Exclusive: Inside the Indonesian President’s Executive Office

By Medha Basu

Interview with Yanuar Nugroho, the Indonesian President’s Deputy Chief of Staff.

When Indonesian President Joko Widodo makes a promise, it’s Yanuar Nugroho’s job to make it come true.

“At the moment, the top priority at the strategic level is ensuring evidence-based policy in development planning,” the President’s Deputy Chief of Staff says.

Data and transparency must cut across all of the work the government does - whether it is agrarian reform to improve the livelihoods of millions, or improving education to secure the next generation’s future. “I want to make clear to our colleagues in other ministries and local governments that this is the only way forwards,” he says.

A national complaints platform

Indonesian bureaucrats have long had the “comfort of working behind closed doors”, he says. But in the age of social media, “you cannot hide”. “We need our government to be more open, more transparent, more accountable to the people”, he adds.

[blockquote] “We need our government to be more open.” [/blockquote]

In 2011, Indonesia became a founding member of the Open Government Partnership, an international network of 75 governments pledging to take concrete steps to being more transparent. Nugroho has for the last five years represented Indonesia on this platform. “It was quite a bold move by Indonesia,” he says.

One of the first steps it took was to set up Lapor, a complaint handling unit, in the President’s office. This gives the unit a national mandate to accept complaints on any public service from any part of the country, whether a pot-holed road in a remote island or a broken streetlight in the capital city. The unit receives 800 to 1,000 complaints a day via text messages, its app and website, social media and fax.

Participatory government

But complaints come after the fact. How can Indonesia understand what its vast population wants in the first place? “I expect to see, in the near future, how people’s input in development planning can be facilitated,” Nugroho says.

Local governments have had the most success in involving citizens in planning from an early stage, he says. Bojonegoro, once one of the poorest regencies in Indonesia, uses public dialogues in town halls to meet with residents and gather their ideas for what should be done, for instance. In its villages, residents have a say in the planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of funding.

Indonesia is looking to replicate Bojonegoro’s progress across the country. “We are now developing mechanisms through village governance,” Nugroho says, “to model or to pilot open government at the village level so that people can join from the planning stage”.


The next step, Nugroho says, is to ensure that there is reliable data available for officials to use in policymaking and for citizens to track the government’s progress.

The government has created OneMap, a platform to bring together accurate geospatial data from across the government. “On top of this geospatial map, we need to not only integrate and collate our maps, but also synchronise what we call thematic maps,” he says.

For example, officials can track where permits have been given for palm oil plantations, to whom and how big they are, he says. Or in education, they can see where formal schools and informal centres of learning are located, he adds. “We are developing these and we expect to see the completion of this OneMap policy by the end of 2019.”

Satu Data

A big challenge for Indonesia is that government information is often duplicated and inaccurate across ministries because each has its own standards and rules for data.

For example, Indonesia is one of the largest producers of wild seafood, but has no accurate data on how many fishing boats roam its seas. Estimates vary between 15,000 and 640,000 boats. If it can’t count boats, can it keep track of the millions living in poverty across a massive archipelago? “We will be doomed if we have no accurate data on this,” Nugroho says.

Indonesia is now developing national standards to improve the quality of government data. The Satu Data (or One Data) policy will need to be “legally binding” and apply to all ministries and local governments, he says. “There is no other way; we have to push this.”

A draft decree released this year sets out specific steps that the government will require. For instance, every dataset produced will need to comply with the official standards; there must be metadata explaining why and how it was collected; and it will need to meet common interoperability standards so it can be shared across agencies.

Successful federal agencies will be made “data mentors” to help other agencies to meet these standards. Agencies will also have a “data custodian”, a unit which will be responsible for collecting, managing, meeting standards and sharing data.

Tracking spending

Finally, Indonesia is working to improve the way government spending is tracked. A platform called TEPRA currently tracks the amount of money being given to ministries for various programmes, but it cannot stop there. It now plans to track whether the money is producing results, Nugroho says.

Two ministries, the Ministry of Planning and Ministry of Finance, are working on an early prototype of a system which will place “financial performance against the output of the development project or action plans of ministries”, he explains.
Indonesia’s Ministry of Education has already shown that it can be done. It has built a “education balance sheet” which publicly shows the allocation of budget to provinces and what they are being used for, he adds.

“I am quite - not obsessed - but I am quite driven by the idea of having data and evidence-based policy”, Nugroho says, using a euphemism.

To put it frankly, obsession with data and transparency is what Indonesia needs to keep driving forwards.

GovInsider is official partner of the Asia Pacific Leaders Forum on Open Government, run by Open Government Indonesia and the Open Government Partnership.