Anyone following the series of corruption cases in this country would definitely be stunned by the amount of political, social and other forms of money-related malaise that prevails here.
It seems that we can no longer hear of anyone in this country doing the right thing, speaking the truth and being honest toward others.
Looking at the extent to which our people have committed corruption, one wonders if this nation is indeed heading toward a gloomy future, both economically and mentally.
On an almost daily basis, we hear news about corruption involving state officials, policemen, parliament members and businessmen. From top officials to the lowest-paid employees, many are involved in this practice.
And the culture among our civil servants is also such that they are - wittingly or unwittingly - directed toward committing corruption by accepting money outside the official salaries that they deserve.
In a culture where one can obscure the distinct lines between a "gift" and a "bribe", a civil servant can commit this kind of offense, stand to gain and accept money, while positing moral justifications for their actions.
The business community helps nourish the culture of corruption in this country. Those who have interests in getting business done or in obtaining permits without much hassle often bribe civil servants and other government officials.
In their mutual act of dishonesty, the business community at best feels it is helping out those miserably underpaid civil servants, while those who accept the bribe believe they are receiving some philanthropic munificence.
Hence the corruption among civil servants and business malpractice are inextricably linked in this country.
Dishonesty is equally common among people on the street in petty functionaries. I was traveling a few days ago in the taxi. Normally I would pay Rp 20,000 for that distance, but the taxi driver was so dishonest that I finally paid almost double that.
A friend of mine from overseas was in Jakarta on a visit. He took a taxi - after a seriously inconvenient and irritating bargaining process with taxi drivers - only to be cheated out of hundreds of thousands of rupiah.
He was forced to pay Rp 800,000 for a distance that would normally cost Rp 100,000. This is a very simple - yet very telling - example of corruption in Indonesia.
So it is not an exaggeration to say that corruption and other similar forms of dishonesty have become endemic here. We have lost our sense of ethics.
We have even become so accustomed to engage in illicit acts such as blackmail, the abuse of trust, undertaking activities outside the legality of the system, and the like so much so that we sometimes come to enjoy doing those acts as if they are acceptable, justified and normal. As blunt and disturbing as this might seem, it is the bitter truth of our society.
It is not surprising, therefore, that eradicating corruption in this country is a daunting task, so daunting that we wouldn't know where to start.
If those examples of various forms of corruption in our country tell us anything it is that they are structurally ingrained within ourselves and in our society. And this explains why we need so desperately to reform immediately not just our laws, but also our commitment to eradicating it.
The endemic corruption cannot be left unabated. It has crippled our nation and jeopardized the very future of our country.
Like a cancer, it has spread into all parts of our body and threatens to paralyze us.
Owing to its intensity and immense danger, corruption can only be combated by a combination of efforts. One must remember that corruption in this country is not a case of an individual or a handful of individuals, but rather an entire society.
Altering this condition will require not only penalizing certain individuals but also sweeping political, legislative, economic and social reforms.
This in itself is a formidable undertaking, and hence requires strong commitment on the part of the government and civilians. The undertaking will become even harder as the beneficiaries of corruption will not keep quiet and will rather defend their interests ferociously. Can we imagine that those who have benefited from the culture of corruption will not resist tooth and nail any attempt to change the very culture of corruption?
Whatever the consequences, we cannot afford to be held hostage by corruption, which has subverted our political processes, endangered our economic stability, undermined honest enterprise and eroded the moral fiber of our society.
It is therefore imperative that we combat this harmful phenomenon, avoid its devastating consequences and punish those guilty of it.
The writer is a graduate of Al-Azhar University, Cairo.