15 December 2010

Can we stop corruption in Indonesia?

By Ajit Joy

IT'S DECEMBER 9, [2010], the International Day against Corruption. Time to take stock of the developments in the corruption front in the last one year. Needless to say, it was a tumultuous year as far as the corruption scenario in Indonesia was concerned. Corruption dominated the headlines almost everyday.

The year saw several new cases of corruption that rocked the nation. The country witnessed the helplessness and lethargy combined with demoralization of government agencies tasked to fight corruption. People were also shocked by the complicity of the law enforcers in corruption scandals.

Nevertheless, on the positive side, there is a very interesting development. The civil society and media seem to be edging out the state as leaders in the fight against corruption.

They have never before been as vocal and outspoken as this. The loss for the state has been a gain for them and they have not shied from taking up this challenging initiative.

There is also clear indication that space in the fight against corruption is slowly being seized by people in general. Through Facebook protests and blogs and Internet campaigns and fund collections, ordinary public are slowly coming out to the forefront of Indonesia’s fight against corruption.

The country seems to be graduating into a mature stage wherein fighting corruption is truly becoming, and as it should be — everyone’s business.

New promises are however in the air for the state with new chiefs in the Corruption Eradication Commission, National Police and the Attorney General’s Office. There is a lot of expectation from them, but there are several questions too.

Will they be able to breach the entrenched unholy nexus between big businesses and public offices? Will they be able to bring in more accountability and integrity within their own departments, and reign in their staff? Will there be a serious effort to arrest and prosecute corruptors and confiscate the illegal wealth?
Perhaps today is a good occasion to make three suggestions that need cooperation from the public and the government.

Three measures that could breach entrenched corrupt interests and behavior. Three ways of making a point that corruption can be tackled.

First, can the Jakarta Traffic Police stop fining motorists for one year? Traffic police in Jakarta show a zero tolerance for traffic offense. They are hawk like in their keenness to catch the most minor of infringements.

The incentive for this is more for what they can make than to enforce the law. Invariably the fine of Rp 50,000 (US$5.5) goes into the pocket of the cop rather than to the state. Can the police stop this low level corruption for a year by withholding the power of the traffic police to fine?

The consequence I can assure you will not be traffic chaos in the city. Let the police continue with their zero tolerance approach and warn violators but taking money or imposing a fine should not be an option for just one year.

You may wonder what the benefit is and why target this low level corruption and not the bigger ones. The advantage is that for one year the police on the street, the most visible arm of the state, in its capital cannot take money.

In terms of public perception and trust in law enforcement this will make a marked change through the creation of this “island of integrity”.

Other police units and government departments are likely to carry out similar experiments.

Further, the police will then make a demand for salary rise and reasonable pay in order to offset the loss in additional income.

This will further create a ripple effect for bureaucratic reforms in the police backed by public support Second, incentivize asset recovery. Even though corruptors and criminals today are arrested, seizing their ill-gotten assets takes only a low priority. 

Recovery of stolen assets from within the country and abroad is the weakest link in the criminal justice system of Indonesia.

The reason being it is a lot of hard and complicated work for investigators to get to the properties, which many times for properties abroad require cooperation from foreign governments.

What better way is there to make it effective than to give an incentive to the LE officers of 10 percent of the value of recovery.

The state still gets to keep 90 percent of the seized assets.

This incentive will immediately see a big rise in seizing of ill gotten wealth by the government. This action will prove to be the greatest disincentive to corruptors.

More than a jail sentence, losing their assets hurts them. The incentive scheme will bring asset recovery to the center of investigation strategy while currently it remains in the periphery.

Third, have public participation in governance. I have mentioned earlier that the civil society and the media are taking over the lead in fighting corruption.

Why not the government then tries to widen the scope of their work and facilitate their deeper and qualitative involvement?

They can at the national level, provincial level and local level form citizens committees to work
with leadership of ministries and departments.

There should be periodic meeting of the committees wherein the leadership should explain their work to the citizen committee members and also take suggestions from them and answer questions raised by the members.

Even in a small way this will bring in accountability and transparency in the working of these departments. This is a way of involving the public in governance by the government which exists for the people. Increased public trust and public cooperation would follow as the byproduct of this intervention.

It is not necessary for all government departments to go for this. Even a piloting by a few government bodies will provide the necessary trigger for wider citizen participation in governance.

Corruption can be reduced. But for this the discussion must start from the family. Issues must be discussed with children at home, discussed with students in schools and colleges. As the generation that is growing up and as people who will be both the future bribe givers and bribe receivers things need to be clarified and new ideas sowed in the younger generation.

Ideas of saying “no” to corruption and the fact that everyone’s “no” counts in this. Best of luck for a successful year in fighting corruption.

Photo of traffic police in Jakarta by nSeika, used under a Creative Commons License.

The writer is country manager of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Indonesia. This essay was first published in the 12 December 2010 online edition of The Jakarta Post. It is featured in VOICES with the writer's permission.

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