Fighting Corruption from Aceh to Papua

31 Dec 2020
Fighting Corruption from Aceh to Papua

When we mention the word “corruption”, an interesting  phenomenon worthy of study frequently becomes ap parent. “Corruption” has become a word in our vocabulary that is on everyone’s lips at the moment. The media is  chock-a-block full of reports on corruption. It is a main topic of  conversation among all groups in society, including those who  are truly against corruption and those who pay lip service to the  struggle but who, in fact, regularly engage in various forms of graft in their day-to-day activities. In short, “corruption” is the  talk of the town and is a hot topic in all sorts of forums and discourses.

Just look at the many groups involved in the anticorruption movement at the present time, the plethora of books analyzing corruption from various perspectives, and the large number of discussions, seminars and TV talk shows devoted to the problem. In addition, the number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved in the fight against graft has mushroomed. Meanwhile a significant number of corruption cases are currently being investigated or tried, although many more have still to be dealt with. Despite the progress made to date, there are many signs and indications that corruption is still widespread throughout Indonesia. In fact, it is quite clear that corruption is systematic and part of the power structure and social fabric in this country. 

While for some, all the talk about eradicating corruption may be little more than political jargon, serious efforts are nevertheless being made to bring about good governance through wide-ranging governance reform. Nevertheless, it is disappointing to see that despite an increased  awareness about the need to root out corruption, there are signs that the problem is actually increasing. This gives rise to two contrasting consequences. First, the emergence of a fatalistic attitude to the effect that corruption is well-nigh impossible to eradicate. This has resulted in a high level of permissiveness towards the problem, which, in turn, has the potential to encourage people to also try their hands at graft. Second, the undertaking of various pioneering efforts to consolidate the anticorruption movement in society through the development of corruption free zones. This encourages many people to become involved in the anticorruption movement, even if they are not able to contribute significantly. 

The fact is, corruption must be systematically fought against and overcome using creative and intelligent approaches. The various writings contained in this book are devoted to the struggle against corruption in Indonesia. The focus has firmly been placed on the concrete efforts that have been made by various civil society groups to reduce the room for corruption in Indonesian society, while at the same time encouraging the development of the anticorruption movement at the grassroots level. While only 10 case studies are presented here on account of space limitations, there are a great many others that could just as well have been used to provide inspiration for those struggling against graft, and that are capable of replication so as to encourage the taking root of the movement at the grassroots level. The following general topics are dealt with in the writings contained in this book:

First, local anticorruption efforts (“Uncovering Corruption in Aceh” and “Anticorruption Snowball in South Sulawesi”).

Second, who is involved in the struggle against corruption (“When the Kiai help Control Local Budgeting”, “Interfaith Coalition against Corruption”, and “When the People’s Representatives loot the Public Purse”).

Third, the institutions that are particularly prone to corruption (the writings discussing corruption in the General Elections Commission and local budgeting).

Fourth, strategies for fighting against corruption (“Mobilizing the People of Papua to Fight Corruption”, “Eradicating Corruption: From Acceptance to Resistance”, and “Tracking the Spending of Tax Revenues”).

Fifth, developing professional and honest anticorruption institutions (“Establishment of the Corruption Eradication Commission”).

With regard to the three writings discussing lessons learned in the effort to eradicate corruption in Aceh, Papua, and South Sulawesi, it is worth noting that two of these areas (Aceh and Papua) possess special characteristics with the result that they have been accorded what is termed “special autonomy” to manage their own affairs. Ironically, this has become one of the principal causes of increased corruption in these regions.Aceh was accorded special autonomy status by Law Number 18 of 2001, and has subsequently been granted significant additional revenues. In 2001, Aceh only had revenues of Rp 543 billion, but this figure increased dramatically over the following two years to Rp 1.6 trillion.

However, according to studies carried out by the Anticorruption Solidarity Movement (SoRAK), this increase in revenue was in no wise accompanied by a corresponding improvement in the province’s financial management capacity, or by increased internal and external oversight/supervision. The emergency in Aceh was also availed of by local power holders to pursue programs that primarily benefited themselves something made possible by the almost total lack of control mechanisms. As a result of this combination of factors, anything was possible in Aceh for those in positions of influence.In South Sulawesi, the Indonesian Women’s Empowerment Legal Aid Institute (LBH-P2i) kicked off its campaign against  corruption with a study on the links between corruption and poverty. This was carried out following a realization that the traditional local values encapsulated in the terms “siri” (self-respect), “lempu” (honesty) and “getteng” (steadfastness in upholding traditional, legal and religious values), were being abandoned by society. It was based on this, and the evident links between corruption and poverty, that the Institute’s grassroots anticorruption campaign was predicated.

