Sat, 18 Mar 2000

The fake money menace

With hordes of problems still plaguing the Indonesian economy and no speedy solutions in sight, reports over the past week of the seizure of billions of rupiah worth of counterfeit money alone make one wonder: Considering the state of disorder that exists in many, if not most, of the state apparatuses, will the authorities be able to put things in order in not too long a time span?

Far from immaterial, such a question is particularly relevant. As life hasn't tangibly improved for vast majority of Indonesians, the country can hardly afford to have counterfeiters add inflation to the already overburdened Indonesian economy.

According to the country's central bank, Bank Indonesia, about Rp 4.44 billion of fake rupiah notes were circulating in 1997, Rp 6.16 billion in 1998 and Rp 6.27 billion in the first 11 months of 1999. While this amounts to only a small percentage of the value of the counterfeit rupiah that were confiscated during the same period, the knowledge that counterfeiters have been operating -- and may still be operating -- their clandestine trade with relative ease does not help to allay the public's fears that, sooner or later, the market will be flooded with fake money, with all the consequences that may bring.

To the public at large, it is no great consolation to hear Bank Indonesia's director of circulation control H.Y. Susmanto explain that only older rupiah bills, usually of smaller denominations, have become dated enough in terms of printing technology to be successfully faked by counterfeiters. Rupiah bills in larger denominations -- such as Rp 50,000 and Rp 100,000 are printed using up-to-date technology that make them difficult to fake convincingly.

Still, police detectives in East Jakarta apprehended nine men last week in possession of fake Rp 50,000 bills worth a total of Rp 100 million. In the hillside resort town of Cisarua, southeast of Jakarta, Bogor Police officers seized Rp 1.87 billion in counterfeit notes in the same denomination.

In the meantime, little has been heard in the way of official explanation of what the authorities have been doing about the counterfeiting of foreign currencies, especially the U.S. dollar. Last week, customs and excise officials at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport were reported to have confiscated $16,000 worth of fake American dollar notes and arrested two men in connection with the find.

Under Indonesian law, anyone found guilty of counterfeiting rupiah banknotes faces a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison. Given the apparent proliferation of counterfeiting, and considering the grave condition of the Indonesian economy, it seems to be time that the government together with the House of Representatives consider passing a new law to deter counterfeiters.

The successful establishment of political stability in Indonesia depends a great deal on the successful revival of the country's economy. Without stability, effective development and progress, both economic and political, will remain a dream. To some degree at least, the circulation of counterfeit money puts a spoke in the wheel of the country's progress.

No one denies that the difficulties the Indonesian national police have to face at present are formidable. After decades of being a part of the military, not only must the Indonesian police force begin to reorganize itself into an effective force to protect the people, it must make do so with inadequate personnel and equipment. Nevertheless, the job must be done. It is not an easy task, but its results will be worth the effort -- for both the police and the nation.