Civil servants ordered to revert to standard type

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 December, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 December, 2001, 12:00am

Indonesia's civil servants have been ordered to ditch the lavish parties and perks.

Under rules approved by President Megawati Sukarnoputri last week - and touted as a way to help the cash-strapped Government - the country's millions of bureaucrats must adopt a modest lifestyle more in tune with that of the people they serve.

No more vast food spreads at five-star buffets, no more letting the mistress use the office car, no more gadding about the world - and even no more typing in non-standard fonts.

The rules paint an interesting picture of the average civil servant at work; they also display a startling attention to detail.

One of several points in danger of being overlooked among the rest is that officials and their immediate family are forbidden from receiving gifts which they suspect may have been given due to their rank or position.

The government uniform of shirt sleeves is to be worn except on special occasions, when a suit may be allowed.

Less paper is to be used, lights are not to be turned on when enough natural light is available, office cars and phones must not be used for one's private life.

Official trips and extravagant receptions are only allowed in rare cases. Office anniversary celebrations must be humble flag-raising affairs instead of all-day parties.

Getting to the nitty-gritty, the regulations specify that documents should be typed in 12-point using the Arial font, with 1.5-line spacing.

Commentators seeking the message between the lines of the regulation (Number 357/2001), unveiled by State Minister for Administrative Reforms Faisal Tamin, are baffled.

The Jakarta Post described the new measures as 'often more stingy than thrifty' and 'a bit of a throwback to the 'tighten your belt' rhetoric of the [Suharto] New Order era'. It questioned why no word was written about the well-known multi-million-dollar scams allegedly carried out by government departments.

'What might be puzzling to many is that a number of the instructions stipulated are measures that should have been common practice anyway,' the newspaper said.

It also criticised the budget for the Governor of Jakarta, retired General Sutiyoso. His personal clothing allowance has increased by 25 million rupiah (HK$18,600) to 65 million rupiah a year.

In contrast, the statutory minimum wage has just been raised to about 450,000 rupiah a month, but that is of little comfort to the 40 million unemployed.

Vast allocations in the state budget - such as the US$6 billion (HK$46.7 billion) earmarked for undefined 'other current expenditures' - remain unaffected, as does the US$150 billion national debt.

For many hard-pressed and underpaid civil servants, the rules may also be something of a bitter joke. Nurses, teachers and many low-level pen-pushers in Jakarta have probably never seen the inside of a top hotel. As for the upper ranks, they may simply use the family's oldest car in public for a while, just as members of the elite left their Mercedes and Jaguars at home in the late 1990s.

'I suppose it's all about restoring some order and discipline to daily government business and that would be no bad thing,' said one Western businessman. 'But while they're busily choosing the right typing font to use on a form, I would rather they thought, hey, let's just abolish the form.'