Tuesday, September 21, 2010

INDONESIA – Corrupt by Design

Jakarta. Indonesia in the reform era has made significant strides in its efforts to eradicate corruption. Transparency International surveys show the country improving its Corruption Perception Index score from 2.2 in 2005 to 2.8 in 2009, enough to move from a ranking as the most corrupt country in Southeast Asia to fifth among 10 neighbors.

The gains have stimulated improvement in the nation’s economy both in terms of competitiveness (as measured by the World Economic Forum) and ease of doing business (according to the World Bank’s annual Doing Business report).

However, policies aimed at curbing corruption have changed significantly during the second term of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Emblematic of a more lax prosecution climate are the recent instances of granting pardons, remissions and parole for a number of officials convicted of graft.

Many other offenders have received lenient sentences and milder punishments, excluding those handed down by the Anti-Corruption Court.

This situation brings to mind a 2006 USAID study that concluded many countries with anticorruption agencies still fail to deal adequately with graft for the reason that other important agents — policy makers and the courts among them — lack the commitment to root out corruption.

Several steps need to be taken to mitigate the problem. The first is to push legislators to revise the law and make it more difficult for corruption convicts to obtain pardons, remissions and parole.

The practice of light sentencing has undermined the public’s sense of justice. At only four and a half years, the average prison sentence for a convicted graft offender is less than a quarter of the maximum 20-year sentence.

Moreover, the comfortable facilities for offenders often bear little semblance to usual prisons. This was evident in the case of businesswoman Artalyta Suryani.

Another irony is that other criminals get far more severe sentences — which they serve in shoddy prisons — for offenses less grave than graft, when, in fact, the negative effects of corruption are far more wide-ranging than other crimes.

Corruption obstructs people from accessing education, health care and other crucial services.

A second step we can take is to amend the Anti-Corruption Law and make it a stronger crime deterrent. Weak punishment does little to aid efforts to eradicate corruption.

Court decisions also tend to be unfair, not differentiating between small and large crimes of corruption, so that many major graft convicts receive lighter punishments than minor offenders.

This is due to the fact that the Anti-Corruption Law does not classify corruption offenses based on the amount of losses incurred by the state.

Indonesia could borrow a page from Hong Kong and Singapore, both of which have enjoyed remarkable success in their anticorruption efforts.

Both mete out heavy sentences to corruption convicts — in terms of jail terms and fines — and also implement policies that dismiss and blacklist offenders from public administration and some private businesses for several years.

Not surprisingly, Hong Kong and Singapore are two of the least corrupt countries in the world based on both Transparency International rankings and assessments by the Hong-Kong based Political Economic and Risk Consultancy.

A final solution is to develop regulations or laws that would permit the confiscation and auctioning off of all assets both of corruption convicts and their families to help recoup state losses.

All assets must be taken, regardless of whether they were amassed through corruption or not.

This policy is also important to encourage a more efficient recouping of assets.

Currently, many graft convicts can launder their assets in a variety of ways, thus they choose longer jail sentences over paying back state losses — money they’ve erased from the record.

For this reason, many officials convicted of corruption are able to maintain their stolen wealth and continue to live comfortably.

Law enforcers face an uphill battle in stopping this, forbidden as they are from confiscating and auctioning off many of the assets of graft convicts.

Corruption will continue to be a key issue for this country until the government, policy makers and law enforcers come to view it for what it is: an extraordinary crime against humanity.

Eradicating corruption requires an extraordinary effort, one that can fully dislodge itself from the current culture of compromise.
By Hendra Teja analyst at the Public Complaint Directorate of the Corruption Eradication Commission (Jakarta Globe)

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