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Jakarta Post
The Jakarta Post
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Creating a network of reformers

  • Kuntoro Mangkusubroto

    The Jakarta Post

Paris | Thu, October 2, 2014 | 10:44 am

Tuesday Sept. 30 marked the last day of Indonesia as the lead chair of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) movement. Mexico assumed this role starting on Oct. 1. Some of us were together in New York last Wednesday to celebrate the third anniversary of the OGP, which has grown from eight to 65 countries.

This year alone, Tunisia, France and Bosnia Herzegovina joined the OGP. At the event, we also launched the OGP four-year strategy to ensure that our movement delivers real impact for citizens.

On Sept. 19, 2006, I began work as executive director of the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency (BRR), our government agency responsible for the post-Indian Ocean tsunami reconstruction in Aceh province '€” the area worst hit by the disaster of Dec. 26, 2004. That afternoon, after days of protests, over 2,000 men, women and children who were still living in barracks, marched onto our lawn, demanding the right to receive grants and to self-govern the housing rehabilitation program.

My team and I met with the protest leaders for hours. We worked with the local police to secure the demonstration and to avoid violence. But the leaders were in no mood for negotiation.

At approximately 11:45 p.m., Metro TV, a national news channel, broadcast a line of running text stating '€œKuntoro Mangkusubroto held hostage by demonstrators'€. The protesters stayed put in our office compound overnight.

The next morning, the demonstration was broken up. The masses stoned the police officers and a number of people were injured, including a police officer.

After the protest I turned to my team to drive them to further improve our performance in delivering houses and in providing alternative livelihoods for those still struggling to bounce back after the tsunami. In four years, we built over 140,000 permanent houses.

The idea of demonstrating in order to have a real say in policy was then a relative novelty in Indonesia '€” a country where democracy was abruptly introduced just less than two decades ago, and now it is the third-largest democracy in the world with 240 millions people.

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Open government will not be possible without the hard work of those inside and outside the government.

Today, we see countries where people are demanding more from their government. What we see from Scotland, Catalonia, Egypt and Hong Kong are just examples. We cannot assume that government is there for the sake of its people. Democracy'€™s next challenge, our next challenge, is how to fill democracy in our daily lives.

How do we put in place the tools and mechanisms for policy making that will provide citizens with an alternative to taking to the streets to voice discontent with the government? This is the void that can be filled by our work in open
government.

Our partnership can help ensure delivery of better services and more targeted policies, and ensure that people can effectively participate in their government in peace.

To me, open government is about improving the policy-making process. The question we must address is '€œHow do we meet the needs of the people?'€ It will require more than commitments and support for open data or open budgets or access to information.

First, it will require humility and a willingness to listen to the people. You are here because you believe reform can help improve how you deliver the services to the citizens in your country.

No matter how clever or innovative your commitments may be, the citizens will not readily accept your programs if they do not have faith in the system.

To build citizens'€™ trust in open government, we must show that we are willing to listen to them. It means we must actively engage them, and put them at the center of our development agenda.

Second, we must improve data literacy and data usage rates. In Indonesia, data has been kept hidden from citizens because data is power. Data is money.

While many government agencies have taken on open-data initiatives as a way to improve their efficiency and transparency, we must admit that the data literacy rate and thus data usage rate is still very poor.

If we want citizens to use the data, if we want open data to become a tool for greater accountability, we need more educated citizens. To this end, we need to improve data literacy and the availability of meaningful data. Also, our friends in civil society need support to raise awareness on the new role citizens can play with the wider accessibility of data.

Lastly, we must support reformers at all levels. Open government will not be possible without the hard work of those inside and outside the government who believe in change for the better.

But they are challenged by bureaucratic behemoths that would like to maintain the status quo.

We must rally, exchange ideas and galvanize support for reformers in national and sub-national levels who are working tirelessly to take concrete steps in promoting transparency, combating corruption and capitalizing on new technologies to strengthen democracy. This is what the OGP is all about '€” to create a network of reformers because we cannot innovate alone.

Our network of reformers will help to create small islands of effectiveness and accountability that will help push forward this rising tide of open government.

Indonesia is honored to be the co-chair of a new initiative, the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) Network on Open and Innovative Government in Southeast Asia, a collaborative effort to promote open government policies and strengthen open government actions in Southeast Asia.

After four years in Aceh, and seeing countless protests and criticisms of the management of housing and funds and the speed of recovery, one of my deputies remarked, '€œWe should thank them for every demonstration, critique, item of ridicule or even sabotage that was addressed toward the BRR.

'€œWhy so? Because those were the things that pushed the BRR crew to work even harder to improve its performance.'€

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The above is abridged from a keynote speech by the writer, the chairman of the Presidential Working Unit for the Supervision and Management of Development ( UKP4 ) at the International Forum on Open Government held by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris on Sept. 30.

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