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Melbourne, 3 Juli 2019

A recent high-profile case of alleged bribery(link is external) for promotions in the Religious Affairs Ministry is just one small example of the deep-seated corruption still infecting Indonesia’s civil service. The case, which involved Lukman Hakim Saifuddin, Minister for Religious Affairs, and Muhammad Romahurmuziy, until recently the chair of the United Development Party (PPP), demonstrates the uphill battle faced by the government to reform the bureaucracy.

Bureaucratic reform aims to achieve good governance – clean, accountable, effective, efficient, and able to provide high quality public services. For reform to be effective it must address organisational management, business processes and human resources. It is a strategic effort to develop a state apparatus capable of assuming the public duties of governance and national development.

Yet despite efforts to this end, corruption remains rampant in Indonesia’s civil service. According to data from the State Civil Service Agency (BKN), there are at least 2,357 civil servants currently caught up in corruption cases, including 98 at the central government level and 2,259 in the regions.

This situation is made worse by weak monitoring of performance, particularly in regard to the use of budgetary funds, as well as insufficient punishment of those found guilty of corruption. As of 2018, only 317 of the thousands of civil servants just mentioned had been dishonourably discharged from service.

Without firmer consequences, alleged corruptors can remain in their positions in the civil service, collecting their salary each month and potentially placing an increasing burden on state resources.

And these problems are just as bad in the regions. Many district heads in 2018 were picked up by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) for receiving bribes, buying and selling positions of power, or otherwise engaging in corruption of budget funds, including the leaders of Klaten in Central Java, Cirebon in West Java, Jombang in East Java, East Halmahera in Northern Maluku, as well as the mayor of Kendari City, the governor of Aceh, and many others. The five provinces known to have the highest levels of civil service corruption are North Sumatra, West Java, Riau, East Nusa Tenggara, and Papua.

A pattern of corruption

Successive administrations have made efforts to combat these problems. During President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s second term, he issued a regulation on a “Grand Design for Bureaucratic Reform” for 2010-2025 (Perpres No. 81 of 2010). The aim was to create a state bureaucracy of high professionalism and integrity.

Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s ‘Working Cabinet’ carried this ideal forward by introducing laws on the Civil Service Apparatus (Law No. 5 of 2014) and Government Administration (Law No. 30 of 2014). The two laws were meant to embody the spirit of the second priority of Jokowi’s ‘Nawacita’ development agenda: “To ensure the people feel that the government is working for them by developing governance that is clean, effective, democratic, and trustworthy.”

Unfortunately, these efforts to achieve clean, corruption-free governance are yet to bear results. Buying and selling positions of power, embezzlement, bribery and other corrupt practices continue routinely at all levels of government.

The repeated reports of corruption within the Religious Affairs Ministry are a case in point. The latest scandal is certainly not the first to rock the ministry. In 2006, a former minister, Said Agil Husin Al Munawar, was sentenced to five years in jail and ordered to pay a fine of Rp 200 million (AU$20,000) for embezzling Rp 719 billion (AU$74 million) intended for the hajj pilgrimage and the Ummah Endowment Fund (Dana Abadi Umat).

Another case involved graft in the procurement of Qur’ans under the 2011 and 2012 state budgets, ensnaring former Golkar figures Zulkarnaen Djabar, his son Dendy Prasetia, fellow politician Fahd El Fouz, and others within the ministry. State losses in this case were estimated to have reached Rp 27 billion (AU$ 2.7 million).

A third case involved Yudhoyono-era Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali, and the embezzlement of funds intended for the hajj and ministerial operations, totalling Rp 27.2 billion (AU$ 2.7 million) and 17.9 million Saudi riyal (AU$ 6.8 million).

Case by case, we see corrupt behaviour repeated in the Religious Affairs Ministry, as if the earlier cases never happened. In fact, according to BKN data, the ministry now ranks as the government’s second-most corrupt, following the Transportation Ministry

The task ahead

In the Religious Affairs Ministry, the current scandal serves as a reminder of the potential for political intervention in ministry appointments, made possible by the enormous authority wielded by the minister in determining how ministry positions are filled – including the heads of the regional offices (33 at the provincial level and more than 400 at the district or municipal level), and even in appointing the rectors of religious higher education institutions(link is external) (25 institutions in total) – especially when leaders in the ministry happen to come from the same party.

Then there is the issue of raising funds for political campaigning. It is important to keep in mind that the corrupt acts in the current Religious Affairs Ministry scandal took place before the 2019 general election. PPP chair Muhammad Romahurmuziy was under pressure to retain the 39 seats his party had secured in the House of Representatives (DPR) in 2014. With a senior PPP figure as minister of religious affairs, PPP likely viewed the ministry as an opportunity to raise funds.

Finally, the weakness of internal monitoring in ministries raises big problems for bureaucratic reform. In 2019, the Religious Affairs Ministry allocated Rp 163.5 billion (AU$16.7 million) to its “Program for Monitoring and Increasing Accountability”. Despite the large amount budgeted for oversight, ministers are almost untouchable by the inspectorate in their respective ministries, so cases of buying and selling positions of power can still occur at the highest level.

Now that the ministry has the attention of the KPK, hopefully authorities can take bigger steps toward their stated aspirations for bureaucratic reform, both for the ministry and for the country as a whole. Otherwise, commitment to bureaucratic reform in Indonesia will remain not much more than jargon.


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