Beyond the Corruption
Corruption is ingrained in Indonesian life. President Widodo has made efforts to overcome the problem but his path is littered with many obstacles which just refuse to go away.
Indonesia’s downward spiral into a cesspool of corruption and mismanagement has been widely reported by the media. If the findings of a survey commissioned by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) are anything to go by, these news reports have steered public perception in a negative direction.
At least 66.4% of respondents believe the roots of corruption remain firmly entrenched in the state and society since President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo assumed public office in 2014. On the other hand, 10.8% of respondents were of the view that corrupt practices have gradually started losing traction after Widodo seized the reins.
A little over 21% of respondents said most cases involving graft allegations have remained stagnant, leaving the system in a peculiar state of limbo. Meanwhile, a staggering 50.4% of respondents insisted that the country had made concrete and well-meaning attempts to eradicate corruption.
The findings were reported in July 2016 - nearly two years after the Indonesian president was sworn in. The study was conducted between April 17 and 29 and 3,900 respondents were interviewed. The sample, as expected, was representative as a sizeable fraction of the respondents belonged to areas that were, according to the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), particularly vulnerable to political mismanagement.
It is difficult to discredit the statistical data that has been put forward through this survey. The study has managed to put a figure on the level of dissatisfaction triggered by various forms of political corruption. These trends suggest that Widodo - who had made a series of electoral promises to reform the political system - has failed to stem the roots of mismanagement.
Analysts believe that people who have been accused of corruption are seldom meted out serious punishments. In its 2014 report, the Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW) stated that out of 479 graft convicts, only 372 received less than four years of imprisonment. As a result, many of them tend to repeat their offences because the chances of getting caught appear to be slim. The element of deterrence has been conveniently removed from the equation and breaking the law stands the risk of becoming an inconvenient norm. The abbreviation ‘KKN’ - which stands for corruption (korupsi), collusion (kolusi) and nepotism (nepotisme) - has seeped into the Indonesian state structure. Such mismanagement is heavily ingrained in the fabric of social life and has manifested itself in various forms.
The growing spate of corruption in Indonesia has generated a fierce debate among scholars. More often than not, academics have been trying to determine if the roots of corruption can be found in the pre-colonial era, the period of Dutch colonization or Japan’s occupation of Indonesia between 1942-1945. For most academics, corruption has emerged as a taken-for-granted aspect of Indonesia’s judicial, political and corporate milieu that usually defies an unequivocal explanation. The ambiguity has made it difficult to agree upon a specific time period during which the roots of corruption were sown. However, former president Suharto’s New Order regime, between 1965 and 1998, has been viewed a suitable starting point for analysis. During these three decades, Indonesia was characterized by a sustained period of economic growth. However, corrupt practices also run parallel to such positive economic indicators as Suharto managed to secure the loyalty of his subordinates through a system of patronage. Elite sections of society were guaranteed business prospects and political ranks in exchange for their unflagging support to Suharto’s regime. Suharto also had the army and sizeable resources generated from the oil boom at his disposal. This made it easier for him to manoeuvre the system in his favour.
The country’s economic policy was also chalked out through the support of a small group of confidantes who were believed to be corrupt. A relatively close-knit group of capitalists largely benefitted from state privatization schemes. Most of them ran monopolies that functioned without a significant degree of monitoring. Since Suharto’s New Order was excessively centralized, there was predictability among investors and businesspeople. They knew how much money they were expected to offer as bribes to serve their narrow, business interests. After Suharto’s rule, a regional decentralization drive kicked off in Indonesia. Administrative autonomy was shifted away from Jakarta and transferred to the districts. As a result, bribery was no longer an ingrained aspect of the system.
The KPK was established in 2003 to rid the country of corrupt influences. The agency sought to carry out a muchneeded oversight function by monitoring the state. But these developments did little to put an end to the corruption downward spiral. The KPK initially focused more on low-profile officials rather than the big fish. Over time, especially towards the end of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's government, the agency took on the Herculean task of demanding accountability from ministers, judges and the police. These instances suggest that corruption remains a menace in Indonesia. What is more, the KPK has also been accused of mismanaging affairs and engaging in corrupt practices.
Similarly, high-profile corruption cases that surfaced during former president Yudhoyono’s rule sullied the government’s image. These problems have also emerged during Widodo’s regime.
At first, the incumbent president vowed to wage a battle against corruption in the country. He shifted countless government services online to prevent bureaucrats from obtaining extra money.
For his first few months in power, Widodo enjoyed a clean image. However, things took a nasty turn when
The growing spate of corruption in Indonesia has generated a fierce debate among scholars.
the president decided to throw his weight behind a police chief who is suspected to be involved in countless graft cases.
The nomination of Budi Gunawan for police chief triggered a wave of controversy. Widodo refused to intervene in the matter even though the nominee had been accused of corruption in the past. This resulted in a showdown between the police and the KPK where the latter was criminalized. The president only decided to intervene when the situation had worsened. According to media reports, Widodo proposed a “weak compromise” by deciding not to consider Budi for the police chief’s post. The nominee was eventually appointed as the deputy chief. At this critical juncture, the menace of corruption is inextricably linked to the political system in Indonesia. This reality will continue to influence the public’s perceptions until tangible reforms are put into effect.
Indonesia’s people have shown a willingness to eradicate corruption from the political sphere. The media, which has vociferously advocated freedom of expression, has made it a point to give space to these viewpoints. Although most media outlets are owned by businesspeople and politicians who have their own agenda, the public’s eagerness to fuel change cannot be cast aside so easily. People are more likely to vote for a leader who is not involved in a graft scandal and may act accordingly to prevent such negative publicity.