For the past eighteen months, the most talked about issue in Indonesian policy circles has centered on governance as the key solution to Indonesia’s economic recovery. Governance__both in officialdom, as well as in corporate as well as in civic society__was the key to stabilizing the economy as macro economic indicators began to improve: inflation was well under control, the government’s reserves peaked at $43 billion, economic growth rate at a respectable if not spectacular 5,4%, and there are plans to repay ahead of schedule the IMF $2.4 billion__about half of Indonesia’s outstanding debt.
Governance was the issue at all levels__national, provincial, local (regency, district) because the key problem since May 1998 was that as Indonesia was becoming democratic (at least for those who can afford it and whose basics needs are met) everyone recognized that democracy had to be substantiated by efficacy. The ability of the government, of private corporations and of all civic groups to make things happen and get things done rested on this single ability to energize government, corporations and advocacy groups.
Governance was the buzz word in all multilateral agency discussions. And it all depended on decisiveness and drive on the part of all government officials, from the top down to the lowest local unit. Both decisiveness and drive would ensure the most cherished dream among all government planners: the ability to deliver.
People talked about no democracy but substantial efficacy during Suharto’s time. Post May-1998, there was democracy aplenty, but little efficacy. Presidents Habibie, Wahid and Megawati, according to a former senior economics minister who served under Suharto, were just “passing through presidents”. Both Sukarno and Suharto, he said, were “real leaders who commanded authority and respect; whatever your opinion about their respective personal shortcomings, their personal authority made bureaucracy able to deliver.” He went on to warn, rather ominously, ” We cannot afford SBY to fail, and we must help him regain the ability to get his personal authority be felt within the myriad layers of the bureaucracy.”
The trick, of course is to balance the imperative to maintain of consensus-building through constant re-alignments within each faction in government (the vertical aspect of coordination and implementation) as well as in harnessing cross-departmental synergy (the much more difficult horizontal governmental inter-face). Getting things done may entail the need to be firm and___ when necessary___ authoritarian, if only temporarily. At some point, leaders at all levels must be able to occasionally show their sharper edges and be ruthless.
Governance and delivery will be the key issues in the run up to elections of 2009, particularly in the economic realm. With 36 million Indonesians living on less than two dollars a day, 10 million openly unemployed and 60 million needing direct cash transfers until the end of 2006, the “great ascent” for the next 18 months will be to aim for more efficacy, more governance and more delivery. In the perennial debate between democracy and efficacy, no perfection solution can be achieved. Indonesia is too diverse to govern efficiently.
But sixty percent success rate should be enough to halve the numbers of the poor, the unemployed and the desperate to enable them climb the social ladder, replenish their audacity of hope and reinforce governmental confidence to improve governance and deliver for the next set of challenges.