Yasonna Hamonangan Laoly, who has been the minister of justice and human rights since Oct. 27, 2014, is considered part of the inner circle of the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P. Yasonna has been a politician since the fall of former President Suharto in 1998 and served as a lawmaker between 1999 and 2003 and member of the People's Consultative Assembly, or MPR, from 2004 until his appointment as minister.
His powerful portfolio as justice minister includes overseeing the country's justice system, penitentiaries and immigration, while his ministry also has a legal mandate to review law proposals, license intellectual property rights, and regulate legal entities and political organizations operating in the country.
President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo also appointed him in an important position as head of the fourth working group of the special government task force responsible for accelerating and reviewing the effectiveness of the current administration's economic policies.
Yasonna's main responsibility in the working group is to deal with any legal obstacles that may slow down investment by the private sector or state-owned enterprises. The task force is headed by Coordinating Economic Affairs Minister Darmin Nasution.
In an interview with GlobeAsia on the sidelines of the International Public Service Forum in Jakarta last month, Yasonna said that with the less than a year of his term as minister remaining, he would be accelerating reforms to improve his ministry's public services through digitalization.
"We just established a powerful data center recently," he said, adding that this facility would allow his ministry to integrate all data and process any public services in real time.
"By implementing what we call the digital bureaucracy, we hope the processing of all services can be accelerated. Document approvals and notifications will be done online," said Yasonna, who obtained a law degree from the University of North Sumatra.
He said all divisional heads and echelon 1 officials would have access to public documents and will be required to grant approval online, with a set of deadlines that will have to be met.
"The old mentality of bureaucrats of 'why make things easy if they can be made difficult?' must be eliminated. If we do more by empowering the digital system, it means fewer face-to-face meetings with officials, which means less complicity and fewer opportunities for negotiations," Yasonna said.
He was referring to the often long and complicated processes involved in obtaining official documents, especially from his ministry. These include passports, documents for the registration of legal entities, copyright permits, remission requests by convicts, and many more.
Yasonna acknowledged recent public complaints that the processing of passport applications had become much slower. He said this was a setback for the Directorate General of Immigration after it received public praise for allowing passport applications to be submitted at any immigration office in the country, which was a departure from an earlier restriction that required applicants to do so at an office in the administrative area stated on their identity cards.
However, he said the recent slowdown in the processing of passport applications was due to his ministry upgrading its online system to ensure it can deliver quicker and better services in the future. "Please be patient on this; I can assure you that the upgrade is for a better future," he said.
However, he said the ministry has already streamlined other services, including the registration of intellectual property rights. "Now, if one is submitting an application form to register intellectual property rights, approval can be given within a day," he said, adding that the ministry has implemented QR code technology on copyright certificates that will allow people to easily check their authenticity.
Referring to his ministry's powers to administer the country's prison system, he said remission requests can also now be submitted online and that officials are required to process such requests "as fast as possible."
Solving Investment Problems
Another powerful role the president entrusted to Yasonna is to make it easier for investors to do business in Indonesia.
"We have a special job from the president, which is to speed up resolutions of any disputes in investments by companies. Even though we acknowledged that we still have a lot of homework, we have so far helped to settle various problems related to projects worth Rp 600 trillion [$41 billion] in total," he said.
"We have been offering help to improve communication within various ministries and local government offices to assist investors. The local and international business communities often complain about legal certainty here, for example difficulties in executing court rulings, settling international arbitrage cases, legal contracts that cannot be executed; we are helping them to find legal solutions," Yasonna said, adding that the government realizes the need for Indonesia to improve its competitiveness against regional rivals amid the current difficult global economic conditions.
"Private sector investment plays an important role in boosting our economic growth, that's why the president pays special attention to investment," he said.
Yasonna also said the ministry is working on a fair "reward and punishment" system for staff.
"Digitalization cannot be implemented properly without upgrading our human resources, and they must know that we have a carrot-and-stick system in place. We are serious about rewarding those who perform and innovate, but punishment is also real for those who do not comply with our new standards," the minister said.
Yasonna also has several other responsibilities, including the supervision of nongovernmental organizations in the country. He played an instrumental role in the drafting of the Law on Mass Organizations, which recently allowed the government to disband Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, a radical Islamic group that seeks to establish a caliphate in the country.
He must also pay serious attention to overcrowding and poor conditions in Indonesia's prisons, which many believe are currently understaffed.