Against the Odds: Attempting Reform in Suharto's Indonesia, 1967-1998


President Suharto of Indonesia (1967-1998) presided over one of the most corrupt regimes of the 20th century.  For over three decades, the political and financial interests of Suharto's family, cronies and allies in the military dictated the policies of the Indonesian state.  Nevertheless, a handful of public officials attempted to rationalize, improve and clean up the way government worked.  Emil Salim and Sarwono Kusumaatmadja, both cabinet ministers under Suharto, were two such men.  The pair struggled to manage the influence of the military, motivate a moribund bureaucracy and confront Suharto's many cronies.  Lacking formal mechanisms through which to channel their efforts, Salim and Kusumaatmadja seized on passing targets of opportunity, structuring and adapting their initiatives on an ad hoc basis and relying on unconventional tactics.  Although their successes proved unsustainable, their story offers specific lessons in the often elusive tactics of how individual public officials can achieve modest change against institutional inertia and determined opposition from vested interests.

Matthew Devlin drafted this case study on the basis of interviews conducted inJakarta, Indonesia, in July 2009. 

Associated Interview(s): Sarwono Kusumaatmadja, Emil Salim

Focus Area(s)
Civil Service
Building a Reform Team and Staff
Containing Patronage Pressures
Critical Tasks
Civil service corruption
Country of Reform
Case Studies
Matthew Devlin