Disillusioned by Corruption

The current Nazaruddin saga have perfectly captured Indonesia’s struggle in the fight against corruption. Did Indonesia’s government lost the battle, or was the duel insincere to begin with?


The current Nazaruddin saga have perfectly captured Indonesia’s struggle in the fight against corruption. Did Indonesia’s government lost the battle, or was the duel insincere to begin with?


It worries me that some Indonesians deals the issue of corruption with cynicism, followed by apathy, and are sometimes subdued to its practices because it is seen to be “entrenched” in the system – as if there is no exit and no hope in trying to curb it out.

What also worries me is that the whole issue on corruption has taken over Indonesia’s mainstream and social media, leaving other important issues such as public health, education, the environment, and many others behind.

Last year, Prof. Robert Klitgaard, a renowned scholar on corruption, gave a talk on his five ingredients for the recipe to fight systemic corruption:

  1. Improve structure, leadership and incentives
  2. Take a whole-government approach
  3. Involve business and the people
  4. Subvert corruption
  5. Emphasize morality

Prof. Klitgaard firstly argues that we shouldn’t target corrupt individuals, but target corrupt structures. Corruption, can be seen in this formula:

Corruption = Monopoly + Discretion – Accountability

By using this formula, a successful anti-corruption effort is to reduce monopolies over a good and service, limit and clarify discretion, and raise accountability. My question to this statement is that just by raising accountability, it does not necessarily mean that it can control corruption straight away. I looked at the Worldwide Governance Indicators and compared Indonesia with its neighboring countries in Southeast Asia and China, based on voice and accountability and control of corruption.

World Governance Indicators on Voice and Accountability and Control on Corruption for selected countries in Southeast Asia and China

Indonesia tops the list in terms of voice and accountability, but when it comes to control on corruption, it is one of the poor performing countries. Based on the chart above[1], it gives me a certain confidence that voice and accountability[2] alone is not enough in controlling corruption. A critical media and transparency principles are needed to perform the checks and balances that are needed, but I would argue that the rule of law, especially the law enforcement agencies and judiciary institutions are pertinent to this equation.

An insulated and professional law enforcement agencies and judiciary are thus important, and it is what I see still lacking in Indonesia.

The Corruption Eradication Commission (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi – KPK) is one of the approach that Indonesia takes into curbing corruption. But this is where Prof. Klitgaard’s second ingredient comes in: a whole-government approach. Putting the weight into KPK as a single institution to fight corruption will not work, because a national anti-corruption agency is futile “if it cannot coordinate with the other ministries and agencies vital to prevent, prosecute, and punish corruption“. It is also dangerous to put all the power in KPK, as KPK itself is not free of political interests, and its investigators and prosecutors do come from the police force and the attorney general’s office as well.

Rather than focusing too much on who’s going to head KPK, tell me, how are we going so far with our reforms in the police force, attorney general’s office, and the supreme court? Not to forget our bureaucracy reform progress to correct Gayus and the likes in the tax department.

The basic concept of supply and demand in my sense can also be applied in corruption. The reason why bureaucrats and public officials become corrupt is because there is a demand and incentive for them to do so. And if the system provides that window of opportunity for misbehavior, then you got yourself a case. Businesspeople, lawyers, accountants, and other stakeholders involved with state institutions in general in their daily business, must be engaged actively in reducing corruption from the demand side.

This is exactly what is also happening in India, as an op-ed in the New York Times have suggested that there is a selective rage over corruption, whereby their citizens direct their rage towards the corrupt government, but they’re lenient towards the companies who did it too. It takes two hands to clap, anyway.

Now, if people were strategic about subverting corruption, one would make use of whistle-blowers. In Indonesia, however, the price for being a whistle-blower is too high. Sadly, sometimes if you’re telling the truth, you are offering yourself in a risky position.

Take for example the case of Siami, a housewife and mother from Surabaya, whereby she was forced by her neighbors to move out from her house after she reported a national exam cheating case in her son’s class at a state elementary school. How can you say no to corruption when cheating is seen as a customary practice in schools? Have society gone mad now that an honest person is seen as the bad guy?


I fear that corruption is an issue which is now used as a political rhetoric. Every politician talks about it, how serious and detrimental it is, but no one has actually an idea and the strong will to get rid of it.

Perhaps because the very institution where these politicians come from are the breeding grounds for corruption itself. Nazaruddin was the (former) treasurer of the ruling political party after all.

[1] Chart methodology: Kaufmann D., A. Kraay, and M. Mastruzzi (2010), The Worldwide Governance Indicators: Methodology and Analytical Issues

[2] According to WGI, voice and accountability captures perceptions of the extent to which a country’s citizens are able to participate in selecting their government, as well as freedom of expression, freedom of association, and a free media

9 thoughts on “Disillusioned by Corruption”

  1. I quite agree with your general assertion.

    Though I’m sure you’re also aware that on the matter of incentivising whistle-blowers, the Constitutional Court’s ruling on the Witness and Victim Protection Agency has indicated that the Court accepts the view that Indonesian law does not recognize the concept of impunity (as opined by Harkristuti Harkrisnowo).

  2. Join the club, mbak.

    To think that corruption can be significantly mitigated without thorough and profound reform of law enforcement and administration of justice was delusional from the start.

  3. Oh, one more thing. I would be reluctant to put to practice Prof. Klitgaard’s fifth ingredient of emphasizing morality. In a place as religious as Indonesia, that very well runs the risk of confusing people into adopting more literal and extreme positions on a wide range of moral issues. The main reason for this is that far too many mistake religion, doctrinal orthodoxy and ritual with morality and goodness. Indonesia does not need more religion. It needs less.

  4. A twelve-year sentence for corruption and graft are apparently not sufficient for Gayus to be stripped of his post as a civil servant. Never mind failing to meet technocratic standards and performance. The Civil Service does not even meet standards of decency and common sense.

  5. Sorry, my mistake. It is a twelve-year sentence for corruption and graft, AND an on-going trial for five counts of criminal charges that are apparently not sufficient to discharge Gayus.

    On trial, along with Gayus, is the empty, selective moralism that has seen a PNS discharged for compromising fotos on the internet. Gayus steals millions, and he’s still untouchable while the usual religious chorus remains silent. Markets fail. States fail. Cultures fail too.

  6. I managed to talk personally with Klitgaard while NUS LKYSPP. He told me that he had the utmost respect and admiration for SBY. Go figure…He struck me as one of those consultants who is technically solid, yet his knowledge about the culture, society and politics is rather thin because he simply parachutes in…

  7. Would Asian Trends Monitoring say things that would risk upsetting the Indonesian government and diplomatic relations?

  8. Now, I don’t want to be accused of being Mr. Negative, focusing only on the negative while ignoring the positive. Today there’s good news in the papers about the work of our law enforcement officers in bringing dangerous criminals to justice. Several subjects have now been apprehended (“diamankan”) and are being held in custody awaiting trial for reselling Ipads without an instruction manual in the Indonesian language. Well done! That will surely put fear in the hearts of FPI, suicide bombers and corrupt public officials.

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