Founder of Omong-Omong Media & OM Institute

Changing Indonesia One Regency at A Time

Okky Madasari

4 min read

With hundreds of mayors, regents and governors across the archipelago having been arrested for corruption, public has a very low trust on regional governments in Indonesia, believing that there have only been corrupt and incapable people within these bureaucracies. But some officials at the regional levels have actually worked hard to revise this notorious reputation.

“We are not New Order anymore,” Magetan Regent Suprawoto told a gathering of regency’s officials and residents, referring to the nation’s era under Soeharto’s repressive and corrupt regime when officials stealing state’s money generally went unpunished, and bribing to become civil servants was so common that almost all of them paid their way into the state bureaucracy.

“You can freely express your arguments, ideas and opinions without having to be scolded or punished,” Suprawoto told a seminar to boost literacy and creativity within the East Java’s regency earlier this month after I who was the speaker of the seminar reminded the participants that Magetan suffered from not promoting themselves adequately.

“We must become the voice of Magetan. If 8,000 civil servants of Magetan post good stories about their area into their social media accounts, then Indonesia will clearly know us,” he added.

The stories out of Magetan have hardly described the dynamic or progress of the region, with tale of a man running away and leaving his bride behind, or neighbors fight each other and blocking the road becoming the nation-wide viral stories.

Since being elected regent in 2018, Suprawoto, a Magetan native who spent his career as a civil servant in the central government’s offices in Jakarta, has been battling to steer his region out of seclusion, obscurity and inferiority, showing ways into progress by introducing love of culture and art, knowledge, openness, confidence and outward-looking for residents there.

As a person who was born and spent my childhood and schooldays in Magetan myself I could connect with what Suprawoto had to say. I know progress has been made since he became a regent but I did not know how massive the progress was until I experienced it first-hand. It is not just a progress in developing concrete infrastructure, more importantly, it is about changing the mentality and mindset.

“People here have lack of confidence. When others ask them about where they come from, they will claim to be from Madiun,” said Suprawoto, referring to a bigger and busier neighboring East Java’s city.

“This lack of confidence has prevented people here to express themselves or create something meaningful, stalling the growth of the regency,” he added.

As a land-lock region, Magetan does not have port or experience extensive influence from outside, and thus does not develop a cosmopolitan culture. It is often overlooked as people pass by through Madiun to Surabaya. Outsiders will come to the regency because of Sarangan Lake, its only major tourism destination it owns. Otherwise, it is a sleepy town.

The regency with nearly 700,000 inhabitants has also been marred with corruption cases implicating the region’s top officials. Regent Saleh Muljono (2003-2008), for instance, were jailed for corruption and died in the prison, while scores of officials have also been charged with stealing the region’s money. The most recent graft case, which shows that the past rotten practices still leave their traces, is involving Sandi Kurnaryanto, a director with the regency-owned water company.

These past track records indicate that the challenges Suprawato is facing are tremendously difficult to overcome. But the regent seems to be optimistic he could battle them off by a good example from himself.

As an intellectual who has a PhD degree and writer of a number of books, he wants his people to become smarter, more aware of their surrounding problems and more educated so that the next generations will be familiar with universal values of democracy and transparency while not forgetting their local noble values which as Javanese people they inherit from their ancestors.

The hope is that by becoming more educated, open and transparent, new generations of local leaders could become more capable and committed to lead, eradicating tradition of corruption the regency has been known for.

But creating committed and honest civil servants is only a fraction of Suprawoto’s goals. “I know that for many parents here their lifetime achievement is to see their children become a civil servant. They consider their children have no jobs if they don’t become a civil servant,” he said.

“We must change this. It’s very important to show the people that there are professions other than civil servants. We must show that there are many other respected professions, such entrepreneur, writer, and other creative-based jobs, that can guarantee a good future for Magetan’s young people.”

He worked very hard in lobbying several major universities to open their branches in the regency. And thanks to his effort, the Surabaya State University (UNESA), one of East Java’s top schools, has agreed to open many of its faculties in Magetan, while other technology schools and universities will soon open their branches here.

This development can facilitate the regent’s objective of creating more creative people that can cope with the progress of technology, opening possibilities that the regency can become a hub for East Java and even for Indonesia for creative economy, art, literature and technology.

Suprawoto also managed to lobby the country’s National Library to collaborate to open a literacy center, not far from Lake Sarangan. The center which is soon to have a dormitory will host all creative activities and national tech, cultural and literary figures who will be invited for a residency to train young people here.

The blossoming of creative economy will support Magetan’s economy, and attract more intellectuals, tourists and investors to come, and in turn creating more jobs and income for the regency, which has no big industry in operation and in consequence is still subsidized by the central government because its income reaches only around Rp 200 billion while its spending is Rp 2 trillion.

As Magetan is trying to overcome its challenges, I drove to nearby Madiun regency’s capital of Caruban to visit Immigration Office to renew my passport. There are two Madiuns here. One is vibrant and cosmopolitan Madiun city, among East Java’s largest cities, and Madiun regency whose capital is Caruban.

I already expected the worst, and was prepared to spend the whole day in the office for renewing the passport. It turned out to be a surprise. The process is already digitalized, albeit not fully but around half of the process, and it only took me around two hours to complete the process without any additional charges that the announced fees although I have to return to the office three days after to collect the new passport. And then when I return after three days, I was shocked to find that it could be collected by driving through. I did not have to get out of the car, and it only took less than 10 minutes to get the new passport.

And when I drove and passed the security gate, I opened my car’s window and hand over Rp 5,000 to this man. He waved his hand, calmly stating, “Please keep your money, it’s free, Ma’am.”

This is the first time I experienced a parking attendance or security personnel rejected cash payment.

Is Indonesia really getting better?

Okky Madasari
Okky Madasari Founder of Omong-Omong Media & OM Institute

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