Sri Mulyani orders end to shoddy service

Rendi Akhmad Witular, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati quoted from Nobel laureate Amartya Sen in a stern reminder Thursday to government officials to prioritize their sense of public service over an inflated desire for power.

"He who wishes to live long must serve, but he who wishes to rule does not live long," Sri Mulyani said in reproving officials who use unscrupulous means to acquire wealth and position.

The minister gave the most strongly worded speech of her career at the inauguration ceremony for the new chiefs of the tax and customs directorates and the capital market watchdog.

"There are so many problems that should be resolved, especially in relation to the public's disappointment over the services of the tax and customs offices," she said.

"There also is low trust and confidence from businesspeople about the function, role and performance of the two agencies."

She reiterated the new chiefs should improve the image of their agencies by providing better service to the public and eliminate opportunities for abuse, which have been rife in the powerful institutions.

In the first round of a massive reorganization drive at the Finance Ministry, Sri Mulyani appointed last week Capital Market Supervisory Agency (Bapepam) chairman Darmin Nasution as the new director general of taxation, replacing Hadi Purnomo.

Darmin was replaced by Ahmad Fuad Rahmany, previously an executive with the Aceh-Nias Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Agency.

Anwar Suprijadi, the chairman of the state administrative agency, was named to replace Eddy Abdurrahman as director general of customs and excise.

The second sweeping reshuffle at the ministry will be held in June, with reports that most senior officials have embarked on intense lobbying with parties close to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Vice President Jusuf Kalla for higher positions or to be spared a demotion.

Mulyani also said in her speech that the new chiefs should smoothen the deliberation of the tax and customs bills stalled in the House of Representatives to ensure their implementation next year.

The bills are considered essential to launch extensive reform in the tax and customs directorates, long notorious for pervasive corruption.

"There will be no room for a 'business as usual' attitude at the three agencies. There should be total reform in the agencies in order for the public to remember that we are doing things differently to root out corruption," said Mulyani.

Darmin said he would expedite reform in the tax directorate by overhauling the system as well as personnel to improve public service, boost tax revenues and combat corruption.

"Tax revenues for the state are still far (below) the real potential. I will gather more information and set up a new system to prevent loss of revenue as well as expanding the number of new taxpayers," said Darmin, a close confidant of the minister.

Although Fuad said he would soon replace most of the officials at the agency to cope with changes initiated by Mulyani, customs chief Anwar would not comment about reorganization plans.

The level of corruption at Bapepam is considered less than in the tax and customs offices, but most private companies are reluctant to become involved with the agency because of the huge amount of illegal fees allegedly demanded by its officials.
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