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Bureaucratic reform plays a part in reducing deforestation in Indonesia

Azwar Abubakar.
Administrative Reform Minister Azwar Abubakar. Azwar was the governor of Aceh when that province was struck by the devastating 2004 tsunami. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

Reforming Indonesia’s bloated and underperforming bureaucracy will play an important part in reducing the country’s high rate of deforestation and forest degradation, the head of the country’s Ministry of Administrative Reform told in an exclusive interview.

Administrative Reform Minister Azwar Abubakar said that a smaller and more meritocratic bureaucracy will help cut corruption while more effectively governing the sprawling archipelago.

“Good bureaucracy should protect environment,” he said. “Bad destroys environment.”

He cited examples in the Ministry of Forestry and Ministry of Agriculture where positions have sometimes been filled by unqualified candidates and advancement based on metrics other than performance. Forests are especially affected by corruption and mismanagement in these ministries since they play a key role in determining land use.

Rainforest in North Sumatra.
Rainforest in North Sumatra.

Azwar said that while he was an official in Aceh Province — where he served as governor during the devastating 2004 tsunami — he saw the damage inflicted on forests by a corrupt bureaucracy. Under General Soeharto, the strongman who ruled Indonesia from 1968-1998, the Ministry of Forestry would grant concessions to cronies who would harvest timber a highly unsustainable rates in Aceh, he said. Locals often objected to the logging, but were largely powerless to stop it.

Azwar however is optimistic things are changing, noting that his agency is pushing new hiring and promotion standards based on competence and greater openness. Whereas in the past, a candidate might buy his or her way into a job or promotion — and then use that position to generate wealth — now there is an assessment system, boosting competitiveness.

Azwar is also charged with cutting bloat in Indonesia’s public sector. In 2011, the government established a moratorium on net increases in its workforce, which stands at 4.7 million employees.

“In two years we cut the workforce by 200,000 people through retirement,” he said. “Right-sizing is critical.”

The Ministry of Administrative Reform is now reviewing ministries at all levels of government, making staffing recommendations and implementing open recruitment and promotion. At the same time, ministries are moving toward e-government, which cuts costs and reduces turn around time. Officials will also required to file a “wealth report” to improve transparency, according to Azwar.

With some 600 ministries across the federal, provincial, and districts levels, bureaucracy reform promises to be a long process. But Azwar says he’s up for the challenge.

“Bureaucracy reform is not a program — it is a movement,” he said. “My mission is to shift the bureaucracy from a comfort zone to a competitive zone as instructed by President Yudhoyono.”

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