Serving From The Heart

Ombudsman Indonesia’s chairman discusses improving public service, and why his job is a labor of love

By Peter Sean Lie
Monday, September 24, 2018

Indonesia has made significant progress in public service and transparency in bureaucracy over the past two decades, moving toward a more digital and clean government. However, the job is not yet done, especially in rural areas with little advanced technology and infrastructure.

Ombudsman Indonesia is a dedicated state institution monitoring public service. According to the OECD Open Government Review, the Ombudsman is a key state institution for open government in Indonesia. Led by Amzulian Rifai, Ombudsman Indonesia strives to improve public service and encourage cleaner government.

Amzulian sat down with AmCham Indonesia to talk about public service, the mentality to serve, and the utilization of technology.

AmCham Indonesia: What do we need to know about Ombudsman Indonesia?

Amzulian Rifai: Ombudsman Indonesia was established in 2000 by Presidential Decree No. 44/2000 as a commission. Law no. 37 of 2008 on the Ombudsman further intensified the legal basis of the institution, making it an official state institution. It is a government institution to monitor the public service provided by all ministries and non-ministerial governmental bodies, and to take action against maladministration. One of the Ombudsman’s primary objectives is to ‘encourage government and public administration which is free from corruption, collusion, nepotism; clean, open, fair, effective, and efficient’ - Article 4.

We receive complaints and reports of maladministration from society. We are the last resort for public complaints, meaning that people need to report to the respective ministries or agencies first, and if there is no response or improvement they can come to us. Other than receiving reports and complaints from the public, we also conduct our own investigations to determine which public service needs to be improved. In a year we can conduct at least five Own Motion Investigations.

After receiving and verifying reports and complaints from the public, we summon the leader of the reported agency or the minister to come to a meeting. If they decline or do not respond to our calls three times, we are authorized to use law enforcement. In the meeting, we explain the situation and the main problem based on the reports or internal investigation, and give recommendations on how to improve public service and eradicate maladministration. We also invite experts to give insights on the topics involved. We try our best to not only solve the problems of those who report, but also give recommendations to fix the bureaucracy system.

What is your personal view on public service?

Concern over public service triggered the concept of the Ombudsman, which was first developed in Scandinavian countries. According to these countries, public service is the main focus of the government and they really strive to provide the best for the people. Better public service leads to lower corruption.

Non-discriminations is one of the most important principles in public service. Despite the ethnicity, social status, wealth, religion, and other things, public servants should serve everyone equally. However, in Indonesia this problem still prevails. Public servants are humans, and humans tend to be subjective. This is why public service should utilize technology.

The utilization of technology in public service is also necessary to minimize discrimination. For example, I use Traveloka to arrange my personal flights. Thanks to Traveloka, everyone can buy tickets and get similar service with no discrimination. The fact that I am Amzulian Rifai, the Head of Ombudsman RI, does not make me the priority in the app's service. Everyone gets the same treatment. Other than technology, the mentality to serve people is important to provide great public service. One should have the heart and empathy to serve people, care about what people need.

I always encourage my employees here in Ombudsman Indonesia to serve by heart, to care about other people's problems and complaints. People come to us to complain and bring problems. So without the heart to serve, without Ombudsmanship, working here can be tiresome.

Is public service in Indonesia good enough?

If we want to analyze Indonesia's public service, we need to see the big picture. Indonesia is a vast country, and we cannot only focus on Jakarta or Java. We also need to analyze a wide variety of ministries, agencies and institutions.

In the big picture, we cannot say that Indonesia's public service is already good. But this does not mean that the government is doing nothing to improve public service. Every single president and administration in Indonesia has done something to improve public service; the difference is only a matter of focus, effort and efficiency. We have a presence in all 34 provinces in Indonesia with one headquarters in Jakarta. This shows that the government, no matter central or local, has a commitment to improve public service

Indonesia has also started to adopt various technologies, and we are definitely going in that direction. But the problem remains the same; technological advancement is different in different regions. I think it is fair to say that public service in Java is better than in other regions or islands, partly because of the more advanced technology and infrastructure.

How active is the public in reporting maladministration?

Compared to European countries, the Indonesian public is not really active in reporting maladministration. In developed countries, reports of maladministration can reach millions per year. Maybe it has something to do with \culture. However, there is a trend of increasing numbers recently. We got a massive increase in the number of complaints from 6,857 in 2015 to 9,078 in 2016. This shows that there is increasing awareness in society. People start to care more about the country and bureaucracy that they are dealing with. This is a good thing, considering that Indonesians are generally ignorant about their right to complain.

What about investment and public service?

As I said before, public service has something to do with the level of infrastructure. Better infrastructure will not guarantee better public service, but it plays a big role in supporting good public service. Some of the regions with great public service have technology and infrastructure to support them. But without good infrastructure, possibly public service is not efficient, which means that investors are not attracted to invest. This is why the majority of businesses invest in Jakarta. So we can see the red line: regions with bad infrastructure and public service cannot compete in attracting investors with those regions with advanced infrastructure and public service.

Has there been an improvement in public service since you became chairman?

The thing is, improvement in public service is not only because of the Ombudsman. This organization is only one helping factor. Different administrations, different leadership, or different regimes can affect public service. In the past eight years, there have been changes in the bureaucracy. A long time ago, people needed to bribe to be a public servant. But now, the system has become more transparent. Improvement is obvious.

What about the Ombudsman's efforts to increase awareness?

We have cooperation with the media. Every month we have a media gathering and we invite journalists to increase the Ombudsman's visibility. We have a special room for press conferences. If there is an interesting case the Ombudsman is handling, we ask the media to cover that in the news. We do not want popularity; we just want to increase awareness in society that the Ombudsman exists. We care about the people and we want to make public service better. We don't want people to feel that they are ignored by their own country. I am a statesman, and the reason that I am here is to serve the people.

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