Sunday, January 10, 2016

Indonesia 2016: A ‘blessed’ year for elite bandits

I want to share with you a piece of advice a state-owned company boss imparted to his employees, who felt discouraged to work hard because some of their colleagues were in jail for corruption. He was probably genuine in warning his subordinates about the dangers of corruption, but his employees concluded that to become a graft convict was not the end of the world.

“A small prison cell accommodates six prisoners. It is very packed. If you want to have your own room it is not impossible, as long as you are still able to bribe the wardens. But it is very expensive,” the middle-aged man said, sharing his experience visiting one of his subordinates in a prison somewhere in Sulawesi.

“Dealing with prosecutors, police and judges is always scary. As your superior, I have the obligation to warn you not to repeat the mistake of our colleague, who has to spend his life in jail because he could not resist the temptation to take the people’s money,” the soft-speaking boss said in his speech.

I was waiting for a friend at a food stall in front of the mosque where the office had held their New Year gathering.

Suddenly, I heard a resounding “Amen” from the audience, when their boss said that there was always a heavenly solution to any problems. They apparently had concluded that they should not be disheartened with the intended-to-horrify prison story, as there was always ways to escape or to reduce their sentence, as long as they were strong in their faith and creative in finding loopholes.

“Let us work harder and smarter,” the office chief said to wrap up his speech.

This particular state company received a huge budget allocation this year to realize President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s infrastructure development promises.

“The man deserved to go to jail. He was very selfish. He took it all for himself. Don’t even expect a pack of cigarettes from him, although we all know very well what he has done for our office,” a low-ranking employee commented after the gathering. From what I gathered, the prisoner was receiving little sympathy from his colleagues because he had been stupid enough to distribute what he had stolen.

Do you still remember the old saying “God provides rain not only for good people, but also for sinners”? Millions of Indonesians condemned the systematic efforts by our “supreme power” holders to eliminate the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). Perhaps they also pray to God to punish those sinful politicians.

But you also need to remember that thousands of corruptors, their families and cronies, might also thank God for their success in regaining their power “to do whatever they like in this country”. For the crooks, last year was a “blessed” year because they succeeded in their mission to make Indonesia a safe haven for sinners too.

Corruption is a key lubricant for development. Look at the case of Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama. He has had great successes in combating corruption, but the City Budget disbursement has been very low as bureaucrats are reluctant to support his development projects because now they have little chance to receive commissions or bribes.

The boss’ advice is very relevant for those that plunder state coffers.

Do not ever give up!

Last year, all factions at the House of Representatives worked hand-in-hand to eliminate all obstacles and hurdles that stood in the way of the enrichment of party bosses, political parties and their cronies.

All political parties are united in their mission — including a political party which portrays itself as a true religious party — to ensure that the KPK will become toothless, and that none of its teeth will be able to grow again.

The big bosses of the political parties are now confident that the newly elected KPK commissioners will “beg” for their blessing before arresting or declaring anyone a graft suspect.

At this point, the KPK is the only institution that maintains a high level of public trust. But now, the antigraft body has practically lost its “supreme” power.

Let me repeat again: The House has unanimously agreed to paralyze the antigraft agency.

There is no serious opposition from the leaders of Golkar Party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the Great Indonesia Party (Gerindra) or the Islamic Prosperous Justice Party (PKS).

I hope that the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) and the National Police will not charge me with defamation if I share the public perception that criminals widely believe they can make deals with the two institutions.

“Perhaps you will have to surrender half of what you have stolen to them. But you can get a minimum jail term if not full freedom,” said a former senior official who had experience dealing with the two institutions.

President Jokowi made a wise political decision to not become personally embroiled in the KPK brouhaha. Now there is practically no opposition faction at the House. The Red and White opposition camp has often been more supportive of the government than the PDI-P-led ruling coalition.

Meanwhile, the Golkar Party and the United Development Party (PPP) are preoccupied with their prolonged internal conflicts.

Perhaps this is a uniquely Indonesian phenomenon; a ruling part that acts more like the opposition while the opposition takes on the guise of the ruling party. However,  PDI-P chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri became aware of this new development, and her party is now much softer to Jokowi.

The sinners also have constitutional rights to be protected by the state. Last year they regained their power without having to jump any hurdles! A blessed year for the bandits!
The author Kornelius Purba, is the senior managing editor of The Jakarta Post

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