Sat, 22 Feb 2003

The trick in fighting corruption

Herbert J. Liem, International Capital Markets Observer, Jakarta/New York

According to the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary (2000), corruption is "impairment of integrity, virtue or moral principle; the inducement to wrong by improper or unlawful means (as bribery); a departure from the original or from what is pure or correct."

This is the crux of virtually all our problems. If we do not address this degenerate and perverted attitude, we should not be surprised that in a few years, this country will be doomed to be avoided even by its own neighbors. Who in the world would be interested in visiting and vacationing, let alone investing his hard-earned dollars in a highly corrupt country without legal certainty? Moreover, at the same time, there are uncountable countries without those attributes.

It is high time for the government to take the bull by the horns and concentrate on this phenomenon, which could be fatal to the whole country. The problem in Indonesia is that a lot is said about the issue, but virtually nothing ever done to solve it (even on a trial basis!).

State Minister for National Development Planning Kwik Kian Gie, who is also chairman of the National Development Planning Board (Bappenas), recently told the forum of the Consultative Group for Indonesia (CGI) in Bali that Indonesia would not have to beg for new loans from donor countries if it could curb rampant corruption, which cost the cash-strapped country some US$28 billion each year.

He also said that, among the losses to the state caused by graft, Indonesia lost around $9 billion due to timber, fish and sand smuggling and theft, and an additional $8 billion from tax "leakages".

During a national meeting on administrative reform on Feb. 17 Kwik told his attentive audience that the ruling Indonesian Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) was the most corrupt political party in Indonesia and would crumble during the forthcoming elections (2004). He quipped: "The greatest corruption is perpetrated by my party. PDI Perjuangan is on the brink of disarray -- it will break down in the next election".

Everything he said about corruption was nothing but the truth, as it came from the mouth of undoubtedly one of the most respected economists and cleanest of politicians.

Indeed, "corruption is the cause of all evils" and, to a certain extent, exists just about everywhere, but not in as widespread a fashion as in Indonesia. One inevitably gets the impression that nothing works right here, except for corruption. How wonderful it would be if one could say, "Everything works well in Indonesia, except for corruption!"

Corruption as such is no less than a sickness, but a very serious one. It undoubtedly contaminates, and forces innumerable innocents to suffer. To eradicate this sickness is an impossibility; we can only make a society less corrupt.

Like a physician in the medical field, the government has to take a holistic approach to tackle the problem. The problem is not corruption itself, but the educational system, or the lack of it, which has to be addressed.

To overhaul at present the education system in its entirety would be too complicated. Hence, the patient is now too sick to be left alone and therefore the medication has to be taken without delay, not tomorrow!

The educational system is completely at fault: From kindergarten to university, it is based on what can be summed up as one word: hafalan (learning by rote), instead of letting the brain work. If a student is good at remembering facts, then he is regarded as a good student. Is it therefore hardly surprising that Indonesian students lack the ability to think constructively or creatively after graduation.

To tackle corruption, what people desperately need to be taught are subjects such as discipline, general and business ethics and humanity -- and also how to understand true meaning of religion.

People have to be taught to appreciate the essential meaning of religion, which, among other things, emphasizes that people should refrain from stealing.

All government employees ought to follow courses in the above subjects on a very regular basis -- at least once a week. The right atmosphere would be right after Friday prayers. Friday is usually the weekday when the least is accomplished at the office anyway. This should be made obligatory for all in government. Such sessions should also be taught at mosques, churches, schools, government and private companies, as well as in jails. Public awareness should also be raised by the media.

These emergency measures might be about the only thing the government can do at this time in trying to minimize corruption, or at least prevent it from growing. If the whole country could be "indoctrinated" not to enrich itself with other people's possessions, that would undoubtedly have a positive psychological impact on everyone involved. The appetite for corruption could diminish.

A major newspaper or television station could start organizing a national symposium by bringing together religious leaders and leading educators, officers and economists.

It would be good for the government to take up such a proposal and at least give it the benefit of the doubt.