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Curious Parallels (Part II)

Part II

By Imtiaz Gul

 The News, Feb 25, 2013


A scandal recently hit Indonesia’s Islamist, self-righteous Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) when the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), the equivalent of Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau, named its president Luthfi Hasan Ishaaq, as the prime suspect in a meat import case. Ishaaq made way for Sohibul Islam following charges by the KPK in the scam.

The KPK alleged that Ishaaq used his influence with the minister for agriculture, also from the PKS, for importing 40,000 tons of beef. Each ton promised a certain percentage of money for Ishaaq, says the charge-sheet.

The KPK has been making news through its relentless pursuit of black money and graft cases. It is a parliament-sanctioned body and operates across the board. “Its members may be weak as nominees of political parties but it is itself as the most scared entity these days because of its mandate,” said Kornelius Purba, the senior managing editor of The Jakarta Post.

“We need to be more transparent about what we are doing so that the public can have access to our work. Transparency is one of the issues I will focus on”, Sohibul told the press after assuming charge of the party in parliament.

Sohibul’s statement also reflected the pressures that people in such leading positions currently face. The civil society, though fragmented, is demanding transparency and justice. The public push for accountability and the desire of the ruling elites to come across as honest appears to be in full play in Indonesia. Most mainstream political parties feel the heat, though deep-seated vested interests and the notorious nexus between politics, business and bureaucracy seem unrelenting.

Egged on by the civil society and the pressure for reform, the Supreme Court and the KPK have been at the forefront of the drive against graft and dirty money, being spearheaded by the Supreme Court as well as the Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (PPATK).

Riding on the unusual public approval for stringent scrutiny of graft and financial misappropriation of public money, the Supreme Court has in recent years displayed much activism. It recently ruled that all those funds in bank accounts must be confiscated whose owners are traceless or where the source of money cannot be ascertained.

The new directive by the court authorises investigators from the National Police, the Accountant General’s Office and the KPK to ask the court to decide within 30 days on confiscation of funds from dubious bank accounts reported by the PPATK. Last year, the fight against dirty money received a boost after the Corruption Eradication Commission decided to apply laws against money laundering to corruption cases.

As a whole, while everybody agrees corruption exists deep in Indonesia’s socio-political life, most citizens and civil society organisations are more than eager to support the drive against graft associated with the political and business elites. The nexus between the two, according to common perception, continues not only to thrive off public money but also obstructs much-needed infrastructure development projects.

Any project above 200,000 US dollars requires approval and clearance by a cross-party parliamentary budgetary committee. And this requirement entails its own risks, such as inordinate delays in execution of infrastructure projects that need urgent implementation.

Several projects for road expansion, airport construction and mass transit remain stuck in the parliamentary committee for lack of consensus. In a city which experts reckon loses 2-3 percent of its GDP to suffocating traffic jams, you cannot afford the delay of even a day. But possibilities of corruption and inter-party preferences or lack of interest keep hindering public interest projects.

“Finally I opted for the motorbike once I realised the futility of driving to the workplace,” said a diplomat. It took him at least 90 minutes to travel by car from home to office. “I cover the distance now in 15 minutes thanks to the motorbike,” he said. And hence the countless motorbikes on the main boulevards of Jakarta.

I personally experienced the gruelling snail’s-pace journey on the main Jakarta artery: it took us over an over to cover a mere 400 meters. And that explains how daily commuters lose energy, resource and time. Still, you would hardly ever hear motorists honking horns.

Indonesians are among the most patient people on earth. Even in the worst traffic jams, you would find them smiling, joking and patiently waiting to move on inch by inch, rarely displaying any sign of frustration or impatience.


Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and the author of the recently released book Pakistan: Before and After, published by Roli Books, India

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk