Sat, 13 Aug 1994

Kenny speaks for the sake of his fellow debt collectors

By Johannes Simbolon

JAKARTA (JP): Kennedy, who is affectionately called Kenny, thought there was no use in disguising his profession to his former classmates at the UKI (Indonesian Christian University) at a reunion gathering last year in the West Java weekend resort of Puncak.

"I'm a debt collector," the 29-year-old Ambonese told them, feeling gloomy at finding many of his former classmates had more promising careers in professions much more respectable in the eyes of the public.

After graduating from the university's economics school back in 1990 he was engaged in the debt collecting profession, and is still there today. He ended up there after his dreams of making a better life -- the very one shared by all boys and girls migrating from the countryside to this glamorous city -- failed to come true despite his relentless efforts.

"My widowed, beloved mother was very proud of me, because I'm university," says Kenny who lost his father, an armed forces member, when he was at elementary school in Ambon.

But the merriment of graduation day lasted as briefly as the rainbow glows after noontime rain. The hundreds of applications he sent to well-established companies came to nothing, forcing him into the debt-collecting service as a means of survival, while continuing the ritual of sending job applications. But nobody would employ him, says Kenny, because he had no convenient connections, or perhaps God simply answered the prayers of his fellow debt collectors that he remain among them.

"Every time I told them I had sent another job application and we might part because of that, they said `We'll pray to God that the company will not call you'. As it turned out, God always answered their prayers and has kept me among them until now," the bushy-eyed Kenny chuckles.


There is no leader in his group of nine debt collectors, he says. He seems prominent for his high education, though he is the youngest and the sole bachelor of the group. There are ex- convicts, retired servicemen, former national boxers and athletes, who share the same feeling of being outcasts and forgotten after being adored. They recall bygone days of basking in fleeting glory.

Although most other debt collectors work for law offices or youth organizations, Kenny's group stand by themselves, "we can take our income uncut", Kenny says.

Their clients include individuals, leasing companies, banks spreading from Sumatra, Java and even as far as Malaysia. Their clients have the usual problem of failing to get money back from debtors though they have tried all the usual channels, including hiring lawyers or law enforcers. Kenny's group tackle debts of Rp 50 million minimum.

"Many people mistakenly think we are hired to force bankrupt debtors to pay back their loans, thinking thereby we are inhuman. If we find a true bankrupt debtor, we give up and quickly cancel the contract with our client," says Kenny.

The bankrupt debtors who still feel responsible, he says, are easy to find. On the contrary, the debtors they normally deal with are mostly persons living in secret hideouts, whose whereabouts is difficult to find even for hired law enforcers.

"To them, there's only one word: frauds! They intentionally try to dodge their obligations," Kenny explains.

With the debt collectors who have been reared on the streets and are street-wise coming into the scene, the frauds find their match.

Information about the frauds are easy to find amongst debt collectors since the former have the tendency to repeat their offenses. They are coincidentally familiar with the night life, which is little more than a daily rendezvous of the tough guys.

"After two or three days of survey, we know everything about the debtors, including their hideouts, hangouts, mistresses, houses, as well their daily schedules. Thus, when we come to deal with them, they cannot cheat us by saying they have gone bankrupt," says Kenny.

Tricky debtors

In many instances, the debtors often have thugs to protect them. But the debt-collectors have always well anticipated it since they also have "muscle" and connections with various groups of people.

A public attorney does not have such skills, nor the time to do as the debt collectors do. Tricky debtors can easily dupe courtroom judges into believing that they are bankrupt and therefore judges may mete out a lenient punishment at the expense of the creditors.

"It is because the law is weak that people look to us for help," Kenny says.

Kenny admits that many amateur debt collectors do unlawful things, including confiscating debtors' effects, exerting physical and non-physical pressure.

They are, he says, mostly newly-released ex-convicts, who are unfamiliar with the so-called survey or negotiating methods which professional collectors practice. To make things worse, they are usually hired by creditors who are so frustrated that they order them to do whatever to the fraudulent debtors.

Today, Kenny feels saddened over the public's black-and-white view about the debt collecting service, the authorities' resolve to crack down on it, the ignorance of many that they have contributed to the economy -- however little and obscure it is -- protected the right creditors from the fraudulent people owing to the impotency of the law.

As for Kenny, things seem fine now. A bank, which was his former client, respects his skills and recently offered him a position at its bad loans section.

His main concern now is the fate of his former fellow professional debt collectors, who have started to make an obviously better life, though they have not left the life on the streets as it is the only place they feel at home.

"If the debt-collecting service is banned, should they go back to the dark world of crimes?" he wonders.