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Indonesia in Focus

Indonesians in Focus: H.S. Dillon

Username By Wombat | March 9th, 2006 | Comments 1 Comment »

H.S. Dillon is a man of modern history and of political reform. He was educated at the Cornell University and currently on the Board of Trustees at ITB. In an interview with Kurniawan Hari, H.S. Dillon discusses everything from politics to business and much more.

H.S. Dillon and governance reform
Kurniawan Hari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Talking to H.S. Dillon, 60, is somewhat like tracing back the history of modern Indonesia.

He still clearly remembers his actions that boosted the performance of the country’s agricultural sector when he was serving at the Ministry of Agriculture in the 1980s and 1990s.

He also talked about his activities in stamping out corruption and investigating human rights abuses that have humiliated Indonesia as a nation.

Of course, not all of his activities have made people happy, with many public figures being disappointed with some of his actions.

“There is a lot to be grateful for,” Dillon told The Jakarta Post in a special interview recently.


After finishing his education at home, he pursued his doctoral degree in agricultural economics at Cornell University in 1983. During that time, he contested a university election to lead an association of students there, and won.
Aside from his activity as executive director of Partnership for Governance Reform, Dillon is also chairman of the Board of Trustees (MWA) of the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB).

During the interview for his present job, Dillon was asked by the head hunter: “What would your objective in life be?” to which he said, “To make the world a better place”.

With his various activities, Dillon has been attempting to make Indonesia a better place at least for its citizens.
Amidst his tight schedule, he welcomed the Post for an interview at his office on Jl. M.H. Thamrin, Central Jakarta. Here is an excerpt from that interview:

You have been at the helm of the Partnership for Governance Reform for three years now. What is the Partnership actually doing?

We focus on the nation and relations among nations. What does governance reform mean? Governance is all institutions, all norms that regulate life. It regulates the division of (natural) resources too. So, there is political governance, economic governance, and so on.

I see it like this. Our founding fathers had stated in the Preamble of the Constitution that one of the goals of independence was to educate the nation. Nation here means the life of the nation as an institution.

We need governance reform because Indonesia, during the final days of Soeharto’s rule, had state institutions that could no longer anticipate challenges. So it needs reform.

What sectors have to be reformed?

The reform is targeted at state institutions. We see the first step is paving the way for fair general elections. Of course, there are still some weaknesses (in elections), but at least we have changed the regulations. We also observe that 40 legislators in West Sumatra have been sentenced to jail (for corruption).

What does it mean?

It means the mind-set of people in the country is still the same as in the past. We see there is a new system of governance, but the bureaucracy is still the same.

We intend to give broader autonomy to regions, but at the same time the central government empowers itself through the expansion of cabinet ministries. What does it mean? It means the journey toward people’s autonomy will still take time.

We — the Partnership, especially under my leadership, and my experiences in the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), the National Economy Council (DEN), the Anti-Corruption Team — use a concept called “pressure from without, capacity from within”.

Nobody willingly leaves his or her bad habits, because they (bad habits) give him or her some benefits. Nobody will end his or her (corrupt) practices simply because he or she is asked to do so.

For example, it would be impossible for bureaucracy members, the House of Representative (DPR) members or Supreme Court judges to stop committing corruption. We see that the ratio of houses of worship and the population in this country is higher than that in Middle Eastern countries. It means most of us today live in hypocrisy.

Where does the Partnership take a position?

The work of the Partnership is to give pressure from without and to offer a solution. If we don’t give a solution then they will fight back. Even a cornered rat will fight. If there is opposition everywhere we cannot move forward.
We must always remember that the goal of our independence is Trisakti (sovereignty, self sufficiency and of character). Today, however, we get nothing. We are labeled as a corrupt nation, an offender of human rights and a nation of labor.

There are few of us who own Mercedes cars, but they are, according to Martin Luther King, “as strong as the weakest of the people”. We allow corruption to happen. The institutional deterioration was by design to support collusion (during New Order era). Now, we must get rid of it.

During my three-year experience here, I found that there are good and bad guys in the government, and in the business sector as well. Not all businesspeople are greedy. Some of them also build cooperation with small business. There are also two types of non-governmental organizations, good and bad NGOs, the purpose-driven and the proposal-driven NGOs.

How can we find good guys in the community, in business, and in government?

We build partnerships with them and facilitate partnerships among themselves without any pretensions of being the hub. We only facilitate and provide a common ground for them.

For example, we facilitate a cooperation between Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, two Muslim organizations that many say are irreconcilable. I challenged (former Muhammadiyah chairman) Syafii Maarif and current Nahdlatul Ulama chairman Hasyim Muzadi to fight against corruption for the benefit of the ummat (their people). They must work together to stop corruption. We also try to improve the Supreme Court and NGOs to monitor the process.
There is already a blueprint for the improvement of the judiciary system. We have also prepared ad hoc human rights courts and helped set up the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).

I think the law has been used to protect violators rather than to create justice for the people. The core problem is the bureaucracy.

Governance reform is a constant rebalancing between state, market and society. It is rebalancing between the government, business and civil society or NGOs. If the state gets stronger there would be statism, if cooperation gets stronger, it leads to neo-liberalism, and if people get too strong there will be primordialism.

Now, we know the main thing that must be improved is the bureaucracy. The President has agreed with this. Now, we try to find the most effective model.

People in the bureaucracy want cabinet ministers to carry out the bureaucratic reform process. However, experience in other countries shows that reforms carried out by cabinet ministers will not work. It needs the support of external factors. There must be figures from outside that help the reform process. National leaders. They are people like media mogul Jakob Oetama, Muslim leader Syafii Maarif and scholar Saparinah Sadli.

How do you find good guys that have enthusiasm to improve the bureaucracy?