In Papua, the Institute for Civil Society Strengthening (ICS) specifically found that “as a consequence of the fact that there were no clear accountability procedures in place, or political or social control over the spending of the additional funding, the way was left wide open for increased corruption on the part of the power-holders and their cronies.” Given the circumstances prevailing on the ground, concrete action was required to stop the further spread of corruption. The activities undertaken included the following:

  • The Anticorruption Solidarity Movement (SoRAK) carried out a detailed assessment of the allocation and utilization of development funds in the local budget, and comprehensively and efficiently recorded the information it obtained as a result of this assessment;
  • SoRAK identified a number of key cases believed to involve corruption, and mapped out the relationships that facilitated corruption among the elite;
  • SoRAK successfully managed to consolidate its anticorruption network and to bring pressure to bear on those involved in perpetrating corruption through a wide-ranging media campaign; and
  • SoRAK successfully persuaded the courts to recognize the legal standing of civil society organizations in representing the public so as to allow them to bring class actions in respect of corruption cases that had prejudiced the interests of the public.

SoRAK managed to construct an anticorruption network that reached up to the national level by concentrating on only a few key corruption cases. The bringing to light of the corruption case involving now-dismissed Aceh governor Abdullah Puteh is one of the outstanding achievements notched up by SoRAK in its efforts to accelerate the fight against corruption in Aceh.

Meanwhile in South Sulawesi, the LBH-P2i successfully led a coalition of about 60 NGOs and other civil society organizations as part of a campaign involving the provision of education and training on corruption monitoring in respect of public services at the grassroots level. A wide variety of groups from diverse backgrounds participated in this campaign, including building workers, miners, trishaw drivers, fishermen, sidewalk hawkers, artists, housewives, students, commercial sex workers, pimps, and sub-district and district officials. It is also interesting to note the success of the LBH-P2i and its network partners in making the best possible use of the resources available to them in campaigning and providing anticorruption training through alternative media, such as comedy and theater troupes, including the People’s Comedy Theater Group (Kelompok Teater Komedi Rakyat), the Bugis-Makassar Troupe (Khas Bugis-Makassar), the Theater Community (Korupa), and Petta Puang Players.

At least two aspects of the LBH-P2i campaign are worthy of particular note:

  1. Focus was placed on forms of corruption that affected the provision of public services at the grassroots level, thereby directly affecting the people, including the size of the water bills charged by the local water utility and the levying of unofficial school fees.
  2. The LBH-P2i, in collaboration with local radio stations and newspapers, successfully packaged its campaign in terms of the forms of corruption that affected the poor in their everyday lives. This provided immense momentum for encouraging the poor to participate in the fight against corruption.

In Papua, there are at least two major things that have been, and are still being, done by the ICS in its efforts to combat corruption. First, the ICS has established a coalition made up of individuals drawn from NGOs, tribal organizations, academia, local government, the journalistic profession, the prosecution service, and the police in seven regencies and municipalities. The ICS has played the role of initiator and facilitator in formulating anticorruption strategies in partnership with the coalition. Second, the coalition then undertook two things, namely:

  1. Revealing corruption cases involving 22 leaders and treasur-ers in connection with development projects funded out of the 2002/2003 provincial budget, and encouraging the commencement of legal proceedings against them. This process was assisted by the conducting of audits by the Development and Finance Audit Board (BPKP) and other supervisory organs. As a consequence, the cases, which were originally expected to be resolved administratively, were in the end brought before the criminal courts.
  2. Drafting model local regulations capable of providing a basis for the further development of the anticorruption movement in Papua. A number of draft regulations were drawn up, including a regulation on public participation and transparency in the governance of Papua, and a regulation on an ombudsman commission for Papua.

Another interesting case study involved the effort to encourage the participation of religious communities in the fight against corruption. The Indonesian Society for Pesantren and Community Development (P3M) found that there was something wrong with our religious thinking. In the case of many people, the situation could be summed up as one of “religion yes, corruption yes”. Perhaps there were also those among the believers who were genuinely concerned about fighting against corruption? As a result of the actions taken, an anticorruption coalition emerged in Yogyakarta that was devoted to spreading the anticorruption message through education. Over the long term, education would be employed to impart, explain and disseminate religious teachings about corruption, while in the short term, anticorruption materials were designed and applied in a number of subjects so as to encourage the various religions to accept the challenge of fighting against corruption as a joint challenge and a precondition for the development of an effective anticorruption movement.

