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.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Taha Ke­har

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.

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