blurring ‘bribe’ with ‘token of appreciation’. This mimics a centuries old political system of gift giving: the upeti system. Upeti literally means ‘tribute to the king from his followers, [and] the system was initially applied in the feudal period, where a king’s power was measured by the amount of tribute he received from his followers. In return for tribute, the king would protect the local population from outside threats (such as foreign invasion). (cf. Priyadi in 3a)
Suharto perpetuated upeti and although he ‘abdicated’ nearly twenty years ago, his family and inner circle, or their heirs, continue to thrive. And many legislators and administrators have elevated themselves beyond their station.
Apart from the ‘culture’ within a department, another major concern, is that legislation may be passed, but there is a consistent failure to ‘socialise’ the new or revised policies. Furthermore, the enforcing regulations may not be in place for several years. This gives rise to a local version of what is known in the USA as the ‘Chevron deference‘.
This is a doctrine from a 1984 court ruling [which] gives agencies wide latitude to interpret laws when they are vaguely written. When Congress passes a law that does not have a clear meaning, the agency charged with applying the law should have the first crack at interpreting it.