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Jakarta Post

EDITORIAL: Open or perish


    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, December 14, 2017   /   08:02 am
EDITORIAL: Open or perish Jakarta civil servants attend a ceremony at the National Monument (Monas) park in Central Jakarta. (Antara/Rivan Awal Lingga)

Throughout most of its modern history, bureaucracy in Indonesia has operated under the shroud of secrecy. In the late period of the New Order regime, bureaucracy’s key role was aiding and abetting the unchecked collection of rent from the economy to benefit members of the ruling elite, while at the same time, controlling the lives of average people.

The most well-known joke from those tired of red-tape under the New Order regime was, “If the bureaucracy can make it difficult, why should it make things easier?”

Reformasi (Reformation), which marked an end to the New Order in 1998, was campaigned to put a stop to the practice. One of the first initiatives rolled out during the early Reformasi era was bureaucratic reform aimed at achieving an accessible, accountable and open government. Starting in the early 2000s, both the central and local governments took initiatives to promote transparency.

Enlightened local leaders, like East Java’s Surabaya Mayor Tri Rismaharini, created in 2012 an electronic budgeting system, popularly known as e-budgeting, which was later adopted by the Jakarta administration under the leadership of then-governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama. Under the e-budgeting system in Jakarta, online software is used to write the city budget and only selected officials can access the system to make changes.

Also introduced in 2013 was LAPOR! (Report!), a public service complaint system through which citizens could go online to air their grievances on numerous issues, from neighborhood garbage collection to endemic corruption.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has also made transparency and open government his main campaign promise. In the past three years, Jokowi continued rolling out reform packages that would, in the end, enable him set up a single-submission system for all types of business and investment permits.

Having done all these, it seems fitting that at the international level, Indonesia could take the initiative to promote open government. Indonesia was one of eight countries that initiated the establishment of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in 2011. The OGP is a platform of cooperation for civil society to exchange experience, knowledge, benefits and greater opportunities for more open practices.

On Thursday, Indonesia will join 14 Asia-Pacific members of the OGP to discuss ways to implement transparency and principles of good governance at the 2017 Asia Pacific Leaders Forum (APLF) on Open Government.

The meeting comes at a crucial time when the world is undergoing a sweeping change that could affect how governments conduct their business, which is delivering public services to all without hassle. Especially for Indonesia, this means overhauling its bureaucratic culture from pangreh praja (ruler) to pamong praja (public servant). An open government is unavoidable. The growing power of the internet has made it very difficult for those in power or the wealthy to hide wrongdoings and assets. Wikileaks, the Panama Papers and Paradise Papers are testaments to the rising demand for transparency, now that the world is turning flat.

Governments, including that of Indonesia, has no choice but to advance openness, or else they will perish.