Blog | February 28, 2017 | Fajri Siregar & Larastri Kumaralalita

From mobile apps to SMS, new communication technologies are offering hope for improved public service and increased citizens’ participation in government decision-making in Indonesia. But there are still pitfalls and challenges to overcome…

Improving public service delivery and quality remains a mounting challenge for the Indonesian government, especially at the subnational level. Initiatives such as Open Government and the increased use of information and communication technologies offers sources of new communication channels and hope for better governance.

One example of this type of innovation is LAPOR! (Layanan Aspirasi dan Pengaduan Online Rakyat), the government’s official national complaint system at both national and subnational levels.

Between June 2015 and February 2016, we investigated examples of the system’s use in Bojonegoro (East Java) and Indragiri Hulu (Riau Province), with both case studies providing some important lessons.

LAPOR was introduced in 2011 to enable citizens to file reports or complaints regarding public service delivery. Users may air their grievances through three channels: a website, text message (SMS), and a mobile application. After six years, LAPOR has 285, 444 users, and has registered more than 1.29 million complaints — 75.15% via SMS, 21.5% via the website, and 3.35% via the mobile application. The system has also integrated 87 government agencies or ministries, 44 state-owned enterprises, five regional governments, and 10 provinces.

Bojonegoro (East Java) and Indragiri Hulu (Inhu-Riau Province) are examples of LAPOR’s adoption at the subnational level. Both regencies have made use of LAPOR and a mandatory Information and Documentation Unit (PPID), yet share different stories and experiences.

Inhu stepped up in 2013, as the Regent — Yopi Arianto — agreed to run a pilot project under the Open Government Initiative as requested by the then President’s Delivery Unit for Monitoring and Oversight (UKP4). However, LAPOR remains unpopular among Inhu citizens, with only 26% of our survey respondents aware of its presence.

Coupled with this lack of awareness is the slow progress of incoming complaints. For example, less than 70% of some 250 complaints have been accepted by the regency. As citizens of Inhu interact in a very limited way with the state, it is fair to say that the system has not made an impact when it comes to empowering citizens. Consequently, the willingness to accommodate citizen’s voices in a consistent way via the system is questionable. In fact, from our study it seems as if there is no willingness from both citizens and government to exchange information.

Meanwhile, in mid-2014, the regent of Bojonegoro, Mr Suyoto, took the initiative of integrating LAPOR into his regency’s existing governance monitoring system. With a population of 1,209,073, the region has many active users, registering more than 1.67 million complaints.

Suyoto’s administration also introduced an open public dialogue (Dialog Jumat) every Friday at his office, which the local government allows to be aired on its official website and via Radio Malowopati – representing another important measure to capture citizens’ voices and views.

As a result, the interaction between citizen and government has redefined citizenship awareness in Bojonegoro and participation in the development process.  It’s therefore no surprise that the regency has recently been selected as a representative region for Indonesia’s Open Government program.

Despite the varying impact at the subnational level, LAPOR needs to continue moving forward. They will eventually do so as there is still considerable political backing from the former UKP4 authorities that are now pulling the strings from the Office of the President (KSP).

Widening the presence of LAPOR needs to be done while improving lndonesia’s telecommunications network readiness, as it still ranks 64 out of 148 countries. Using SMS service as a preferred complaint medium is therefore both practical and strategic as more than 80% of Indonesia’s population has access to a cellphone.

Rare examples such as Bojonegoro are a source of inspiration, providing a clear example of political commitment and willingness to actually listen to the public’s aspirations (or the so-called idea of a ‘listening government’ as made popular by Suyoto). Openness has become a norm within both Bojonegoro’s society and government, with trust being an important ingredient to involve its citizens in various deliberation processes.

However, technology can only bring about change under certain contexts. Our case studies reveal that despite the presence of technologies, political leaders first need to understand which one to use. ICT should not be assumed as the ultimate factor in opening up government, as citizens of a district still prefer direct dialogue when communicating with their public officials, such as Dialog Jumat in Bojonegoro.

Hence, as much as we may rely on technological advancement, it seems that we cannot leave out the typical Indonesian solution for reforming bureaucracy and governance: the political leader. As a matter of fact, LAPOR has achieved its goals through a mix of committed leaders and the ability to build necessary capacity.

The question is how to push political leaders to show greater willingness to open up and listening to citizens’ voices. This will ensure more effective implementation of such tools, and enable more forms of open communication between government and its citizens.

About the author

Fajri Siregar is the Executive Director of Centre for Innovation Policy and Governance (CIPG) and Larastri Kumaralalita is a lecturer at the Faculty of Computer Science at Universitas Indonesia reflect on Indonesia's recently implemented tech4gov initiatives.

About this blog

This blog was originally published at New Mandala here.