Monday, February 27, 2017

Indonesia’s alarming number of regional heads arrested or prosecuted for corruption

In total, 11 heads of regions (including a governor) were arrested for corruption in 2016

On Feb. 15, 2017, millions of Indonesians cast their votes in 101 regional elections throughout the country, including in the capital city of Jakarta.

Each time such large events are held a number of major issues are discussed in multiple forums and media by a range of experts, including money politics and vote-buying practices, patrimonialism, political dynasties, just to name a few.

At the center of these discussions is the possibility that the newly elected leaders will become part of future corruption problems in Indonesia.

In the World Economic Forum’s 2016-2017 Global Competitiveness Report, Indonesia was ranked 41st, a drop of four places from the previous year despite a number of reforms to its business environment.

According to the report, the two most problematic factors for doing business in Indonesia were corruption and inefficient government bureaucracy. As indicated by past cases, the two factors are closely linked to various leadership problems in Indonesian regions.

According to OECD’s 2016 Economic Survey of Indonesia, the capacity of sub-national governments to deliver high-quality public services is often lacking. Unfortunately, so are the frameworks to monitor the use of public resources. This can only mean one thing, a high risk of public resources being misused for personal or group interests.

With all the resources spent and all the failures to prevent the problems from re-emerging, it is fair to say that we still suffer from a lack of understanding of the multiple dimensions of corruption.

Although in reality many people do not understand enough about corruption, many do not seem to want to understand enough about corruption for various reasons (e.g. many consider discussing corruption among friends and family as taboo).

In a study titled “World’s Most Literate Nations” ( 2016 ) by the Central Connecticut State University, Indonesia was named the second most illiterate country in the world. Among 61 surveyed countries only Botswana scored worse than Indonesia.

The examined factors in the study represented literate behavior critical to the success of individuals and nations in what have now become knowledge-based economies. The result of the study should have raised alarm as the growing complexity of real world problems, such as corruption, demands we continually update our knowledge and information.

Possibly due to a lack of scientific references, many view corruption in Indonesia as largely a structural problem requiring only structural solutions. While this is partly true, it should be noted that so far as studies on corruption are concerned it takes multiple disciplines just to understand why people engage in corrupt activities.

Cultural, psychological, political and economic reasons are some of the perspectives worthy of consideration when designing proper corruption prevention initiatives. This is to say simply campaigning about anti corruption at public events, for example, will be ineffective in stopping people from engaging in corruption without other measures to support it. Many believe that anti corruption speeches and lectures, for example, must also be accompanied by real life examples to gradually change people’s attitude to corruption.

Finally, researchers also play an important role in understanding the true nature of corruption and in supplying anti corruption practitioners with reliable input to systematically eradicate the problem.

Many countries have taken advantage of anti corruption research to support decision makers dealing with corruption issues. Unfortunately, high quality research and publications in Indonesia are items of luxury, let alone those on corruption as the “publish or perish” maxim does not seem to apply to the country.

Indonesia is often seen as continually lagging behind its neighboring countries in terms of research capacity and high quality publications. Among the roots of the problem is that research is often perceived as mere administrative work, in particular for academics with low or no real innovation to solve real problems.

Answering research questions or testing various hypotheses is often understood merely as a routine to increase library collections with research reports and thus the scientific findings never find their way into the outside world.

Research publications should be viewed as more than just a fulfillment of researchers’ administrative duties, they should also be a fulfillment of their moral duty to contribute to making the world a better place. With regard to corruption, research publications are meant to support the formulation of anti corruption policy, assess impacts, provide alternative perspectives and facilitate broader debates and discussions.

As the great master of strategy, Sun Tzu, once said: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

The writer, Hendi Prabowo is the director of the Centre for Forensic Accounting Studies at the Islamic University of Indonesia.

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