|Cartoon from here.|
The Market for Civil Servant Positions
In the previous post I pointed out how lots of people in my district want to get jobs with the government. Although I used to have a reflexively bad reaction to this, my thinking on the matter has changed since I've been here. I think the desire to work for the government is a function of the range of possibilities people perceive for themselves or their children. I mentioned that this area is primarily agricultural, and although the area is highly commercialized now it wasn't so long ago that people here were basically subsistence farmers. Thus my defense of the "PNS dream" (1) revolves around the notion that becoming a civil servant is the most familiar, the most feasible way out of agriculture for people here. However, there is a dark side to this. Because so many people want to become civil servants, and because the positions are limited, there has emerged a market for the civil servant positions. I base most of the following discussion on word-of-mouth information, bits and fragments I've gathered from people in conversations and chats since I've been here, because it is difficult to collect hard data on things like this. I've only recently been making more directed inquiries into this issue with an eye towards future research, so take everything you read with a grain of salt.
|Cartoon from here.|
Though this is a phenomenon that is found throughout Indonesia, the people of my district are said to be more willing to pay to become civil servants, and thus they drive the price up and distort the market. I've heard a number of explanations for this; some folks say that there is a great deal of prestige associated with being a PNS, but also it is said that people of this district are relatively wealthier than other districts stemming from the traditionally high agricultural productivity of the district. Based on my own observations the people in this district do seem to be relatively better off than some other places.
|A little Betawi. Cartoon from here.|
I asked a number of informants where the money goes, and most of them describe a pyramid structure in which the money is distributed to several different recipients. Payment is never made directly to a higher-level official in the government; rather candidates for public office (Calon Pegawai Negeri Sipil, CPNS) negotiate with a middleman or broker, who later disperses payments to senior officials in the office the CPNS wants to enter, as well as officials within the government office responsible for administering the civil service as a whole. Informants indicate that elected officials, including the district headman and members of the district assembly, also get a piece.
|Cartoon from here.|
It's also important to remember that not all civil servants pay for their positions; some are chosen on the basis of their merits alone. From what I've seen, these people have to work harder because their colleagues that paid to enter the civil service aren't very productive. I've heard and read wide ranging estimates as to what percentage of civil servants are actually "capable"; one former Home Affairs minister estimated that approximately 60% of Indonesia's civil service was "unproductive", while the chart I included in the last post indicated that only 3,352 of a total 67,058 (5%) civil servants in the province of North Sulawesi are "competent". Estimates here put the number of folks that pay for their jobs as high as 90%. I imagine there is a lot of variation in region and department.
The Upshot: Institutionalized Corruption
Like I said there certainly are cases of rich parents spending lavishly to ensure a stable future for their children, but most people I talk to indicate that willingness to pay stems from the fact that people know they will be able to make their money back through graft. That's why the price to become a PNS varies from department to department. Indonesians describe different positions and government offices as being "wet" (tempat basah) or "dry" (tempat kering) depending on the availability of opportunities to enrich oneself through corruption. For example, the public works department gets a lot of money for infrastructure development, and so there are many opportunities to skim money off the top. This happens in a number of ways; bureaucrats will inflate the purchase price of everything from staples to bulldozers in the annual budget, pocketing the difference. They can also get bribes for ensuring that a contract goes to a particular company, which in turn skimps on building materials to make up for the bribe Another form of corruption is pungli¸ which refers to informal taxes and payments for services. Another common tactic is to take phantom business trips or submit phony receipts for expenses, which are later reimbursed.
|Graphic from Padang Ekspres.|
A Question of Public Morality?
|Graphic from here.|
1. People know they have to pay a lot of money to become a civil servant
2. They also know that there will be chances to get the money back through corrupt practices
3. By definition they know that corrupt practices are wrong. They also know that corruption is one of the main problems facing Indonesia today.
4. Despite this knowledge there are still people lining up to become civil servant in Indonesia.
Based on these assumptions, what kind of statement can we make about public morality here? I have heard many people say that the system makes people corrupt. However, if people are willingly entering the system with the knowledge that they will most likely be forced to take part in corrupt activities, can it really be said that the system makes people corrupt? It seems that they have accepted the rules of the game already; that they have already made their "Faustian bargain". This would indicate that people have a fundamentally different perception of what the government is for, and that what I've been referring to as "corruption" might be seen by local folks as "fringe benefits".
There are people here that are engaged in a struggle against corruption. At the national level there are some very strong non-government organizations working hard to monitor corruption and increase accountability in the public sector. There are some local organizations at work in this district as well. They investigate corrupt practices and make reports to the Corruption Eradication Commission. They are vocal in the media and hold public demonstrations. Unfortunately, it seems to me that most of the time their objections to the corruption inherent in the system seem to stem from resentment that they aren't able to take part in the benefits of the graft. I hate to say this, and I really hope that I'm incorrect.
My sense is that these facts mean the problem is not merely structural; it's not a question of merely establishing systems of accountability (though this task has proven quite daunting). Rather it's a question of redefining the role of the public sector in soceity as well as people's perceptions towards the bureaucracy.
(1) "PNS" is short for Pegawai Negeri Sipil, the Indonesian term for civil servant.
(2) I am at this point referring to the district where I live.