The agreement between the two largest popular organizations in Indonesia, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah, to work together to further the goals of the anticorruption movement formed the principal point of entry for encouraging believers to become more involved in the struggle and for establishing a pesantren-based anticorruption movement. Based on the prevailing modalities in society and the desire to establish a more progressive view of zakat (Islamic alms-giving), it was decided to focus on the revitalization of the bahtsul masail forums for the purpose of ensuring effective control over public policy. Such forums were established in 12 cities and were availed of by imams and pesantren leaders to exercise control over local budgeting and government spending. In fact, the bahtsul masail forums came to serve as effective forms of control in the effort to reduce corruption and ensure greater social justice. Three aspects of the Indonesian Society for Pesantren and Community Development (P3M)’s program are worthy of particular note, namely:

  1. The process of inculcating anticorruption awareness as part of the revitalization of the bahtsul masail forums not only increased awareness of the evils of corruption from the moral perspective, but also firmly positioned the problem as a cultural, political, economic and legal issue that that greatly prejudiced the well-being of the people;
  2. The revitalization movement also produced a new breed of young, pesantren-based kiai who properly understood the nature of corruption – something that encouraged them to establish critical study and budget-monitoring forums in many areas; and
  3. A strict social sanction was introduced for those involved in corruption in the form of a refusal to say funeral prayers for deceased “corruptors” until such time as the money had been returned.

The Yogyakarta Muhammadiyah University’s Educational Development Research Institute (LP3-UMY) not only managed to develop anticorruption materials but also tested them in 11 higher learning institutes in Yogyakarta through their incorporation in a number of subjects. The results turned out to be highly encouraging. A number of these institutes agreed to continue using the materials. In addition, the local government Religion and Education Agency in Yogyakarta Special Province afforded opportunities to the LP3-UMY to give lectures on the materials to head teachers, other teachers, and religion instructors and preachers. There are three other interesting aspects worthy of note based on the experiences of the LP3-UMY, namely:

  1. The anticorruption educational materials were not only targeted at university circles but also at religious activists, preachers and religious communities;
  2. Training on the use of the educational materials was provided to those responsible for teaching them so as to ensure full mastery of the materials; and
  3. The growth of a moral development and action movement was also encouraged among young religious activists so as to ensure their full participation in the war on corruption.

The activities carried out by the Indonesian Forum for Budget Transparency (Fitra) and Transparency International Indonesia (TI-I) are also worthy of study. Fitra was the first organization to reveal significant corruption in the General Elections Commission (KPU), while TI-I has been successful in building up a public awareness about corruption and taxation issues. Fitra’s experiences provide important lessons as regards fighting against corruption in particular organizations. Among the lessons learned were the following:

First, the ability to secure documents and information is of the utmost importance during the initial stages. In this case, Fitra was able to get its hands on detailed, comprehensive information and documents revealing budget and spending irregularities.

Second, a number of important strategies were employed by Fitra at different stages in order to obtain information and communicate its findings. These approaches including both cooperative and confrontational approaches.

Third, Fitra was aware that a systematic, serious and indepth investigation would be required before drawing any conclusions.

Fourth, while pursuing all of the above processes, Fitra was also fully aware of the need for a strategic alliance of anticorruption organizations. This was not only necessary so as to increase public pressure but also so as to ensure an appropriate division of labor in conducting the investigation and in obtaining access to the official agencies capable of bringing the work to a successful conclusion; and

Fifth, the forging of good relations and communications with the media is essential not only for the purpose of communicating findings, but also for developing supervisory methods, applying public pressure and ensuring program accountability.

The various efforts undertaken by Fitra in the end bore fruit and brought before the eyes of the public the reality of widespread corruption in the KPU. Meanwhile, TI-I is one of those organizations that is particularly serious about keeping the issue of taxation in the forefront of public discourse. TI-I has consistently lamented a lack of awareness on the part of the public about taxation issues something that is due to a lack of information of taxation and local government charges. In addition, most people have no idea about how to go about complaining. In fact, most people are not even aware of the location of their local taxation office, particularly outside the island of Java. This is despite the fact that more than 60 percent of government revenue now originates from taxes.

The trial projects undertaken by TI-I to heighten public awareness of taxation issues in a number of regencies, including Tanah Datar, Wonosobo, Kotabaru, and Bulukumba, turned out to be resounding successes. In these areas, not only were taxpayer forums established, but regular meetings were also held for the purpose of improving the knowledge and awareness of the public so as to allow people to critically analyze and monitor budget and taxation policies. Interestingly, the relevant local governments and tax offices were quite supportive of these efforts. As a result, members of the public became more vocal in asking questions such as how the money they had paid as taxpayers was being used, why were health services so expensive, why were dilapidated schools not being repaired, etc. In short, an awareness was inculcated in society of the rights that accrued to people as a result of their paying taxes, including the right to be provided with proper public services by the government. 

Equally importantly, the TI-I program encouraged regency administrations to increase the supply of information on local taxation and to create separate accounts for each type of tax, while a heightened awareness was created on the part of the public as regards the importance of monitoring the allocation of tax revenues in local government budgets. Particularly encouraging was the success achieved in West Sumatra in tackling corruption within the Local Legislative Council. As a result of the efforts made, 43 members of the Local Legislative Council for the 1999-2004 term were found guilty of graft, with the trial court’s decision eventually being upheld on appeal by the Supreme Court.

