Indonesia Losing Corruption Fight

Indonesia, which fought its way painfully up from near the bottom of the ranks of the world's most corrupt countries, appears to be falling back again, raising concerns for international investors as well as its own citizens.

Transparency International, the NGO that monitors global corruption patterns, released its "Global Corruption Barometer" report this week, leaving Indonesia at 118th of 176 countries in the world after rising to 96th in 2010.

The slippage is disheartening for those who saw President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono come into office in 2004 on a reformasi platform, surrounded by young reformers in his Democratic Party. But with a year to go before new elections, his image and that of his party has been so badly tarnished by a long series of scandals that the party may have been irreparably damaged. The report found that 68 percent of people found the government had been ineffective in taming corruption.

The Democrats were hit by a scandal over construction of an athlete's village for the 2011 Southeast Asian Games and an even larger sports construction project in West Java. The two related scandals have claimed several party leaders, youthful figures who were supposed to be standard-bearers of the reform era, particularly party chairman Anas Urbaningrum and Sports Minister Andi Mallarangeng, who were charged with corruption. The party treasurer has been jailed along with a former Miss Indonesia who was a rising political star. The president's youngest son resigned his legislative seat earlier this year after his name surfaced in news reports tying him to the mess. He has not been charged by anti-corruption investigators.

With elections around the corner, many observers are bracing themselves for additional corruption as parties and individuals jockey to buy votes.

Transparency International's new survey of attitudes toward graft indicates that 71 percent of people believe corruption is more common than in 2011 and trust in the state's political parties, legislature, civil service, judiciary and police force has eroded badly. TI surveyed more than 114,000 people in 107 countries in what it referred to as "the biggest-ever survey tracking world-wide public opinion on corruption,"

When asked "over the past two years, how has the level of corruption in this country changed?" 54 percent of Indonesians surveyed said it had "increased a lot" - up from 43 percent in 2010/11 - while 17 percent said it had "increased a little."

With 71 percent of people believing graft was on the rise, Indonesia did not fare well compared to other countries. The survey found that immediately surrounding countries were doing marginally better. Thailand ranked 88th, India 94th, the Philippines 95th.

In Afghanistan, 40 percent of those polled believed the situation was worsening, while the figure in Egypt was 64 percent, Libya 48 percent, Russia 50 percent and South Sudan 38 percent.

The survey indicated that the Indonesian public has close to zero faith in the country's key institutions, with 91 percent saying the police force are "corrupt" or "extremely corrupt." The parade of national police officials off to prison seemingly has done little to stem the thievery. For example, Adjutant First Inspector Labora Stores, a seemingly low-ranking cop in Papua, was found by officials to have been involved in financial transactions amounting to Rp1.5 trillion (US$154 million) from 2007 to 2012. Labora earned a monthly salary of Rp8.5 million (US$870), or did until he was arrested in May. He claims his wife, brother-in-law and children run PT Rotua, a timber company, and PT Seno Aid Vijay, a mining and fuel company.

When compared with other countries, Indonesia's weighted average for perceptions of trust in the police was on a par with Bolivia, Egypt, Jamaica, Russia and Zimbabwe. Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Malawi, Mexico, Nigeria and Yemen had worse views of their police forces.

Other branches of the state did not fare much better. Some 86 percent said the country's political parties were corrupt - compared with 89 percent for the legislature, 86 percent for the judiciary and 79 percent for the civil service.

Almost 50 percent of people thought health providers were either corrupt or extremely corrupt, while only 19 percent of Indonesians surveyed believed the media were crooked.

The police did not appear to put up a fight against the contents of the study.

"If that's what the survey said, we apologize," National Police spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronny F. Sompie said on Wednesday. "The National Police is ready to improve itself, so all of our flaws and mistakes can be fixed. We also hope the survey founders give us recommendations and hints about which department the National Police needs to fix."

Sompie emphasized that the National Police had more than 400,000 personnel across the country.

"We have a lot of members," he said. "Therefore, we have to be the bigger person and listen to all input in order to make our institution better. Let's work on it together."

From the high-profile driving simulator graft case involving Gen. Djoko Susilo, the former head of the police's traffic division and other cases.

Febri Diansyah, researcher with Indonesia Corruption Watch, said the public perception toward the police was getting worse because of their resistance to external efforts to tackle corruption within the institution, as displayed during their pitched battle with the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) last year in connection with bribes involving purchases of driving-simulators.

"That's what has further tainted the police image: their resistance," Febri told the Jakarta Globe. "The police's resistance to the KPK's probe into the case made it sound like there was a competition [between police and KPK], when the case should have been handled by the KPK."

Febri said the increased coverage of high-profile graft cases may have contributed to a collective sense among the Indonesian public that graft was worsening.

"That's because in spite of those big cases, there have also been stronger counter-attacks against the KPK from those who oppose it," he said.

Despite near unanimity that the branches of the state were bent, the respondents did not feel disenfranchised. Some 81 percent of those surveyed believed that "ordinary people" could make a difference in the fight against corruption and 41 percent said they would join a protest.

Fieldwork on the survey was conducted between September 2012 and March 2013. DEKA, a market-research company founded in 1993 that lists HSBC and Gallup among its clients, conducted 1,000 face-to-face interviews with 1,000 Indonesian citizens.

(With reporting from Jakarta Globe)