Monday, August 27, 2012

Rethinking Indonesia’s bureaucratic reform

In this article, Gatot recommends the easiest thing that can be implemented in the public sector reform without major investments in time and money, i.e. changing the mode of interaction with the public. One of the examples is when providing ID cards. It is recommended the process start by prompting citizens with ID cards about to expire one month in advance through a short message service (SMS), which can easily be supported by information technology. 

Based on my knowledge, what is recommended by Gatot has been implemented by some local governments. Unfortunately, there is a problem in maintaining the system. One of the problem is local governments have to support the budget for sending SMS, which is not cheap. Finally, without enough budget, they close the SMS system. It means to make it success bureaucratic reform should be supported with broader reform, including public financial management reform. That is the reason why some foreign governments do not like to use the term of bureaucratic reform, like Korea. They use the term of Korea Reform. 

When we use the term of bureaucratic reform, we only think that the main problem is in the bureaucratic. Another problem, it would be difficult to receive direct support from bureaucratic. There would be a misunderstanding among bureaucratic people that bureaucratic reform is like fighting public service officers. Sometimes we do not understand that the term of bureaucratic reform has made the perception that public service officers are the enemies of the reform. 

To summarize, if we want to have better result in public sector reform, it is better to use public sector reform or bureaucratic reform rather than bureaucratic reform. 

Rethinking Indonesia’s bureaucratic reform

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Paper Edition | Page: 7
Tapscott and William’s Macrowikinomics (2010) discusses a mind-boggling topic entitled “Creating Public Value: Government as a Platform for Social Achievement” in chapter 14. The topic is definitely in line with the ultimate aim of Indonesia’s bureaucratic reform: Creating clean government that provides excellent services to its people, with creating public value a major theme

In some ways, bureaucratic reform has been mistakenly perceived by some as a generous government initiative to provide additional income to civil servants through what is called a performance bonus. This perception has sparked negative views among civil servants themselves as the bonus is not directly linked to performance but rather to punctuality, or clocking in and out of the office, which is far from the aim of provide excellent services to create public value.

We must think back the long-term vision to achieve world class government by 2025 and evaluate what we have done so far, ensuring the actions taken are heading in that direction. The major issues in bureaucratic reform have long been identified and they revolve around two categories: systems such as structures, processes, and procedures; and people. Both are important as no change happens without them.

There is no way of implementing a new system without providing adequate skills, knowledge and attitudes to the people who will carry out the new system. There will be no fundamental change if we focus only on attitudes, without changing processes or procedures.

In any change initiative, two things emerge. The first is comprised new processes, new procedures, new structures, new facilities and the like, which require new skills to perform. The second and most important is the attitude of the people who perform the new tasks. Building new attitudes is much more important than new skills. People with new attitudes will behave openly to new ideas and exhibit strong will in delivering the best they can.

Focusing too much on building new skills and capabilities — put aside the attitude building — will foster mediocrity. Why? People with the right attitudes will act all-out as they know why they do what they do, as the vision in their minds is very clear. Government agencies must first focus their efforts on building new attitudes as a critical component of their reform agenda.

The next question is what attitudes? It must link somehow with the ultimate aim of reform where clean government basically requires people with integrity. To provide excellent services to the public, proficient civil servants are required. So, these two attitudes — integrity and proficiency — are very critical to making bureaucratic reform materialize.

The second attitude has a direct link to skills development, as being proficient means being skillful. There are soft components of “being proficient” that have something to do with attitudes, for example responding promptly to requests from the public or citizens over the phone or through direct interaction, acknowledging citizens who come to the office, treating citizens politely and the like. These attitudes have little to do with proficiency but are critical to providing an excellent service.

 Max Weber, the earliest proponent of bureaucracy, said the main elements of bureaucracy were hierarchy, the division of labor, a set of standard operating procedures and impersonal relationships. Knowing this, it is imperative to start reform by focusing on some of these elements, such as changing hierarchy through massive organizational restructuring.

Executed properly, this will serve as high leverage of reform as the public will see that the agency is seriously taking charge of change to improve its services to the public. However, this exercise is painful and it typically creates resistance from people in the agency. Much preparatory work must be carried out carefully, crafted by the top leader of the agency, addressing the concerns and expectations of those impacted and how the agency will treat them.

There are other, simple things that can be implemented without major investments in time and money but that can still generate a significant public impact. The easiest thing is to change the mode of interaction with the public.

Let’s take a simple example of providing identity cards to the public at local government through to village leader level. The process can start by prompting citizens with ID cards about to expire one month in advance so that they are reminded. With the advance of telecommunication technology this can be easily done through a short message service (SMS) using a mobile phone. This also can be done by local police using driving licenses. There is no reason for not being able to do it as they know when the ID cards or driving licenses are about to expire.

Other simple things include building punctuality in delivering promises to citizens as well as conducting internal meetings, releasing special car park spaces usually allotted to Echelon 1 staff to guests/citizens, reporting the personal assets of civil servants, halting the use of office facilities (cars, office space, etc.) for personal use, stopping the receipt of gratuities when visiting local governments and the like.

All these simple things do not require major efforts, but they do require strong will, especially from those in top positions, to set good examples for others to follow. Remember, our culture tends to look at what the people at the top are doing before people are ready to follow.

Having had the right attitudes and implemented simple things, there is then a need to standardize the practice so that the outputs and outcomes can be precisely predicted through the use of information technology.

One may question the huge investment in the deployment of IT. But hold on. If local governments such as Surabaya or Pekalongan can make it happen, then why not the central government at ministry level?

Let’s learn from Vivek Kundra — the federal chief information officer in the District of Columbia, US. Where most governments build mainframes and buy expensive software, Kundra is encouraging federal agencies to use free Google services and open-source wikis for everything from word processing to performance measurement to service improvement. He calls it the government cloud, but think “app store for government” — a place where employees can access a vast ecosystem of secure applications and data sets for doing their jobs.
(Macrowikinomics, p. 259).

The Pekalongan mayor said clearly that during his administration he instructed his employees to use open source software so that they were free of any possible legal cases. The message is clear that making the best use of IT does not necessarily correspond to a huge investment in IT infrastructure. Software can be obtained from an open source. The chief reason to use IT is to secure standard, accurate and quick services to the citizens and obviously to eliminate possible bribery — so it creates clean government.

To summarize, all three things: attitude building, making actions with simple things and making the best use of IT are critical to making the reform agenda “fly” and not stay at the planning stage, never being implemented. At the outset, all of these things are deployed with VALUE principle in mind: Vision and Action Lead Us to Excellence.

Vision without action is just a dream, action without vision is just an activity, but when combined, both create sustainable value for the public.

The writer is a change management adviser to the vice minister’s Functional Team at the Administrative Reforms Ministry. The opinions expressed are his own.

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