BRIN and bureaucratization: En route to a national research setback

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Achmad Nur Hidayat MPP
Achmad Nur Hidayat MPP. Public Policy Expert and FEB Lecturer at the National Development “Veteran” University, Jakarta.

IO – On January 2, 2022, the Eijkman Institute greeted the New Year by bidding a sorrowful farewell to the Indonesia people, via its official Twitter page.

It may have been a festive period for many, but not for Eijkman’s researchers, who expressed their profound regret for the closure of the Eijkman Institute. After a 33-year dedication to research and development into health and medicine, specializing molecular biology in Indonesia and worldwide, they had to write a heartbreaking goodbye message. As if to rub salt into the wound, Eijkman’s consolidation to the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) resulted in the dismissal of 100 Eijkman researchers.

Baruna Jaya Research Ship, another research institution that shared the same fate as Eijkman, had to terminate 33 crew members, all under the status of “outsourced workers” (not registered as government employees under the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT)). Rumors were running rampant that another research institution in BPPT, LIPI, would go down the same rabbit hole.

How does the roadmap of human resources (HR) management for researchers work in Indonesia? Does the importance of bureaucratization outrank the progress of national research? Or is this part of a game to incapacitate national research for the continuity of oligarchy domination?

Rigid Indonesian bureaucratization
Head of BRIN Laksana Tri Handoko justifies the layoff policy by claiming it is an effort to improve the bureaucratization of HR for Indonesian scientists. At this stage, BRIN only retains researchers who have a civil servant status, because the Agency needs to follow HR formalities, consistent with the rules in other government institutions.

Hence, the 100 Eijkman researchers and 33 Baruna Jaya crew members laid off by BRIN, on the pretext that their status as “non-civil servant researchers”, “outsourced human resources from third parties” and other reasons. The root of this controversy is BRIN’s misplaced priority to enforce bureaucratization, in lieu of prioritizing the innovation of Merah Putih vaccine or developing other health-related technology.

If the bureaucratization of researchers has become a priority for BRIN, it signifies that Indonesia’s national research direction is moving down the wrong route. BRIN has to be sternly reminded of its role to reinvent national research – not to hinder the progress of national research.

BRIN should not constrain researchers, forcing them to become civil servants, as enforced in other rigid bureaucracies.

BRIN and its ten managing committee members should understand that bureaucracy is incompatible with scientific progress. This truism applies worldwide. As scientists become more bureaucratic, they will tend to publish less research. On the contrary, if bureaucracies become more flexible, scientists will be more prolific, with creativity and inventions. The uniformization of researchers into BRIN’s bureaucracy will cripple their academic freedom.

Research into a “Merah Putih vaccine” should be BRIN’s main priority, if Indonesia wishes to free itself from having to import vaccines from China, the United States, the United Kingdom, India and Russia. The emergence of new COVID-19 variants every three months should impel Indonesian scientists to discover vaccines that are most effective with the DNA unique to Indonesian people.

The disbandment of Eijkman, which BRIN later was forced to admit will seriously impede Merah Putih vaccine research, should result in a careful evaluation of BRIN’s leadership and direction. Ideally, the Indonesian House of Representatives will summon BRIN, including its ten managing committee members, and demand a clarification of the issues of work termination of Eijkman’s researchers and Baruna Jaya, and the delay in Merah Putih vaccine research, development and testing.

The public is becoming suspicious, naturally concluding that BRIN has become a tool in a game to cripple national research in the interest of global oligarchy dominance in the vaccine development industry. Before such poisonous suspicion snowballs, stakeholders must come forth with an immediate clarification.

BRIN should have learned from Germany, the US, Russia and Japan of the necessity of providing its scientists with flexibility, because those countries have showcased the most significant number of patented inventions in science and technology.

Thus, we urge BRIN to revise halts its work priorities, moving toward the bureaucratization of scientists (dismissal of researchers) and replacing it with a public-private partnership between scientists and BRIN. It must continue to recognize them as part of the Agency and invite private and government institutions to conduct research partnerships with those researchers. This implies that BRIN must come up with a different scheme for non-civil servant scientists, and must not selfishly terminate their employment, as BRIN’s role is to reinvent national research.

BRIN should learn how to act creatively in reinventing national research. Hopefully, the ten members of BRIN’s managing committee will devise other creative ideas to solve the conundrum of BRIN’s bureaucratization. They have entrusted with this duty by the President, but they have not said a word to the public about reinventing national research.