Sunday, July 27, 2014

Jokowi and the war on vested interests
Steve Woodhouse OBE

A key reason why Indonesia has so far failed to live up to the high expectations of its founding fathers and its undoubted enormous potential is the malign and pervasive power of vested interests and the persistent failure of the country’s national leadership to overcome such failures.

But with the democratic success of Joko “Jokowi” Widodo in the recent presidential election campaign, perhaps there is now a chance. 

Jokowi’s track record of getting things done, his honesty, independence, intelligence and integrity all bode well for the future

Maximizing Indonesia’s human potential might be a good place to start. Overcoming persistent malnutrition that saps IQ and stamina, poor health practices and low quality education remain riddled with vested interests, hampering real progress.

Systemic corruption in the selection, training and placement of doctors and other health professionals, the open bribery of them by pharmaceutical companies, the excessive focus on the lucrative construction of gleaming hospitals instead of prioritizing promotive and preventive health, all contribute to a wasteful and dangerous misallocation of resources.

A starting point for Jokowi must be facing up to the realities of the pattern and causes of illness and death throughout the archipelago and tackle them step by effective step with the same independent resolve that the supporters of his rival ascribed to him as a reason not to choose Jokowi.

Stop the sale of all civil service jobs and replace it with a merit based selection process, reduce the bloated civil service and increase results based management, including sanctions for poor performance a la acting Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama; get serious about tackling tobacco and pharmaceutical vested interests, including the false claim that poor tobacco farmers will be unable to get other healthier jobs; maximize attention on revitalizing posyandu (integrated health services posts); promote effective health education and honestly and strongly regulate false advertising and the sale of harmful processed food — all efforts promoted by current Health Minister Nafsiah Mboi but with insufficient presidential support.

In both education and health, the president-elect must strengthen the local governance of schools and health centers from the  bottom up; insist on transparent budgeting and expenditure at schools and health centers; retrain teachers to facilitate the learning aptitude of individual children rather than the old mindset of top-down, dictatorship-style teaching.

A robust and effective mass communications function will need to back Jokowi’s war on vested interests, appealing directly to the general public and bypassing corrupt legislators and other vested interests.

Former US president John F. Kennedy taught UNICEFs famous executive director of 30 years ago — James P. Grant — that the social sector is a cause of concern to all citizens and that vested interests are best overcome by a strategic step-by-step approach of taking out a few key bricks of concern to the general public, such as health and education, and then seeing the whole wall of vested interests crumble!

The writer was UNICEF representative to Indonesia during 1995-2000 and was UNICEF regional director for Europe.

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