A woman walks past a PDI-P mural. Major political parties' endorsements may decide the outcome of the Jakarta governor race next year, experts believe. (Antara Photo/Rudi Mulya)

Commentary: Integrity Matters as PDI-P Educates Potential Regional Leaders

JULY 02, 2015

Sixteen years after the reform era began, the Indonesian Democracy Party of Struggle, or PDI-P, has realized the need to school its politicians ahead of local elections in a political education program to prepare eligible credible candidates for the elections. There are now 137 candidates enrolled in these classes under the supervision and education of mentors.

A hope for a better future

Before the PDI-P started the political school last Sunday, skeptics believed that there was little to no hope of upgrading the quality of politicians. On the flip side, however, the PDI-P is taking drastic steps to reform the system and it is time for other parties to follow suit. These measures are to equip would-be regional leaders with a broad vision of state governance and necessary state administrative knowledge so that they don’t spend too much time learning all the basics once in office.

Supporters have urged the PDI-P to take it a step further and reveal the curriculum and names of the mentors so that candidates can receive recognition for their credibility as graduates from the school; it would also assist the public in assessing their options for upcoming elections.

Critics have called the move one that is long overdue, citing that the Foreign Ministry has for decades made it compulsory for every would-be Indonesian ambassador to attend foreign service courses.

Is the measure enough?

This brings us to a very interesting question: Can Indonesia build a school that is founded on principles of integrity, that turns future bureaucratic leaders into exemplary government leaders? Another main issue with this is finding the right teachers to bring this into effect.

Another problem with Indonesian society is that even brilliant scholars with a high level of integrity and a good reputation often become spoiled once they are in government. The deep-seated roots of corruption linger so much so that the following analogy can be drawn: when the room is dirty, the broom used to clean it will also become dirty.

Suharto-era chief justice Ali Said once said that corruption was not caused by temptations from the devil because Satan did not need money. “If it were caused by temptations from the devil, we could easily get rid of them by calling in religious leaders to say some prayer and the devil would run away,” he said, explaining that there were other motivations drawing people to commit corruption.

The Lippo Group’s CEO cum educational patron James T. Riady shared his views that only a holistic education could develop a noble character, and this goes further than simply imparting knowledge. It is further believed that unless holistic education is adopted, schools and universities will only produce scholars who are cognitively intelligent, but not well-rounded, socially apt individuals.

At present in Indonesia, being an intelligent scholar is not a prerequisite to being employed and staying free from trouble. Just visit a handful of prisons in Indonesia and there will be a handful of PhD holders, those with master’s degrees, engineers and scholars of all types who have broken the law. Breaking the law in Indonesia in any form is not solely restricted to the uneducated; it can even be broken by the very people who understand it well enough to know where to find the loopholes.

To make matters worse, our leaders are not reliable, and it is no secret that they often take advantage of legal cases, swaying them to their benefit. The real tragedy was that at one point there was even a proposition to import lawyers, judges and prosecutors from abroad – an idea opposed vehemently by local authorities.

Reforming the system

The PDI-P candidates attending the school include would-be mayors and district heads who would have authority over regional budget planning and disbursement. Under the regional autonomy policy, more than Rp 650 trillion ($48.7 billion) is transferred to regions every year, not including the tactical funds for education, health care and social welfare programs.

If the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) had been strengthened in the aftermath of the exit of its uncompromising former chairman, Abraham Samad, few would have been worried.

In Abraham’s era, the KPK was seen as an all-powerful institution that could send even high-ranking state officials to prison. In the post-Abraham era, the police force sits at the other end of the pendulum, and it has yet to prove its credibility in battling corruption.

The judiciary is another driving force that the government cannot enter, or interfere with. Ever since the reform era began in 1998 the most profitable profession in the country is being a lawyer, because many are in need of legal services. However, this is an indication that much has gone wrong in a country that is constantly at odds with the law. Judges and prosecutors are seen as demigods who have the ability to make or break a case, all depending on the size of the bribe.

Irman Gusman, the speaker of the Regional Representatives Council (DPD), has repeatedly criticized what he called double standards in legal supremacy. “[The] law is so sharp downward but so dull upward,” he says.

A petty thief can receive a sentence of two years in jail when the value of the item he steals may be only Rp 50,000 or less. But those who embezzle billions of rupiah in state funds can walk away scot-free thanks to the favors and bribes that they extend.

Making it work

The PDI-P political school needs to prioritize integrity-building of its students above all else. While learning bureaucratic procedures is important, integrity cannot be taught in a matter of a few days of political schooling. It must be emphasized at all levels of their education, otherwise political schooling could be seen as a cosmetic layer to fool the public. This must also be expanded to involve proper character-building so that politicians will no longer become subjected to public ridicule and can finally become model citizens for society.

Upon completion of the course, it is also proposed that the party conducts follow-up post-schooling to ensure that consistency is maintained.

In any event, we need to laud the PDI-P for taking the bold step to initiate leadership-based education. This initiative is in line with President Joko Widodo’s resolve to launch a mental revolution across the bureaucracy and through Indonesian society at large. We can only hope that things will continue to improve and that Indonesia will one day be free from corruption. The political school should be institutionalized as a model for good governance endeavors.

Pitan Daslani is director of Managing the Nation Institute and can be reached at pitandaslani@gmail.com.