Has the corruption battle gone too far?
Leonard Ginocchi, Washington D.C.
There appears to be a growing debate concerning Indonesia's robust anti-corruption campaign. Views are beginning to emerge that the anti-corruption campaign may have gone too far and could be adversely affecting the country's economy and national development.
Senior government officials and legislators have speculated that economic growth is being hindered by delays in initiating government development projects. These delays are attributed to a concern, apparently held by many government managers, that their decisions in instituting government policy might be subsequently questioned or investigated, possibly resulting in prosecution in the country's current anti-corruption climate.
Businesspeople seeking government contracts are indicating that government officials are becoming increasingly cautious in making decisions, as well as being extremely careful in ensuring complete compliance with the many complicated and onerous government procurement regulations.
Some have speculated that the inability of the government to initiate spending for various projects based on the reluctance to act, or perhaps even fear on the part of government officials may have diminished overall economic growth and the national development that is vital to the government's efforts to address many of the country problems such as unemployment, poor infrastructure, inadequate healthcare and natural disaster recovery.
In assessing the current situation in Indonesia it might be beneficial to examine both the negative and positive aspects of corruption. Few would argue that corruption, in its many forms and manifestations, has an economic impact. Most perceive that economic effects of corruption are inherently negative, routinely citing the inefficiency or "high cost" economy existing in countries such as Indonesia where corruption is generally perceived to be pervasive.
Corrupt activities also decrease government revenue that could be effectively utilized for a variety of much needed national development and social welfare projects. There is also ample evidence that corruption discourages investment by creating an uncertain business environment that hinders private sector job creation.
From a social perspective, most would agree that poorer segments of society suffer the most from corruption since they incur much more of the cost, while realizing few of the benefits associated with corrupt activities.
The increased levels of corruption experienced during a democratic transitional process might result in the uninformed associating the greater degree of corruption with democracy. Those promoting a more radical political agenda could easily exploit this misperception that might be held by many citizens in transitioning societies.
Corrupt activities might lubricate an otherwise malfunctioning economy and even stimulate economic growth by cutting through the red tape prevalent in excessively bureaucratic environments. Although lowering government revenues, smuggling facilitated by corrupt customs activities might increase international trade and introduce some needed competition into an otherwise highly protected environment where inefficient domestic industries have little incentive to improve quality and reduce the price of goods they sell to captive domestic consumers.
A few political and social scientists have argued that in developing countries corruption can assist in binding a society together by providing immediate and specific relief to groups that might otherwise be alienated from society as a result of government actions and policy.
Based on the necessary interaction between parties involved, corruption can also facilitate political stability and contribute to national development by easing the transition from traditional to a modern way of life. Corruption can also assist in the political development process by providing a source of funding for opposition political parties and can be especially beneficial in politically repressive environments by allowing for some degree of political access and freedom.
Rather than debating if the fight against corruption has gone too far, or focusing on the possible positive and negative aspects of corruption in a developing society, it might be wise to view Indonesia's current campaign against corruption in the context of an overall national development process.
It can reasonably be assumed that like illness and natural disasters, corruption in some form will likely exist forever, even in the most advanced societies. The corporate scandals and political bribery recently occurring in the United States provide testimony to this assessment. The ability of society to effectively recognize and address the highly adaptive nature of corruption has been the critical factor that results in a society progressing on the continuum of national development.
Based on the nature of the current debate on the value of its anti-corruption campaign, Indonesia appears to be at a critical juncture in its national development process. The Indonesian public is becoming increasingly aware of the evils associated with corruption and consequently less tolerant of corrupt practices.
Government officials are also beginning to realize that they will be held accountable for their actions. By any objective assessment these realities should be considered as achievements, not only in the war against corruption, but also as progress in Indonesia's overall national development. The battle against corruption should be viewed as an ongoing process that requires not only sustained efforts, but also periodic strategy modifications to effectively address the highly adaptive nature of the phenomenon.
Will Indonesia advance on the continuum of national development by recognizing and effectively responding to this reality, or regress based on a perception due to some short-term negative effects that the battle against corruption may have gone too far?
Future generations of Indonesians will either realize the benefits or suffer the consequences of the actions taken today as part of Indonesia's drive to address the economic and social ills caused by corruption as the country proceeds or regresses on the continuum of national development.
The writer holds a Doctor of Management degree from the University of Maryland and has a long-standing interest in the subject of corruption in Indonesia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.