Sorry Mr. Prabowo, but It Is not Merely About Increasing the Salary

It is quite interesting to see the first debate from both of presidential candidates. People have also reviewed their performance and it does seem that the conclusion is relatively unanimous: that Joko Widodo performed quite well. This result is indeed unexpected since he is usually known as low-profile figure who does not really like to talk much. On the other hand, Prabowo could be pushed to the corner by Jusuf Kalla due to the human right issue that asked by Kalla. To be fair, the second candidate has successfully controlled the atmosphere last night. You might judge me as bias but you could check by yourself in my blog that I have also posed my critic to Jokowi once he declared himself as a candidate for Indonesia Preseident. However, what I want to elaborate in this writing is not about reviewing the whole debating process. Rather, I am quite interested in one particular moment where Prabowo was asked about bureaucracy reform and this is the specific part that I want to discuss on.

Last night debate concentrated on how to build clean government, strengthening rule of law, and everything alike. Thus, it was not rare if bureaucracy reform, human right, and corruption became the main topic during the show. One interesting point was made by Prabowo in this issue when he made a statement that remuneration for civil servants was indeed important and required to ensure that bureaucracy reform can be run smoothly and successfully. The most important question is then: is remuneration scheme urgently required to complete such a reform? Should clean government be achieved by disbursing more money to civil servants?

When taken unto the most extreme point, democracy can be associated with master-slave relationship. Who is the master and who becomes the slave? They are the people and government, respectively since the actual position of government is to serve the people and not the opposite. In master and slave paradigm, it is up to the master whether or not he/she will let the slave to be free. If the slaves are good enough and the masters want to show a little bit of mercy, the masters will be likely to pay them. But it is inevitable that in regard the remuneration, the masters retain the sole right.

But we are not currently living in such a paradigm. Slavery is undoubtedly prohibited worldwide since we have already advanced to adopt human rights value. However, the main principle from the above explanation does still prevail, namely that government is actually the servant of the people and not the opposite. Following this logic, simple conclusion can be made: remuneration of the government officials mainly depend upon the will of the people. As long as the people do not agree on the scheme, remuneration scheme should have been just blown away by the wind. Let alone the government officials beg for such incentive.

However, this condition does not exist in Indonesia. It can be clearly seen from the poverty level of Indonesians and those who are vulnerable to get dragged into the region. In contrast, our legislative members, ministers, and also government officials can enjoy extravagant lives. It is true that this statement is like an exaggeration or generalization and there are some government officials who are indeed very honest in doing their job. But, how much the probability really is? Of course it is also the fact that such people will be overwhelmed by those who are very greed in extorting dirt money in order to enrich themselves. Thus, why could this happen?

First of all, democracy in Indonesia is indeed very expensive. This condition makes those who desire to be elected as government officials or legislative members should prepare much money to campaign. And what is the paradigm once such people are elected? Of course, this is not a matter of national duty and rather a trade balance: I should earn more money to cover up my expenses and in order to be elected on the next election. It is just a vicious circle. Secondly, it may happen because the salary is not enough for sustaining their lives. This then becomes the main reason to justify remuneration. The question is: are you sure that remuneration will give clean government?  

The answer is quite clear: no. The first reason is because the democracy itself that is still very expensive. Hence when everyone competes to get elected, they will eventually disburse more money and once elected, they can easily beg for remuneration to recover their expenses. In this regard, campaigning to be a part of government has been considered as the expense that should be covered by taxation. Without them, they can no longer sustain their lives. In contrast, people who work in labor-intensive factories never demand such an expense; while in fact such people are actually the master of the government officials.

Secondly, when I heard Prabowo’s statement last night to increase the salary, I remembered my high school teacher when she left us a word: “it is no matter how small your salary is. As long as you are wise, everything will be covered. And the opposite does also exist: even though you have big salary, as long as you are not wise, you will never get enough.” I know for sure that such a statement cannot be taken literally. Small salary does not mean that we just submit ourselves to the fate. There is a red line that should not be surpassed so people are still able to get proper lives.

Thus, the most important thing is not about remuneration. As long as our government officials never get enough for themselves and pursue political career as a pathway to be richer, they will never get enough. Corruption will be still prevalent and clean government cannot be ensured just by remuneration program. Furthermore, the question is: what if there is a person who comes to a minister and offers some amount of money that is significantly bigger than their monthly salary? Does it mean that he/she will be subdued because of their price tag-based loyalty? Another case: what if one of his/her relatives comes to him/her insisting that they want to get a government project? Even though they do not offer any money, as long as they are family member, it will be very likely that special treatment will be endorsed upon them. Thus, how can we be sure that salary increase can build a clean government? How can we be sure that the term “enough” is not an exaggerated condition aired by our government officials? And as long as they always look their relatives who are richer than them, how can we be sure that they will not get subdued to be greed and thus demanding more salary increase in the name of “daily needs?”

In this regard, I think Prabowo’s statement is absolutely wrong. The first thing that we need to reform is meritocracy and loyalty. This is not about increase in salary. It is true that people should never let others to live in a desperate condition. But once you serve for a country, you work for people and give your loyalty to your country. In an extreme case, I rather agree with what has been taught by Plato and applied in early Ottoman Empire that guardians of a nation should be told about “noble lie” and forced to renounce their kinship tie in order to accomplish political purification since kinship tie will disrupt the just political order. Or it does seem more proper if government officials should be ruled in the same way as during the Ottoman Empire where they could not hold hereditable properties. Or even like in early Chinese Emperor while the all of the eunuchs are castrated in order to prevent them to have sexual desire, especially toward the wife of the emperor. These conditions then lead to pure meritocracy and loyalty. Those who serve for the nation will give all of they have and then never intends to disrupt the whole system; purely to serve the people. Should we have a system like this one? The answer to this question can only be validated through public deliberation in order to consider its good and bad.

However, the most important point that I would like to underline in this matter is not such extreme cases. I just want to put one thing: once you have chosen to serve your country, please never think about your salary because I am sure that Indonesians will not let you live in a desperate condition; once we have acquired proofs of your achievements, we can even easily grant you many incentives; but the first thing that you should have in your mind and conscience is your sincere to serve us. This is why to become a leader or a legislative member for this country is actually a very demanding job due to the high responsibility. And in this regard, I still cannot understand why many people out there eager to take this position and then just begging us to increase their salary but just can sleep and absent during meeting or extorting our taxation through project projects. Thus, it is not about money, Mr. Prabowo; it is about sincere in serving and I think from the point incentives will follow because Indonesians are your master  and everyone sits in the government position has a duty to serve all Indonesians. Like Ahok, your own cadre, said: if you want to be rich, be a businessman not a civil servants.  

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