Sunday, June 26, 2005

Fighting corruption in Indonesia requires a holistic approach

The Jakarta Post
26 June 2005

Thang D. Nguyen, Jakarta

Corruption has been with us since human civilizations first began.Today, it costs governments, businesses, and ordinary citizensworldwide hundreds of billions of dollars per year.

And in Indonesia, fighting corruption is more than daunting a task for its government.

Since he came to power last October, President Susilo BambangYudhoyono (SBY) has made corruption one of the priorities for hisgovernment. He has launched an anti-corruption campaign that, he said,"I myself will lead."

To show that he means business, he has put together a 51-personCoordinating Team for Corruption Eradication (KPK), an anti-graftagency that is put in place to continue what has been -- for the mostpart -- a mission impossible for its successors.

Thus far, the new campaign appears to have teeth. To start with, theformer Aceh governor, Abdullah Puteh, was accused in early lastDecember of taking a cut from the purchase of a Russian helicopterpurchased by the government. He is now on trial.

Last month, two other notable individuals were arrested on charges of corruption. The first one is former Bank Mandiri president director,E.C.W. Neloe, whom the Attorney General's Office (AGO) named as asuspect for his alleged role in the lending scam at the giantstate-owned bank.

The second one is Nazaruddin Sjamsuddin, former chairman of theIndonesian General Elections Commission (KPU). The KPK called forNazaruddin's arrest on the basis of his alleged corruption during lastyear's elections.

As impressive as the campaign seems, some questions remain: How longwill it last? Is it really effective? And, most importantly, willthose convicted of corruption walk free or get a light sentence?

The answer is: It is too early to tell.

Meanwhile, one thing is certain: like poverty, corruption will alwaysbe with us. It is mainly because greed, which is the root cause of corruption, is a permanent feature of human nature.

Thus, to make the Susilo-led anti-corruption campaign work, itsobjective should be realistic and achievable. Put differently, theultimate goal of this campaign should be to reduce corruption inIndonesia to a minimal level.

Why reduce corruption and not get rid of it altogether? It is simplybecause corruption cannot be terminated.

No one single country -- even those in the West, which prides itselfon transparency and good governance -- can claim that it is completelycorruption-free. Put differently, corruption exists in all societies,but it is more serious in some than others.

For this reason, the Transparency International (TI) publishes anannual index of corruption, which ranks Indonesia the world's fifthmost corrupt nation this year.

But just having a realistic goal of reducing corruption in Indonesiadoes not guarantee success. In other words, the Susilo-ledanti-corruption campaign requires more than naming and arrestingcorrupters.

To be sure, these arrests signal a good start. They seem, however, toreflect a corrective, rather than a preventive, approach to dealingwith corruption.

Thus, the campaign may be more effective if it is executed with a moreholistic approach that has three folds. First, Indonesian citizens, regardless of profession, must be given ways to make a living withoutbeing or becoming corrupt.

It is understandable that a poorly paid teacher or police officer has to take bribes. Even though he may feel guilty doing it, it's the onlyway for him to provide for himself or his family.

Therefore, if the Susilo Administration can find ways to increase thesalaries for workers across the sectors and reform the civil services, it will help reduce a great deal of corruption; workers and civilservants should not feel the need to be corrupt.

Second, like a people's or revolutionary war, the Susilo-led campaign must be carried out with the "hearts and minds" of the people of Indonesia. In fact, the campaign needs their support to succeed.

Why their support? It's because if encouraged, they will be motivatedto provide the KPK with the intelligence, evidence, or witnesses, allof which are necessary for the agency to find and bring corrupters tojustice.

The government should, therefore, reward well and give protection toIndonesian citizens who help find out if, and prove that, anindividual or organization -- public, private, or otherwise -- hascommitted corruption.

In fact, this campaign requires the help of the Indonesian civilsociety and each citizen, if it is to succeed. Or, as the KPKvice-chairman, Erry Riyana Hardjapamekas, puts it, "Let's all lightsome candles rather than [cursing] the darkness."

Finally, the KPK must show that it means business by giving corrupterswho are found guilty the punishments -- imprisonment, fine, or eventhe death sentence -- they deserve.

It is no news that money and power can easily buy freedom forcriminals in Indonesia -- and other parts of the world, for that matter. Therefore, the KPK must be empowered with not onlyanti-corruption laws, but strong support from the Indonesian legalsystem, particularly judges, to drive the campaign successfully.

Indonesia is making progress on reducing corruption. But like otherdiseases, corruption must be treated holistically, with bothpreventive and corrective measures. Otherwise, the Susiloadministration\'s battle with corruption will be fought in vain.

The writer is a Jakarta-based columnist. He writes frequently onIndonesian affairs and has published several books.