Yuddy Chrisnandi, Leading the Mental Revolution


JANUARY 04, 2015

Jakarta. Yuddy Chrisnandi has a tough job ahead of him. While in earlier administrations the Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform Ministry was a quiet backwater where nothing much ever happened, now it is at the forefront of attempts to get Indonesia's civil service really working to build the country.

Under the administration of President Joko Widodo, the ministry has developed a new life. It plays an important role to spearhead the "mental revolution" among the country's bureaucracy, a slogan that was a major theme of Joko's presidential campaign.

The choice of Yuddy for the ministerial post raised doubts at first. The 46-year-old politician from the People's Conscience Party (Hanura) was considered too short on experience to lead the much-needed bureaucratic reform.

The ministry takes care of administrative matters related to human resources, personnel, governance and standards of public service for both the central and local governments. It also oversees the accountability of the state apparatus.

Now, after more than two months, Yuddy has proved to the public that change is happening within the new government.

On Dec. 15, Yuddy dropped a bombshell by ordering a freeze on the hiring of new civil servants at all levels, citing the need to increase efficiency in public spending.

"The moratorium actually is not something new. It was done by the previous administration. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono put in place a moratorium on the hiring of civil servants from 2012 to 2013," Yuddy, a legislator with the Golkar Party from 2004 to 2009, told GlobeAsia. This time around, the moratorium will start in early 2015 and will last for five years.

"Please don't get paranoid. We don't mean to sack civil servants," he added.

"We would like to review the effectiveness of the public services. Do we want to have many civil servants but not be productive, or a leaner structure of civil servants but satisfy the public?"

Reviewing the number of civil servants will not only improve the efficiency of state spending, but also improve the performance, productivity and quality of the state apparatus, Yuddy said.

The moratorium, he said, is the response of the Jokowi administration to long-standing complaints from the public about poor public services.

Four million pencil pushers

Indonesia now has 4.32 million civil servants. State spending for their salaries stands at Rp 850 trillion ($67.9 billion), or 41 percent of the Rp 2,900 trillion to be spent in the 2015 budget.

"This amount is not healthy. The moratorium can stop the additional cost of adding new officials and will also impact on capital and goods spending by the government," Yuddy said.

Within the next five years, about 584,000 public servants will retire, and not replacing them will mean trillions of rupiah in savings, he added.

This policy is part of a series of budget efficiency moves sought by Joko, who has also issued a directive on what he calls the "Humble Life Movement" for public servants, which aims to disabuse government officials of their attitude of entitlement.

Other reform efforts include an order for public servants to limit the number of guests at wedding receptions to just 400, and other directives to prevent public displays of extravagance.

Less money will be spent on sending condolences messages, and spending on public relations activities will be limited.

The directives apply to cabinet members, top military and police generals, and other high-ranking government officials, including mayors and district heads. The policy comes into force this month in an attempt to curtail the practice of high-ranking public officials holding lavish parties and inviting thousands of guests to events at luxury hotels or resort areas when they host the weddings of relatives.

Yuddy's ministry has also ordered that the food presented at government functions should be traditional Indonesian fare such as cassava, yam cakes and steamed corn, instead of fancy foreign food.

This policy is a follow-up from a previous policy that requires government officials to only use state facilities for any government meetings.

That means no more official meetings at hotels and villas.

"Jokowi said public servants in this country should set an example to the people to live a modest, humble life," he said.

Any government official breaching the policy will face tough sanctions, including demotion and postponement of bonuses.

Hariyadi Sukamdani, the new chairman of the Indonesian Employers Association (Apindo), said he was pleased with some of the changes introduced by the administration by way of Yuddy's ministry.

Still, he said, the public wants to see more proof of change, especially in the quality of public services.

"There is not much change with regard to the service to the public. But I am happy to see the news [about the new rules]. Let's give them some time. They probably just started working fully in November, so we can tell what difference there may be soon," said Hariyadi, a veteran businessman with experience in the hotel, textiles and media industries.

How confident is he about the ministers and other high-level officials in Jokowi's administration, including Yuddy? Hariyadi responds: "It is hard to make any judgments now. Take the example of Sri Mulyani [Indrawati, a former finance minister]. I knew her when she was an academic, I used to doubt whether she was up to the job of finance minister, but she did it. So let's give them some time before we pass judgment."

Once a leading figure in Golkar, Yuddy joined the race for the party chair in 2009, but lost to Aburizal Bakrie.

He then decided to move to Hanura, which is led by another former high-profile Golkar figure, Wiranto, a former armed forces commander.

Hanura threw its weight behind Joko during the 2014 presidential race.

In the past, Yuddy taught politics at universities including the University of Indonesia, where he was a faculty member at the School of Social and Political Sciences.

He also has experience as a bureaucrat. Between 2001 and 2002 he served as a member of the special staff to then-vice president Hamzah Haz, during the presidency of Megawati Soekarnoputri.

Yuddy still has a lot of work to do to clean up the tarnished image of Indonesia's bureaucracy. One of the hardest jobs he will have to tackle is the overlapping authority of government agencies, which has resulted in a complicated bureaucracy that gives businesses a hard time.

Many high-level officials serving in various sectors, from energy to sports to religious affairs, under the Yudhoyono administration have been implicated in high-profile corruption cases.