Pretty soon we figured out that bureaucracy in Indonesia is not only a party of the everyday life, but the only way to do things, because without bureaucracy a huge punch of mess is created.
When building our environmental project, our first goal was to reduce bureaucracy to its minimum. Everything had to be as simple as possible. There were two leaders, a few advisors to guide us and the rest of the work was done in teams of different topics, where the team leader was the link between us and the team. So that if anyone had a question, he just needed to ask the team leader and if he didn’t know the answer, he would ask us.
We even thought it would be making a favour to Indonesians – the communication would be fast and direct, without any paperwork or twiddles, and the locals suffering in the bondage of bureaucracy could finally be set free. Of course, a naive Westerners view as always.
When we introduced our innovative plan to our volunteers, a loud confusion rose.
“But if we want to ask something, where shall we go then?”
“You will get the answers from the team leader who, in case doesn’t know the answer, asks us.”
“But usually (biasanya – and if something is biasanya it has to be like that forever) in these cases we would go to the headquarter to the secretary, who sends the question to the secretariat, then they will send it to the secretary-general, who in turn communicates with the director who is advised by the initiator of the project. Then the process of answering starts and depending on the severity of the question it will be sent either via letter or a meeting will be held.”
“You see, it’s pretty complicated, isn’t it? Now we do it the easy way. You have a question – call my number.”
A long silence followed my insane idea and a row of confused eyes investigated my each movement.
“We don’t understand this system. It would be easier if we did like usually.”
I felt like we had just done the world’s greatest outrage trying to favour easy collaboration instead of running between offices, like we had to do each month eight times between immigration bureaus.
The Holy Trinity
We finally reached the stage where 30 crucial letters were to be sent out. So important they were that it took us a week to reach our goal. Because in Indonesia a procedure is like a ceremony – only when you have served the God well, he will treat you generously in return.
The more time and effort the procedure takes, the more authoritative it seems. Therefore each letter must be accompanied by a set of ritualistic decorations, the Holy Trinity: letterhead, stamp and permission (izin).
Somehow Indonesians think that the letterhead and stamp are the ultimate proof of reliability. Therefore the letterhead as well as the stamp are always owned by a small circle of bosses and even if the secretary has it, she will answer you,
“Sorry, I have no permission to use it”.
Instead, she proposed me to drive all the way to Merapi, where a conference was held, to meet the boss who could then add the stamp. Much easier would be to go around the corner and copy the stamp for some pennies, as the fakes are done by the same people as originals and no ethics is ever followed. Also to get the letterhead nothing more than some basic knowledge of Photoshop is needed.
So, to add some extra extra reliability to the letters, you will need to write at least two of them. One is the letter you want to send and the other one is to prove that you really have the right to send it. An izin from the almighty. To get this mystical izin, it could take you days, weeks, months, as nobody really knows who should give out this permission.
It also turned out to be important w h o sends out the letter. It cannot be done via e-mail as no one reads emails more often than twice a month and local post is pretty much a hazard. Therefore we needed at least two volunteers to go together to all 30 places because likewise with letters, one carries the message and the other one is like a proof that it is indeed an authorized deed. To make them reliable, each of them needed a neckline. The neckline, of course, had to be covered with the Holy Trinity.
Once this was also done and the letters sent out, we received a response.
“We don’t have the izin to accept your letter, because the envelope you sent didn’t have the letterhead nor stamp.”
So the procedure started again.
Now you wonder what did these highly authorized letters consist of? It was just a letter to highschool teachers that they would tell their students about the possibility to take part in our debating competition. That’s what all the fuss was about.
** Read how it really works: http://www.letsdoitworld.org and do not get discouraged by my subjective blog posts about leading the project. The stories are intended to be entertaining, therefore I will mostly describe the conflicts instead of successful moments, which there were plenty as well. How ever it all sounds to you, I still believe this one one truly amazing project and should be carried out in all parts of the world. Hopefully, with your help.