The Jakarta Post
Joko Widodo, famously known as Jokowi, has risen from the obscurity of the relatively small city of Surakarta in Central Java to become Jakarta governor and now the frontrunner in the presidential election.
Many of his opponents have begun to accuse him of practicing 'political imagery' lacking authenticity. I would relate it to how the current development of Jakarta has been viewed by some as an achievement while some others deem it as a failure.
For a long time, market-driven policies have been at the forefront of almost every public policy in the world. The issues have always been possible policy intervention by the government and effectiveness of such actions to provide
not only public services but also policies that are intended for poverty alleviation and income gap mitigation.
In most developed nations, it has been realized that the market has inherently failed to provide basic needs. This was the main reasoning for the passage of the Affordable Care Act in the US to help the uninsured people receive health care.
Market forces are driven a lot by competition that will jeopardize those who can't compete or alienate them, forcing them to make adjustments that would enable them to coexist. With respect to poverty, the story evolves not about 'existing' or 'not existing' but about 'life' and 'death' and the prospects of the future generation. This justifies government intervention especially in the provision of basic necessities.
Relying only on numbers might be misleading. Some say that the Indonesian poverty rate has declined and has been relatively small based on data from the Central Statistics Agency (BPS).
A recent analysis from Harvard economists (ASH, 2011) indicated that the number of poor people would triple should the poverty rate go up by one-fourth.
How should an effective policy be formulated? Relying on the bureaucratic structure to address and implement a policy in the corruption-prone environment looks difficult or even impossible.
This is where Jokowi's instinct plays a significant role. Instead of delving himself into a continuous blame game, he shows leadership by injecting himself directly into the problem, understanding it and designing potential solutions.
From the public policy perspective, what Jokowi has done as governor of Jakarta is to break up the structural flaws of the old system. He has introduced a new structure to deliver public-oriented policies in an effective and efficient fashion.
For decades, the image of slow and low quality responses by local government officers has been nailed into most of the people's mind. It has dashed hopes of what is supposed to be quality living in a big city as Jakarta.
The common symptoms found in the execution of many Indonesian public policies would be a lack of adequate control and monitoring process and over self-reliance on few individuals or groups to sincerely advocate for that.
Undoubtedly, when the effectiveness of public policies is in question, it indicates flaws in the system itself. Relying on a self-correcting mechanism will take time and impatient people would readily stigmatize the government for its inaction.
Breaking the cycle of bad stigmatization would be the first priority to achieve and not many politicians have sincere guts to do that. Jokowi is surely one of the few.
There are many reasons to prefer the status quo and the inability of the government to challenge the established system may have roots in self-enrichment. The answer is simple: Inaction should be faced with action.
The actions have to be, first, objectively measurable with with a slim possibility for different interpretations; and second, sustainable enough that some of the desirable results would be obtained.
While the first can easily be imitated, the second is much more difficult. Some politicians have tried to do the first one with relative success but failed miserably in the second.
Jokowi may not be very successful in the first one but he has surely gained trust from the people for persistently showing his mettle to make improvements and work for change. One can point out easily how Jakarta is still beridden with many unresolved problems.
Everyone may even agree that Jakarta remains home to the worst traffic jams in the world and floods in rainy seasons.
Not only that, undocumented residents as a result of urbanization remain a major contributor to poverty and income inequality as well as many other social problems plaguing Jakarta.
The governor's direct intervention may be a way to ignite change but it will not last long. Eventually, Jokowi has to come up with a new way to reform the system itself.
The reform of the system is a 'must' and the sincerity to make it work should be put in the mind of every future local and national leader. Or else we won't be able to move forward and may constantly be haunted by a high-cost economy and low public confidence.
It will push out the real investment and generate misallocation of resources, which will eventually slow economic growth.
The writer, an economist who graduated from Cornell University, is a post-doctoral fellow at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University,in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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