We find good guys in all sectors. We helped Rustriningsih (who is Rustiningsih) in Kebumen, Central Java, and West Sumatra governor Gamawan Fawzi. We need a commitment from the persons in strategic positions.
I met Joyowinoto (one name, who is this guy). He promised that he would not commit corruption. I told him: “I don’t trust you. How can you avoid corruption?” And he said, with the help of the Partnership.

Now, we help him. All of his staff members from echelon two up are being evaluated. We get funds for that process. We also contribute to the selection of KPK members, Ad hoc Justices and Judicial Commission members. Of course, the final say is still with the House.

I recommended (to the Yogyakarta governor) that members of the bureaucracy (in Yogyakarta) sign a pact of integrity. But, there are also people who consider governance reform as a “project”. We, for example, allocated Rp 2 billion (US$220,000) for our reform initiative at the Ministry of Home Affairs. Officials at the ministry, however, plan to take of part it so that their director general can get a monthly honorarium from the project.

This shows that low-rank officers work for the benefit of their superiors. They try to earn money from different posts.

I met Gorontalo Governor Fadel Muhammad who said that his income could reach Rp 70 million to Rp 80 million a month. He gets additional income from different projects.

There are good guys, bad guys or people who work for the sake of working. They become state officials not to serve the people but to become uncivil masters. State officials do not serve the people, but they tend to get benefit from the people. I am concerned about religious leaders here. They have forgotten to always warn the people of judgment day.

The Partnership works on building the institution. The problem is, people still have the same mind-set. How do we change people’s mind-set?

I think religious leaders must give leadership by example. A person who gives a donation for the construction of a mosque or church should not be considered a saint. So, the leaders must change their attitudes first.

We must also ask ourselves how a mind-set is shaped. The mind-set is shaped from people’s calculations. People always try to find attitudes that benefit themselves.

Why does corruption exist? Why are there human right abuses?

Because there is impunity here. If we start punishing the perpetrators, people will think twice before committing a crime. That is the economy of corruption. We must do two things. We must seek out the perpetrators and have them punished. The punishment is needed to prevent others from committing corruption.

The second thing is prevention work. If there is systematic corruption, then prevention should also be systematic. In the bureaucracy, there are systematic regulations from the recruitment process to retirement. So, people find incentives to live lawful lives as citizens.

Today, the typical Indonesian faces an institutional setup and an incentive structure that encourages poor governance or corruption rather than good governance. There is no incentive structure that ensures that an individual will gain something if he or she lives a lawful life as a citizen.

We will teach lessons that nobody is above the law. Several figures have been imprisoned, like Tommy (Soeharto), Bob Hasan, Rahardi Ramelan, Paul Sutopo, Probosutejo and Said Agil. Imagine, a former minister of religious affairs standing trial for corruption!

That demonstrates the dire state we are in, the depth we have sunk to as a nation, that the highest ranking government official in charge of religion and religious affairs is being prosecuted for corruption.

That is what we are up against. Of course, these are daunting challenges. We know it and we must move forward.

With all these complicated problems — improving the bureaucracy, empowering the community and business sector — how does the Partnership build common effort with them?

We identify good people and we work with them. It is as simple as that. These are daunting challenges, but you appear very optimistic … You have to. That’s life.

What is your motto that helps sustain your optimism?

This is a long story. It explains why I become an agricultural engineer. I was born in Medan, North Sumatra, and so was my father. My father was a businessman, so we had money. Anytime we went on vacation to Prapat, we traveled across a rubber plantation. I saw men working there. They only wore pants without shirts. They were plantation workers. I felt sorry for that. The next day I saw staff members of the management live a much better life. This situation forced me to study agriculture to help the laborers.
I should have become textile trader at Pasar Baru or run a textile company. But, I didn’t. After graduating from ITB, I thought that the degree was not enough. Then, I got a scholarship and studied at Cornell. I returned home and worked at the Ministry of Agriculture. I did not want to teach.

People say that those who can practice their knowledge cannot teach. That is wrong. There are many people who can do and also can teach. Teaching is creating a new generation.

What is the motto?

Itikad and ikhtiar. I work for the benefit of the people, not only for personal gain. If we work only for personal gain and for our family, animals can do that. There are even animals that work for their group. Human beings must not work for personal interest. Human beings must work for the benefit of others.

Ikhtiar means keeping on working as long as we are still alive. Although I have seen the challenges, I have to keep on working — undaunted. This has to be done if this country is going to prevail … to prosper … to take care of the poor … and to be respectable people.

There is corruption everywhere, in China, United States, India or Netherlands, but the scale of corruption here is huge — so we are not respected.

For a work like this, do you believe that you have friends?

There are many good guys, but they are scattered. I do not feel that I work alone. The most important thing is that we create a common front. This is definitely hard work, but it seems that it is not burdensome to you …

Ha .. ha .. ha .. Really?

You see I have been getting older. Anyway, you have to serve. For me, all positions that I have got are a new opportunity to serve.

How do you keep up your stamina?

I always have a morning walk with my wife. She is a nutrition expert and a lecturer at the University of Indonesia.
Do not eat a lot. Drink wine moderately. I am learning to have enough rest — sleep. What I am now realizing — and I was not aware of this when I was young — is that your body needs rest. My advise to the young would be fight food intake, and get enough exercise and rest.

If you have good friends … that helps.

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One Response to “Indonesians in Focus: H.S. Dillon”

Dr. Made Antara, Ir., MS. | June 29th, 2009 at 8:50 pm | comment link
top comment

Pak Dillon, di mana alamat rumah Bapak, karena saya ingin mengirim draft sebuah buku yang akan diterbitkan, untuk minta komentar pendek (endorcement). Terima kasih.



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