from The Jakarta Post, 24 Oct 2005

Jakarta's overpaid, underworked councillors in it for the money

by Daniel Ziv in Jakarta

Jakarta's hard-working city councilors will celebrate the pensive holy month of Ramadhan and the painful Oct. 1 fuel price hike with a very special holiday gift. Governor Sutiyoso has just doubled their monthly salary to a whopping Rp 50 million (US$5,000). In case that isn't enough to fill their luxury cars with premium fuel, they will also receive a Rp 1.5 million (about US$150) bonus for every "public meeting" attended and "city visit" conducted.

One councilor, quoted anonymously in the local press, said he and his colleagues could each conduct up to 50 such activities per month -- meaning Rp 75 million per month in incentives alone. Add this to their Rp 15 million monthly housing allowance, plus other bonuses for positions held on council committees, and it emerges that on average Jakarta's "public servants" each take home around Rp 150 million (about $15,000) per month.

This means they earn roughly 215 times the average local wage. It also means they earn about as much as U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney (though to their credit, Jakarta's councilors haven't managed to destroy any major Middle Eastern countries just yet).

Jakarta's Chosen Few earn more than city councilors in Los Angeles, twice as much as those of Boston, and four times as much as the impoverished city councilors of Dallas, Texas. And that's just their official pay. Jakarta councilors could surely teach their American counterparts a thing or two about "making the best out of a term in office."

What boggles the mind is not just the outrageous amounts our councilors get paid, but that half of it is given in so-called "incentives" to attend public meetings or conduct city visits. Perhaps I'm missing something, but isn't that what city officials are paid to do in the first place? It's a bit like giving a dentist a inflated salary just for existing, then paying him or her all over again for agreeing to show up at the clinic and examine a patient's teeth.

Governor Sutiyoso -- who can certainly afford such a dentist on his reported monthly salary of Rp200 million ($20,000) -- said the increase was meant to "encourage councilors to concentrate on their jobs and refrain from involvement in corruption." A beautiful thought, except that the Governor is wielding a carrot without a stick. If he were at all interested in eradicating corruption he'd be punishing offenders rather than padding their pockets in the supposed hope that an extra few thousand dollars a month will make them suddenly uninterested in multi-billion Rupiah kickback deals.

And here's another problem: Incentives and bonuses are generally meant as rewards for getting a job done well, yet the current municipal government is a resounding failure. It administers band-aids (like the cute orange busway system that serves a tiny percentage of Jakarta's yuppie commuters) to cover the gaping wounds of a city that literally chokes on the fumes of its own unrestrained development.

Jakarta can be fixed. Ten years ago Bangkok was headed toward environmental disaster, until effective governance and a dash of political and civic imagination saw the city improve in leaps and bounds. But imagination is something Jakarta's councilors seem to muster only when it comes to their own spectacular pay packages.

It would be an interesting (if highly hypothetical) exercise were Jakarta to be run like the popular video game Sim City. In it, players assume the role of mayor and must plan, administer, maintain and improve their virtual city with precision and accountability, against a ticking clock and with limited resources. When crises hit -- such as floods or fires -- players must rise to the occasion and provide immediate solutions rather than pathetic excuses. Otherwise -- it's "Game Over."

Imagine for a moment if Jakarta's city councilors received salaries on a Sim City basis, i.e. on actual performance, measured by tangible indicators that reflect the state of the city at a given moment. For instance, first indicator -- air quality; second -- the flow of traffic; third -- people's access to well-maintained public facilities; fourth -- availability of low cost housing and an end to the current draconian policy of slum evictions; fifth -- green spaces like parks and trees as a percentage of the city's total land area; and sixth -- the speedy completion of properly functioning flood canals.

Jakarta's councilors would begin this "game" from zero, earning -- in true civil servant spirit -- minimum wage, or about Rp 700,000 (US$70) per month. With every documented improvement in the above indicators, their salaries would jump exponentially along with the quality of life of their constituents. Thus, if they did a great job and Jakarta became as clean and well run as Singapore or San Diego or Sydney, the talented legislators behind this urban success story could earn $50,000 a month and few people would hold it against them.

But real life is nothing like Sim City. Based on past experience, the approaching rainy season and inevitable floods will again turn Jakarta into Swim City. And we'll all cringe in the knowledge that if our city councilors even bother venturing outdoors to witness the consequences of their own inaction, they'll each receive an extra Rp 1.5 million for the noble "city visit" gesture.

The writer is author of Jakarta Inside Out and Bangkok Inside Out (Equinox Publishing) and was founding editor of Djakarta! -- The City Life Magazine.
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