Creating a Clean and Efficient Bureaucracy


By: Eko Prasojo

For most people in this country, the state’s role is the provision of public services commensurate with their economic and social needs. At a higher level, the state’s absolute role is to safeguard the nation and maintain the rule of law while guaranteeing citizens’ freedoms within constitutional limits.

The goal of statehood, as mandated by the Constitution and promoted by the nation’s leaders, becomes futile unless it is combined with a strong commitment to create a non-corrupt and efficient bureaucracy.

A clean, accountable and efficient government system and bureaucracy is the key to success in achieving a state’s goals. Economic, social and political developments mean nothing if the bureaucracy is incapable of running the administration or sustaining development. A poor bureaucracy will not only impede a country’s development, but will also destroy the resources needed to improve the people’s welfare.

The poor quality of government in Indonesia is a result of the deep-rooted corruption that plagues the nation. This disease infects three loci, namely corruption in politics, corruption in law and corruption in bureaucracy. All three intermingle and create a mutual symbiosis which is very hard to eradicate.

Corruption in politics occurs because the recruitment procedure for candidates in legislative elections is not based on meritocratic selection. In fact, in many cases, the motive to get involved in politics is to gain better access to the state’s resources. This situation is further exacerbated by the high cost of attaining political office that must then be paid by those representatives.

Hence, instead of striving for the people’s interests, they abuse their authority. Certainly this doesn’t happen in all cases, but it happens often enough within the election process as well as in the appointment of candidates for certain political posts.

Corruption in the judicial system is manifest in the poor culture of law enforcement. It is not surprising to find that people are actually more afraid of the law enforcers than the law itself. Laws are perceived merely as sanctions, rather than the limits and standards of behavior of a society, nation and state.

This poor legal enforcement is not without a cause. One has to admit the regrettable fact that law enforcers’ rights are not properly appreciated. Apart from that, the recruitment process, performance measurement and promotion of personnel in law enforcement agencies are still not based upon competence and performance.

The insufficient remuneration given to prosecutors, police and judges, as well as the poor monitoring of their codes of conduct become the very reason why corruption in the judicial system is very difficult to overcome. This situation is alarming as it causes a ripple effect, spreading corruption to other sectors. If the law can not be properly enforced, there is nothing else that can serve as the pillar of a clean and respectable government.

The corrupt bureaucracy stems from the lackluster management of the state apparatus. This starts with the civil servant recruitment process, which is hardly professional or independent. It is reinforced by poor remuneration that encourages civil servants to seek extra income, an appointment system that forces civil servants to build political patronage and affiliation and the lack of a proper appraisal of individual performance.

As the saying among civil servants goes, “smart or dumb, equal income”. There is neither appreciation for achievement and good performance, nor sanction for violations or poor performance. In fact, no matter how bad a civil servants’ work, they cannot be fired unless they commit serious violations such as crime or subversion.

These three types of corruption form a vicious circle that synergies each other and, hence, generates an extremely low standard, inefficient and corrupt government. This results in an administration hampered by a poor quality of service and development, an opportunistic mentality and rampant abuse of power.

The government ends up being more of a hindrance than a help. In daily life, corruption becomes endemic, at the street level, in procurement, in law enforcement and most dangerously, corruption becomes policy.

The difficulty in creating a clean and efficient bureaucracy is made worse by systemic resistance to change within the bureaucracy. The recent case centering on Law and Human Rights Deputy Minister Denny Indrayana, who is accused of slapping a prison guard in Pekanbaru, illustrates this. The accusation has invoked l’esprit de corps of the guards and led to overblown media coverage and public commentary revolving around the slapping incident rather than the goal of creating a clean and drug free environment in our prisons.

This is an example of the hardest challenge in creating a clean and efficient bureaucracy; the systematic criminality involving certain elements within the bureaucracy, politicians, law enforcers and businessmen with vested economic and political interests. The drugs business, much of which is controlled from inside prisons, is quite simply not the behavior of a few individuals, but rather a systemic crime within the bureaucracy.

All these problems are systemic by nature, and therefore must be addressed through system improvement. Thus, a serious and strong commitment is a prerequisite to building a clean and efficient government.

The easiest way to do so is to get to the root of the problems. Political corruption will take a long time to eradicate, as it can be only be solved through simplifying political parties and establishing meritocracy in politics. It requires the revision of various political laws, including the political party and election laws.

The most feasible changes the President can initiate are in the judicial system and in the bureaucracy. Improvements in law enforcement are more practical as that falls under the President’s auspices, at least when it is related to investigation and prosecution. Reforms can be realized through the professional and independent recruitment of prosecutors and police, objective and accurate performance appraisal, proper and sufficient remuneration, strict sanctions against offenders and a performance-based career system.

As for judges, the authority to change the system rests with the Supreme Court and Judicial Commission.

Corruption in the bureaucracy can be overcome only through the strong commitment of Cabinet ministers and regional heads to reform. As bureaucratic reform has become a national priority in the current administration, and a number of reform agendas have been drafted by the ministry of state apparatus empowerment and bureaucratic reform, then political support and the commitment of ministers and regional heads are vital to accelerate successful bureaucratic reform.

Only through political, judicial and bureaucratic reform can a clean and efficient government emerge, albeit gradually.


Notice: This opinion article has been displayed in an online newspaper, The Jakarta Post, in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Thursday, 12 April 2012. It is also able to be searched at: [accessed in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia: 22 April 2012].

The writer is Deputy Minister of Administrative Reform in Jakarta, Indonesia.



  1. Salut buat pak Wakil Menteri, di sela-sela kesibukan beliau, masih sempat menulis pikiran yang jernih tentang birokrasi dan masalah korupsi di Indonesia.

  2. Harusnya bapak jadi Dosen, sebab banyak Dosen yang cara berpikirnya seperti Pejabat, hobinya OMDO alias omong doang, dan tidak ada karya ilmiahnya. Sekali menulis karya ilmiah, pak Dosen itu terkena kasus plagiat. Weleh2 dunia mau kiamat!

  3. Di Malaysia lagi teruk. Penjawat awam tak punya kebolehan untuk menulis kerana minda kurang cabaran. Kita ni, bangsa Melayu, tak setakat lemah minda dan oleh itu mudah lupa, tapi juga suka “cakap besar” dan sikit sahaja kerja kuat, apatah lagi kerja menulis. Tak nak la, sukar sangat tu.


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