This success provided inspiration to NGOs in many other areas and spurred the prosecution service into taking action in respect of similar Legislative Council corruption cases. One important lesson that may be gleaned from the article titled “When the People’s Representatives loot the Public Purse” is that corruption cases, even at the highest levels, can be brought to light if systematic, creative and intelligent approaches are employed. Perseverance and doggedness are also essential prerequisites to success. In addition, other important lessons learned from the West Sumatra experience are as follows:

  • An ability to properly describe and define issues is required so that appropriate follow-up action may be taken;
  • The indications of corruption, the methods employed and the nature of the crime need to be properly defined so as to make sure that all the elements of a crime are present.
  • Focus must be maintained at all times, while the attention of the public and law enforcement agencies needs to be properly directed in line with the gravity of the problem and the set of priorities that has been adopted. In this way, it may be ensured that priority cases continue to attract the attention of the public over a prolonged period; and
  • Various approaches need to be employed so as to involve as wide a range of groups as possible.

The West Sumatra Concern Forum (FPSB) started off employing a persuasive approach, but later switched to a “repressive” legal approach. Another highly encouraging success story concerned the establishment of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). The Commission is currently breathing new life into the anticorruption effort, and has won the admiration and trust of the public for its efforts in the war against graft. The successes notched up to date by the KPK represent extraordinary achievements on the part of its leaders and others concerned with eradicating the cancer of corruption from Indonesian society. 

The first issue that the KPK had to address was trustbuilding. The ability to win the trust of the public was of the utmost importance to building up the capacity of the KPK as a professional institution vested with wide-ranging powers. The drawing up of codes of ethics and conduct, the adoption of working procedures and standards, the recruitment of the staff it needed, and the training of its staff were all carried out transparently and with a high level of accountability. Every process was gone through based on strict and consistent compliance with the principles of good governance.

Three important aspects are worthy of note as regards the institutional development of the KPK:

  1. The KPK accurately defined its needs and was capable of putting its various plans into effect in program form;
  2. The KPK was from the outset aware of the need to prioritize the setting up an efficient information technology system; and
  3. The leadership of the KPK was aware of the need to systematically communicate with all sides so as to make optimum use of the social capital possessed by various elements in society and government.

Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW) has earned itself a reputation as one of the most steadfast champions in the war against corruption, and in this book describes a number of interesting and illuminating lessons learned during the course of its struggle to date. After conducting an evaluation of the efforts to eradicate corruption in Indonesia, ICW started out from the proposition that the apparent inability to accelerate the fight against graft was not the result of fundamental weaknesses in the state, but rather imbalances in the relationship between the state and its citizens. Taking this as the point of departure, the corruption eradication program had to also pay attention to strengthening the role of the public. This was not merely because members of the public were the principal victims of corruption, but also because a solid and educated public would be much better equipped for furthering the anticorruption cause. 

The ICW applied an upstream-downstream approach to the fight against graft. This meant that the program was not only confined to the “upstream” level (encouraging the bringing of prosecutions and monitoring of the courts), but also involved the spreading of the seeds of the anticorruption ideal, maximizing the benefits of investigations conducted by the public, and engaging in campaigning and advocacy. At least three major breakthroughs were pioneered by ICW, namely:

  1. Encouraging the setting up of anticorruption watchdogs in many areas and co-opting them as strategic partners concentrating on specialized fields.
  2. Introducing an initial concept for conducting anticorruption investigations and advocacy, and examining judicial decisions that offended against the public sense of justice;
  3. Trying out the “report-card system” for public participation in monitoring and improving the quality of public services in the education sector. This approach had earlier been pioneered by the Public Affairs Center in Bangalore, India.

The experiences set out in this book show that the eradication of corruption is not an impossibility. Of course, activism on its own will rarely be sufficient to defeat graft. Professional and well-thought out approaches are also essential, including the gathering of information and documents, managing and analyzing findings, designing and applying result-orientated strategies, building up strategic alliances, and fostering communications with all involved – particularly professional groups, the media, and law enforcers.

The case studies set out in this book provide ample inspiration for promoting and developing the anticorruption movement, and campaigning on graft cases. Many of the methods employed are capable of being replicated or fine-tuned to suit different contexts. Of course, it must always be remembered that the learning process in the war on graft is still continuing.

In conclusion, more intelligent and well-thought out breakthroughs are still required before Indonesia’s systematic and deeply entrenched corruption can be eradicated. Now is the time to stop complaining and start resisting, to start offering concrete solutions to the problem, and to change our attitudes so that corruption is no longer acceptable in any shape or form in Indonesia. As time passes, I am becoming increasingly confident that the war on corruption can be won thanks to the sort of comprehensive, intelligent and systematic approaches that are described in the following pages.

Bambang Widjojanto.