Wed, 24 Dec 2003

Moral force takes over half-hearted anti-graft drive

Muninggar Sri Saraswati, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

It is a miracle that Indonesia has remained intact as a Nation given the rampant corruption that benefits only the ruling elite, while many of their fellow Indonesians struggle to survive, or worse.

The government appears ignorant of the many international surveys that consistently rank the struggling country one of the most corrupt in the world.

The World Economic Forum this year ranked Indonesia 60 out of a total of 102 countries surveyed in terms of business competitiveness due mainly to corruption and an ineffective bureaucracy.

And it came as no surprise to Indonesians and the government when Berlin-based Transparency International placed Indonesia as the sixth most corrupt country in the world with a Corruption Perception Index of 1.9. The cleanest score is 10.

Last year Indonesia ranked fourth among the 122 countries surveyed, measuring 1.9 on the corruption index.

Critics have repeatedly raised concerns about the government's half-hearted efforts to phase out the crime.

The most recent example was when Indonesia's largest Muslim organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah, which claim a total of 70 million members, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in October to fight corruption.

The government has not commented, let alone offered support, to the initiative, though one or two high-ranking officials have voiced solidarity, but only when they were asked their positions by reporters.

The MOU clearly highlights a growing frustration with the government's efforts to eradicate corruption.

They have started their campaign across the country, promoting an anticorruption drive and promising to include an anticorruption element in their school's curriculums.

Both NU and Muhammadiyah run thousands of learning institutions, from elementary schools to universities.

NU even went a step further, saying it was considering issuing a fatwa that states that a Muslim who dies as a corruptor is not eligible to be given a special prayer by other Muslims. This act is considered as the most disgraceful sanction for Muslims.

The initiative was followed by concrete steps by the Prosperous Justice Party and the Star Crescent Party, which requires that its candidates contesting next year's general election sign agreements not to become involved in any corruption.

Corruption has worsened since the people identified it as a cancer that must be cut out of the country at the beginning of the reform movement in 1997.

Though the vast majority of judges stubbornly acquit the few high-powered thieves that actually end up facing corruption charges, some courts have done their duty to find some guilty, based on the evidence presented to the court.

However, those few have not seen the inside of a jail where they may finally get a chance to think about the misery they cause their victims, the long-suffering people of Indonesia.

It is a disgrace that Indonesia's House of Representatives is led by House Speaker Akbar Tandjung, who has been convicted of stealing money intended to be used to feed the country's poorest citizens. The sentence has even been upheld by the High Court.

The government claims it has done its best to combat corruption. Government officials often boast of the establishment of certain bodies or the enactment of new legislation as part of its efforts to combat the crime.

Indonesia was expected to have its first anticorruption body this December, the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), which has the authority to investigate and prosecute corruption cases. The power traditionally lay in the hands of the notoriously corrupt police and Attorney General's Office.

The creation of the body is the follow up of the Public Servants' Wealth Audit Commission (KPKPN) set up in 2001. The commission, which has no executive power, has been less than effective as certain officials have refused to submit their wealth reports. Just how effective the KPK will be is open to considerable debate but already the process to select members has hinted that vested interests are at work behind the scenes.

The government is also preparing to give additional training to prosecutors and judges in the area of corruption.

The government has also signed the United Nations Convention against Corruption. It is expected to be ratified next year.

However, Indonesia already has sufficient legislation, investigating bodies, prosecution means and an empowered judiciary to combat corruption. It is missing just one important thing: the political will of the government to combat corruption.

President Megawati Soekarnoputri, who remained poker-faced amid mounting calls to replace Attorney General M.A. Rachman for allegedly supplying an inaccurate wealth report, eventually became president after the party she leads, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), secured the most votes in the general election in 1999 based on an anticorruption campaign.

A senior member of the PDI-P, State Minister of National Development Planning Kwik Kian Gie, has called him own party the most corrupt in Indonesia. Even the President herself has been unable to shake persistent rumors of corruption relating to members of her family. However, she claimed that she could not take firm action against corruption as she feared that she would be accused as a rights abuser (against the alleged corruptors).

There is no doubt that six years after the downfall of the authoritarian New Order government spearheaded by the Golkar Party and former president Soeharto, corruption has spread.

In November, the Attorney General's Office named 180 municipal councillors from across the country as corruption suspects.

It is not surprising that increasing numbers of people are longing for the allegedly corrupt administration of president Soeharto, who has never seen the inside of a court for his alleged crimes. Many say they could tolerate corruption during the New Order as it only centered on Soeharto's family and cronies. Under Megawati's leadership, one of the leaders of the co-called reform movement, corruption has permeated all parts of daily life. Some say it is now a part of the Indonesian culture.

In this sense, the MOU signed by the NU and Muhammadiyah, which was adopted by other religious, business and social groups, must be considered seriously by PDI-P, if it expects to retain power.

But, it is not fair to put the burden on the NU, Muhammadiyah and other groups, while the government lacks a commitment to phase out the crime.

The government must not defy a warning from the late noted senior economist Sumitro Djojohadikusumo late last, who estimated that about 30 percent of the country's state budget was siphoned off each year.

Established in 1945, Indonesia, which is known for its rich natural resources, continues to beg foreign donors for financial assistance to keep the country afloat. The donor countries and institutions, which are fully aware that much of the money they lend will be stolen, continue to provide funds with few conditions attached, thus continuing the cycle of debt that the yet unborn will have to pay for.

Perhaps, it is only divine intervention that has ensured Indonesia still exists but the government must remember: everything has a limit.