When General Suharto resigned from his presidency in 1998, Indonesia was stuck in an economic and institutional crisis. Power had been centralized in Suharto’s hands for decades, sustained by a highly politicized army. Indonesia’s judiciary had lost its authority, and was also impaired by corruption. At the request of the government of Indonesia, the IMF provided support for economic revival and started focusing on the installation of a bankruptcy regime for corporate sector recovery from 2000 to 2004. The Netherlands supported this endeavour by funding technical assistance to strengthen the judiciary’s capacity for the bankruptcy laws’ implementation.
The IMF/Netherlands Program for Legal and Judicial Reforms created Commercial Courts to this end, but it soon became clear that they could not achieve their aim unless a transformation of the entire judicial system was undertaken: the crisis of the country’s institutions was running so deep that the Commercial Courts suffered from the same shortcomings as the rest of the judiciary. Furthermore, resistance to change among Indonesians complicated the endeavour. Firstly, the externally imposed intervention did not resonate well with key actors, who felt like they had no ownership of the process. Secondly, judicial corruption had become internalised as normal practice over the years, decreasing local actors’ willingness to address them.
The difficult dynamic surrounding the legal and judicial reform changed when a new Chair of the Supreme Court, a non-career judge who was more open to reform, was appointed to replace the retiring Chair. He was not opposed to structural change, which created a window of opportunity to address the deeper issues in the judiciary. The IMF/Netherlands Programme consequently shifted its attention from the Commercial Courts to the Supreme Court, working to restore the latter’s institutional capacity and efficiency.
When the People’s Consultative Assembly, Indonesia’s legislative branch, amended the Constitution to provide for a new Judicial Commission, the IMF/Netherlands Programme initiated a series of workshops and seminars on institutional development. This generated fruitful exchanges between the Supreme Court leadership, the IMF resident experts and NGOs, especially the Institute for Judicial Independence that belonged to the Indonesian Centre for the Study of Law and Policy. The latter started a substantive research process targeting the judiciary, supported by the Supreme Court leadership that granted the researchers access on all levels. These different actors now interacted regularly, complemented by workshops and study trips for the judiciary. The research process produced so-called ‘blueprints’, strategy papers that provided specific approaches to reform at different levels, widely perceived as a significant step to an overall planning model for the reconstruction of the Supreme Court and lower civil courts.
The triangular approach of involving state actors, donors and civil society helped to alter the dynamic of reform in Indonesia. Actors with a strong commitment to reform, such as the Indonesian Centre for the Study of Law and Policy, were given an important voice in the endeavour. As a result the process gained greater legitimacy because local actors complemented donors’ input.
Working with Local Expertise and a Network of Resources – The special relationship that emerged between state, donors and civil society allowed tackling legal and judicial reform on a broad-based footing, drawing strength from a group of committed reformists. The extensive use of local knowledge and expertise, through the inclusion of the Indonesian Centre for the Study of Law and Policy and other civil society organizations, contributed to a sense of genuine ownership of the process which helped to overcome some of the initial resistance to reform. It also motivated the press, the public, and a new generation of NGOs committed to reform, to keep pushing for change.
Identifying and Using Windows of Opportunity – The case shows that momentum for reform can arise suddenly, through small developments such as the arrival of a new person in a key position.Surrounding dynamics should therefore be evaluated carefully with a view to identifying potential entry points, even if they are not obvious at first sight.
Flexibility of Donor Programming and Funding – TheIMF and the Netherland’s had the flexibility to adapt their programme and shift their budget when a window of opportunity appeared, which was paramount to supporting and enhancing the local drive for reform when it occurred. It is fundamental to program success that they have the ability to respond flexibly to such developments.
The IMF/Netherlands Programme created a platform for exchange that helped overcome initial inertia to reform because it brought together different actors and gave a voice to locally rooted, committed reformists. The so-called ‘blueprints’ are a tangible project outcome and present a useful road map with potential to keep the reform momentum alive. Yet, they were not a panacea to repairing the country’s judicial system. Their implementation remains a challenge, in part due to some persisting opposition and in part due to a lack of capacity. At the operational level, judges are required to familiarise themselves with and put into practice these pathways to reform, while political leadership also needs to show willingness and commitment to empower judicial institutions.
At the same time, the triangulation can serve as a model for how reform efforts might be undertaken in other difficult environments, and the blueprints may be a useful planning format for institutional reform outside of Indonesia. Nevertheless, the case also shows that efforts beyond the development of a road map are necessary. The momentum generated through the triangulation process can only be sustained if translated into actual reforms, which remains a challenging task due to persisting opposition and a lack of institutional capacity.