Wed, 23 Feb 2000

Pragmatic approach to corruption

Let us assume the figure of US$9 billion is correct, and that the reasons for the transfer from Switzerland to Austria were that the Austrians do not have such strict rules regarding acceptance of unusually large amounts, and that they were offering a higher rate of interest. After all, when you have everything there is always room for a little more!

If we believe the reported salary figures of the civil service where, it seems, the lowest is around Rp 200,000 per month and the highest, someone like a high court judge, earns Rp 2.5 million plus allowances, then suborning the whole of the service would not be difficult with this amount of money! Every day, one could buy the complete cooperation of 45 people, or 16,000 in a year -- and still have your capital intact! Of course, this is not the only use you could have for the money; you could be paying thousands of militia-type thugs instead. You would not have to buy everyone, only those with the power to refuse you permission to do what you want, so 16,000 people, including the whole of the judiciary and the People's Consultative Assembly and House of Representatives, would probably be enough for the whole of Indonesia.

Having bought all these people, what do you do with them? Why, you get them to sign and stamp contracts and licenses of all sorts: a logging license here or there of five million hectares; an order to dispossess people of 1000 hectares here and there "in the interests of national security"; the signing of contracts for the construction of electricity generating plants at double the world price, with the purchase price of the electricity set at double the cost from the existing generators. The list is endless.

With the national habit of hiding anything disagreeable under code names which eventually reduce the bad things to inconsequence, corruption, collusion and nepotism are now nothing more than a politician's slogan, which he only needs to shout, promising action but doing nothing. The real meaning should, however, be borne in mind whenever corruption is discussed.

Answers to corruption are hard to come by. Just one of many "solutions" is to raise the salaries of the civil service. Yes, but by how much, when you have the sums mentioned above ready and, probably already working, against you. In fact, there are no easy solutions but whatever steps are taken, men of integrity must be found to implement them. This is the major stumbling block. There is an old saying that "the love of money is the root of all evil" and it has also been said that the lack of it is equally so.

Experience says you will never overcome the love of money; even when their every conceivable need and want has been satisfied, men will still want more. The approach to corruption must be completely pragmatic -- the assumption has to be made that all men are liable to be corrupted and proposals for action should be based on absolute openness.

This simply means that, for example, administrators total assets should be listed, including those of their extended families; that accountants should have, at all times, all the documentation necessary to prove the payments received, the payments made and, hence, the balance in hand; actual disbursers of cash must have, at all times, fully documented receipts from the recipients. These are simple suggestions of just how basic the thinking needs to be. No high-flown rhetoric is required, simply hard, detailed work, in endeavoring to cover all the loopholes where money can disappear, between authorization for disbursement and the receipt showing the actual payment.


Cianjur, West Java