Thu, 10 Mar 2005

Corruption no longer taboo topic

It is pleasing to see that corruption has now become a subject that is no longer taboo in the press. This is indeed a first step towards combating corruption.

I think that there is, however, some confusion over the principles of the present law. When the first draft was under discussion in 2000, it was recognized that no effective legislation would be enacted in a country where all or almost everyone has been corrupt in the past, and by legislators who have probably been more corrupt than most to be holding the position they held at that time.

The idea of an "amnesty" was suggested, by which the law would clearly differentiate between past wrongs and future action. The theory was, as J. Soedjati Djiwandono -- a frequent contributor to The Jakarta Post(ed)-- observes: the law should focus on the future and not on the past because with so much corruption in the past, the new or revamped organs of state charged with investigating corruption, would not be able to cope.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) funded consultants at that time, and suggested that the law should incorporate an "amnesty" for all those with specific exceptions such as: Cases where the corruption led to loss of or endangered life, where the corruption seriously damaged the national economy or security, where the amount involved was greater than a certain figure (not given, but to be decided) and in cases that were already in the public domain.

Lesser cases of corruption would be "forgiven". However, from the date of the passing of the law, all corrupt acts, would be punishable. This would not just affect big businesspeople or the political leaders, but the people who bribed the teacher or the local official.

But the anti-corruption policy recognized that there are three components: The effective "investigation" of corruption, the "education of the population, from school children through to officials and the business community, as well as "prevention". The President is absolutely right to state that the government needs to focus a huge effort on preventative action, specifically looking at procedures and laws that provide opportunities for corruption.

As the Vice President has admitted to me before he was in his present position; time is money in business. If corruption cuts the time, then the businessmen are likely to be a willing collaborator in the crime. Good governance practices and greater transparency and accountability of elected officials will contribute to lessening the opportunities for corruption.


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