Breaking Through the Barriers of Systemic Corruption

31 Dec 2020

In the work that the Partnership has been doing in Indonesia, it is regularly faced with the problem that Indonesia’s corruption is systemic, that the system is seemingly impenetrable, and that it does not seem easy to identify ways into thatsystem to try and subvert it. Many suggestions for anti-corruption strategies are suggested from other countries’ experience, or from anti-corruption theory, but they do not seem to be effective. It seems important to find some way to design anti-corruption strategies that are (a) based on the Indonesian reality, and (b) can find away to break through the seemingly impenetrable barrier of a closed system. To illustrate what I mean, let me take the example of corrupt civil servants who steal the assets of the State for their own personal income. The huge income siphoned off by civil servants from illegal logging can serve as a model for such an inverted system.

If such a person is identified, it is very likely that:

  • his or her behaviour is condoned (if not abetted) by his/her superior who receives a percentage of such income.
  • It is also likely that the superior has helped to set up the system of corrupt behaviour by selling the civil servant the position that he/she now occupies, and thus (implicitly) requiring the civil servant to recoup on his/her investment by corrupt activities.
  • Percentages of the illegal income very possibly are paid to senior people in the Department – the very people who would otherwise provide the political commitment to end corrupt practices.
  • If a person is identified in corrupt practices, there is no incentive for the internal auditing department to deal with it because they frequently make their own income by taking bribes to ignore such cases.
  • If a case is raised against such a person in the courts it is well known that the judges can be bought by the highest bidder.
  • If a popular outcry is raised and demands made to the Parliament, experience suggests that Parliamentarians can also be bought, and that the Executive is experienced at agreeing reform, but then delaying and effectively neutralizing such reform.
  • At the same time anti-corruption rhetoric is nationally transmitted, but the effective vehicles for fighting corruption are not put in place, or put in place but kept without funds or with ineffective legislation
  • Finally there are few examples of institutions which are not riddled with corrupt practices, and thus few models of how institutions can be run with integrity.

When faced with such a situation, what can an anti-corruption activist do? Our suggestion is there are ways through this barrier, but they must be based on

  1. a clear headed examination of the realities of present day corruption
  2. an ability to think beyond the present into the world that we would like to see without corruption, and
  3. the ability to design projects that fit (a) and take account of (b).

The technique generally known as “Objectives Oriented Project Planning” provides us with a way to do this. This is very much ”work in progress”: Many new points may be suggested by others, and all readers who are interested are asked to contribute. The following pages give examples of working through Problems, Objectives andPrograms for “common denominator” issues, and then important governance institutions.

Many programs suggested as ways of limiting corruption start with models of a clean society or clean institutions and try and work back from those – fitting them into an Indonesian (or other) context.  In my opinion this is the wrong way to start. We need to start with the actual problems caused by corruption in Indonesia, look at the effects caused by these problems, look at what might take place given the context of Indonesia and finally try to work out programs that reflect both the problems and the future states that we would like to see.

Two things have helped me with such a process. The first is the series of exercises that have been supported by the Partnership over the last year which have identified the ways that corruption works in Indonesia. The second is the very valuable work of the ADB in its 2002 Indonesian Governance Assessment written by Staffan Synnerstrom and Owen Podger. The first has clarified the insidious and pervasive way in which corruption works and its many enthusiastic adherents. The second carefully analyses the structures that support corruption which are not always easy to understand.