Friday, November 27, 2009
If Corruption Is in Our Culture and Our Minds, How Do We Change?
Actress and model Manohara lifts a crocodile at an anti-corruption protest in Jakarta on Monday. (Photo: Jurnasyanto Sukarno, JG)
Corruption. I first became familiar with the concept when I was in the third grade at an international school in France. One of my classmates talked about his mom getting pulled over for speeding while driving him to school. He was worried because they took her license away because of previous traffic violations. Our teacher tried to comfort the poor kid, who looked like he thought his mom was going to be sentenced to life in prison.
As the teacher explained that his mother probably just had to fill out a few forms, I interrupted her and announced proudly to the class that in my beautiful homeland of Indonesia you can just give a policeman the equivalent of a euro or so and get away with speeding!
All the other kids thought this was cool and asked me what else people in Indonesia pay for that they couldn’t in France. I didn’t need much time to think and very casually said, “Well you can pay for your identity card, getting a drivers license, passing airport security, getting into the police force — almost everything really.” The teacher chuckled and then looked me in the eye and said, “That is called bribing, and that’s what makes your country a corrupt one.”
She explained to the class the horrible effect that corruption has on a country. One thing that was extremely close to my heart was poverty, another byproduct of corruption according to the teacher. At that moment my feelings changed. From being overly confident and bragging about my country, I developed an embarrassing, sick, disappointed feeling in my gut. I felt somewhat betrayed by my motherland.
By the time the lunch bell rang, all the kids had probably forgotten about the incident but I didn’t. It was all I could think about through my math, geography and science classes. Instead of rushing to the cafeteria, I rushed to the school’s deserted library and with the help of a computer I learned as much as I possibly could in 45 minutes about corruption. From that day forward my views on the “convenience” of corruption changed.
Is corruption convenient? Yes. Most people I ask say that corruption is a despicable act mostly performed by the government and the “elite.” I then ask them if they’ve ever bribed a cop when being stopped for a traffic violation. No one has said no.
I have come to realize that bribery has become such an ordinary part of our daily lives here that millions of people contribute to it on a daily basis without even realizing it. We bribe as easily as we breathe; we are so used to paying our way out of any little inconvenience in life that we almost make it seem OK to be corrupt.
Is this why corruption is such a big, seemingly unsolvable problem here in Indonesia? Is this why we can’t seem to find a solution to this matter? Is it because corruption is the one problem we can’t pay our way out of?
In my mind, the solution has to start with changing our mind-set toward the convenient aspects of being corrupt. We have to make changes in our mental attitudes toward corruption before just blaming the government. I see this as almost like going green; people can’t keep blaming the large polluting factories while driving a fuel-guzzling SUV.
Sadly, money is power. The one thing that disturbs me the most about corruption is the effect it has on the poor and powerless. The powerless are almost half of Indonesia’s population, and they live on less than Rp 20,000 ($2.10) a day.
So then let’s look at government officials in Indonesia. For example, ministers. Today they earn about Rp 19 million per month. When I see someone earning that amount spend far more than that in just one day, for example, without having another job on the side, I can’t help but be puzzled. I can’t help but ask whether the money they are spending on their fourth car (which most probably won’t even use) is money that is supposed be used to help the less fortunate, build new schools or help victims of natural disasters.
I was speaking with a very respectable man the other day. He works in a very high position in one of the biggest banks in Indonesia. I brought up the subject of the Padang earthquake and was telling him how I was happy that TV stations were raising a substantial amount of money for the victims. As I said that, he smiled at my naivete and he then told me that one local station raised Rp 17 billion. How much went to Padang? Rp 3 billion. What happened to the Rp 14 billion? Who knows.
The latest corruption case to blow up is, of course, the whole issue with Bank Century, top government officials, the police force and the KPK etc. etc. etc. Do you honestly think anyone involved in this mess is innocent of corruption? I don’t.
The more I dig into this issue, the more I realize that the whole system is corrupt. We can’t fix anything by just firing a bunch of people because, literally, everything is corrupt. Corruption is and will be a part of our culture unless we make real changes in ourselves.
In my opinion the only way to make any progress is by tackling the problem at the roots, starting from zero. How do we do that? We have to change our way of thinking. There should be serious lectures in schools, kids should be encouraged to have a real voice and an opinion about their nation’s future — make them develop their minds rather than just sticking to textbooks and assuming everything they read is the truth. In the public schools, we should educate children more about current affairs and corruption, make them debate the issue and broaden their minds. They basically need a view of their own rather than following the way things have always been done. Come on, right now the “grown-ups” aren’t setting what I would call a good example. They need to be challenged by young people.
I know this kind of change will take a long time and I’ll probably be an old granny before it’ll start to have any real effect but we just HAVE to change someday. I’m really tired of watching people complain but then do nothing about the problem of corruption; it makes everyone look like a hypocrite. If no one is willing to stop this culture of sleaze with genuinely good intentions and no dirty money involved, it can’t get better. I guess I would be a hypocrite too if I didn’t try to do something. It might sound a little too ambitious for a 17-year-old girl like me, but I am determined to do something about it. I am positive that we can change.
I’m going to end this with one of my favorite quotes by Margaret Mead, the American cultural anthropologist: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Manohara Odelia Pinot is a fashion model and television actress.