Fri, 18 May 2001

All Indonesians are corrupt?

I have had to enter an Indonesian police station three times. The first time was in 1983 when I visited a now popular tourist area in the central highlands of Java. I was met on my arrival by the local sergeant who took me into a small back room where he explained that I had to personally pay him the "tourist tax" of 10,000 rupiah, probably an amount equivalent to his weekly salary at that time.

The next two occasions were in Bali. The first was when my friend had to report the theft of his camera. Again the small back room, but this time it was a corporal, and this time it was for a 20,000 rupiah administration fee. This was payable directly to the corporal, of course.

The second time in Bali was after being pulled over by the traffic police. I hadn't done anything wrong. Apparently it was "a routine license check". The policeman, who was wearing excessively tight trousers, said that he wanted to "verify my documents". He said I would have to accompany him to the central headquarters in Denpasar.

This would have taken many hours, but clearly this wasn't his intention. He drew me aside and advised that I could pay the "processing fee on the spot" and that he would "verify my license himself". This time, however, the verification fee was 50,000 rupiah. I didn't have 50,000 rupiah so we settled on a leather key ring with a picture of a boxing Kangaroo and a carton of Marlboro cigarettes I was carrying as a present.

The next occasion, however, was different.

I had to obtain a police report for a lost airline ticket in Yogyakarta. I was asked to sign the report and waited for the inevitable. I was going to have to pay up, big. However, to my astonishment the sergeant said that he was happy to help and wished me good luck at the airline office. With this he bid me farewell. Never once did the police ask for payment. They were in fact a model of courtesy, professionalism and efficiency.

Despite recent reports that Indonesia has been "upgraded" to the third most corrupt country after Nigeria, clearly there are still isolated pockets of honest people around.


Wollongong, Australia