Con­tribut­ing writer Hans Roose­boom ex­plores the dark history be­hind the Dutch East In­dia Com­pany, with a tale of cor­rup­tion and mis­man­age­ment as en­gross­ing as any fic­tional nar­ra­tive.

Indonesia Expat - - Meet The Expat - BY HANS ROOSE­BOOM Hans Roose­boom is a long term res­i­dent of Jakarta. He now en­joys a leisurely life, play­ing ten­nis most morn­ings and writ­ing his blogs and other ar­ti­cles.

Cor­rup­tion and Mis­man­age­ment in the Times of the VOC

The Dutch East In­dia Com­pany ( Vereenigde OostIndis­che Com­pag­nie, VOC) was es­tab­lished in 1602. The com­pany was ini­tially granted a 21-year mo­nop­oly to trade in Asia. A li­cence to trade in­cluded the li­cence to col­o­nize, and also to pro­tect its ac­tiv­i­ties from un­wanted com­pe­ti­tion and to se­cure sta­ble and reg­u­lar sup­plies of the trade com­modi­ties. In the ar­eas the VOC con­trolled, it was om­nipo­tent. It ne­go­ti­ated treaties with lo­cal rulers, coined money, re­tained its own army; there­fore, it was able to wage war and es­tab­lish set­tle­ments. How­ever, the com­pany went bank­rupt in the late eigh­teenth cen­tury and was dis­solved in 1800.

Cor­rup­tion and Mis­man­age­ment

Dur­ing the 200 years of VOC hege­mony and in spite of the un­abat­ing costly skir­mishes and wars fought to sub­due lo­cal rulers, for­tunes were made by the com­pany and its em­ploy­ees – es­pe­cially the em­ploy­ees in po­si­tions of in­flu­ence, and the ones in charge of procur­ing the goods for the Euro­pean mar­kets.

Although strictly for­bid­den by VOC reg­u­la­tions, the re­turn­fleet of ships owned and op­er­ated by the Com­pany car­ried the pri­vately traded goods of of­fi­cers em­ployed by the VOC. Of course, the ships' cap­tains had been given at­trac­tive shares to lu­bri­cate these deeds. In an of­fi­cial let­ter to the Gov­er­nor- Gen­eral in Batavia (Jakarta), the Board of the VOC ( Heren XVII) in Am­s­ter­dam com­plained, "the ships are so over­loaded with these goods that one won­ders how they ever made it across the sea.”

In re­sponse, the Gov­er­nor- Gen­eral would have prob­a­bly cir­cu­lated a re­minder of the com­pany reg­u­la­tions, which would have then been the end of the is­sue. What else could he do? His own bales of nut­meg, cloves, mace, pep­per, cin­na­mon and any other trad­able goods would, un­doubt­edly, have taken a sig­nif­i­cant amount of space in the holds. He was, after all, the chief trader and he had to pre­pare for a life of leisure back home after the stren­u­ous ef­forts of ad­min­is­ter­ing such a widely dis­persed ter­ri­tory.

Padding, not Guild­ing Lilies

Fas­ci­nat­ing in­sights into Batavia and its peo­ple have been culled from the eight-vol­ume en­cy­clopae­dia, Oud en Nieuw

Oost-In­dien (Old and New East Indies). The en­cy­clopae­dia is the work of François Valen­tijn, Min­is­ter of the Gospel, a keen ob­server and cheerful gos­sip of the go­ings- on in Batavia and the rest of the re­gion.

In the sec­tion on Batavia and its res­i­dent ad­min­is­tra­tors in the early eigh­teenth cen­tury, the salary of a Gover­nor­Gen­eral was around 14,000 guilders per year. Not a bad salary, as the modern equiv­a­lent would be roughly 250,000 guilders (around US$150,000). After a mere five years on the job, Gov­er­nor- Gen­eral Joan van Hoorn (1704-1709) repa­tri­ated with an ac­cu­mu­lated cap­i­tal of ten mil­lion guilders. Sources of ad­di­tional earn­ings for a Gover­nor­Gen­eral and other ad­min­is­tra­tors were, first of all, the pri­vate trade in spices and other valu­ables. Sec­ond, he may have sold jobs and li­cences to the high­est bid­der. Third, there were lav­ish presents given dur­ing the Lu­nar New

Year by Chi­nese traders and tax col­lec­tors.

A lot of fid­dling also went on with the weights and prices of the prod­ucts pur­chased. It is thus not sur­pris­ing that the Gov­er­nor of the Moluc­cas, on an an­nual salary of less than 2,000 guilders saved 50,000 guilders per year, while As­sis­tant Trader Lodewi­jck de Roy hav­ing earned a mere 18 guilders a month left a sum of 136,000 guilders in gold coins to his wife upon his death.

The VOC Board in Am­s­ter­dam tried their very best to curb mal­prac­tices and cor­rup­tion. And to make it less vis­i­ble, they is­sued reg­u­la­tions to re­duce the dis­play of os­ten­ta­tious splen­dour. How­ever, the records show that they were not very suc­cess­ful in the ex­e­cu­tion of this ef­fort. In 1750, the pre­sid­ing Gov­er­nor- Gen­eral Ja­cob Mos­sel, on in­struc­tions from Am­s­ter­dam, is­sued the Reg­u­la­tions to Curb Pomp

and Cir­cum­stances in which the con­spic­u­ous lux­ury that was per­mit­ted was laid out in de­tail. For in­stance, the num­ber of but­ton­holes on a gen­tle­man's vest was re­stricted; while the size and adorn­ments of the para­sols for ladies of dif­fer­ent ranks, were also spec­i­fied – these para­sols were car­ried by a slave fol­low­ing the lady. But, when it was ruled that ladies of mixed-race had to carry their para­sol by them­selves, the ladies boy­cotted church at­ten­dance, and the rule was quickly re­voked. With­out the equiv­a­lent of modern- day news­pa­pers and or­ga­ni­za­tions mon­i­tor­ing the pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion, these par­tic­u­lar abuses only ended when the VOC was de­clared bank­rupt.

“In an of­fi­cial let­ter to the Gov­er­nor-Gen­eral in Batavia ( Jakarta), the Board of the VOC ( Heren

XVII) in Am­s­ter­dam com­plained, "the ships are so over­loaded with these goods that one won­ders how they ever made it across the sea.””




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