25/09/2007 (The Jakarta Post) - A lack of coordination between government institutions is one of the main problems to face Indonesia over the past few years. Some examples should demonstrate the gravity of the problem.
Let us start with Indonesia's trade liberalization policy. Legally speaking, the Ministry of Trade has a mandate to formulate liberalization policy in all trade negotiations with other countries either bilaterally, regionally or multilaterally. Strangely, however, the agency in charge of customs clearance does not fall under the Ministry of Trade but the Ministry of Finance.
One can easily imagine what would happen if the customs agency was overwhelmed by smugglers. The energy spent by the Ministry of Trade on negotiations and protecting the interests of domestic producers -- by classifying products as either highly sensitive or less sensitive -- would all be for nothing.
The government's response to the recent rise in the price of cooking oil is another example. While the government has decided to control the price through a so-called "market operation", it has made no sound explanation of whether this would affect palm oil growers and industries.
Since palm oil farmers and businesses are constituents of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Industry respectively, the policy of price control would have an affect on the performance of these two ministries. Moreover, it is essential that the government explain to the pubic who gains and suffers the most from the introduction of a new economic policy.
If this norm is not taken into account in policy making then the question of whether the government has allocated national resources rationally and efficiently will continually be up for debate.
Strengthening coordination is not only badly needed in the economic sector but in the security sector as well. Creating solid coordination between the Indonesian Military (TNI), the police and the intelligence agencies remains a gigantic task in the years to come.
The main problem lies in the fact that the security agencies have not yet reached a consensus on how "national security" should be defined. The main feature of interaction between security agencies seems to be a spirit of competition rather than cooperation.
Although the government has a number of coordinating ministries, and although a mechanism for inter-departmental meetings has been in place for years, the tendency for bureaucratic infighting lives on.
This tendency seems to have become stronger recently, with each department and state agency having taken the opportunity of the reform era to advance their own interests. Claiming that they need to specialize their institutional functions, each department has sought to approach the House of Representatives to introduce new laws.
The introduction of numerous laws over the last few years has often been used to protect myopic institutional interests and to gain more authority. This in turn creates greater problems for law enforcement.
This has been the problem with smuggling prevention efforts, where the government has decided to now allow police to exercise authority in customs areas.
It seems that the cause of this widespread lack of coordination is partly the way public policy issues have been discussed. The saying "the devil is in the detail" seems unpopular in policy making these days. Attention to detail is dismissed as an expression of the technocratic values of the New Order regime.
While technocratic values require specialists who have mastered the complicated details of particular problems, the current period of democratic transition seems to be more occupied with leading the entire public to discuss entire issues. Under these circumstances, effective coordination is out of the question.
This is not to say that understanding the details is more important than understanding the guidelines. Both them are equally important and interconnected. The linkage can be compared to a squadron of air force planes on a bombing raid. Understanding the guidelines is like understanding the targeted area of the enemy's territory, and directing all the pilots to fly there. Understanding the details is like giving the pilots the exact coordinates for where they should drop their bombs.
Coordination necessitates prior knowledge of the exact target of a policy. Coordination is like the hinge of window. Although it is small in size, a hinge is essential for a window to open effectively. In a democratic political system, the question of how to make the window open is the responsibility of the elected national leadership.
Democratic authority should be used to take brave measures to avoid excessive departmentalism. Otherwise, coordination will be more fantasy than fact in this country.