Forget about Justice; There’s None at All in Indonesia Inc.

If you engage a lawyer in Indonesia, he or she will very probably ask you for an “operational” fee as part of their overall payment. This is not to cover their administration or travel expenses, but to bribe judges so that you will win your case.

As for the judges, they, too, are adept at playing this rank game. This is not a surprise to those who read Indonesian newspapers. The chief justice of a court just outside Jakarta – a man tasked with enacting the law of the land – has been arrested and finds himself before a panel of judges, and it’s a secure bet they themselves are of the same crooked ilk.

The nation was rocked some short months ago when a low-level taxman who allegedly skimmed millions of dollars from the state was arrested and freed (by the judge who is no longer free). The newly liberated Indonesian fled the country for Singapore, but a showy presidential graft-busting taskforce gave chase, talked tough with the Suspect Mark II and flung him back home.

As Gayus Tambunan stands trial in Jakarta again, largely due to the political heat of the scandal, came news at the weekend that the man had escaped police incarceration and apparently had been photographed attending a tennis match in Bali – replete with a Halloween-style fright-wig and glasses.

There was no mistaking this dolt, however; and there’s no mistaking that all the reams of official talk about stamping out corruption in Indonesia is just that.

It is a sham piled high upon a sham. Those many who are neck-high in official theft are laughing like twisted hyenas, and there’s little that anyone can do. A man who tried, the former head of the feared Corruption Eradication Commission, found himself arrested, tried and flung in jail for murder in a sex tryst. His deputies were headed for a similar behind-bars fate until the president waded in and halted the charade, which has been threatening a replay.

What is a country to do?

These stories are symptomatic of the disease of corruption that infiltrates every aspect of Indonesian life. So commonplace is the problem that it is not considered a problem. From paying unofficial levies to get licences or to send your child to school, the added extras have become a norm.

Many Indonesians will tell you that corruption during the three-decade rule of Suharto was centralised, so much so that it was kept within the clan itself and various close associates. But that since the country was unshackled from dictatorship it’s been a graft free-for-all. Decentralisation has been a boon for officials on the take.

“The government doesn’t look after us, so what else can we do?” a high-ranking official in Jakarta told this correspondent last year. While eschewing corruption outright the official nonetheless sought ways to support a meagre monthly salary.

Therein lies the rub. Hong Kong, long a bastion of corruption, busted the menace by, in part, bolstering salaries. In Singapore government officials are the best paid in the world – the prime minister earning far more than his American counterpart – because it is thought that if remuneration is sufficient the temptation to thieve will disappear.

Money-grabbing Indonesian officials do not care about the latest news from Transparency International, the global corruption watchdog that in its newest survey places Indonesia again near the bottom of the world table, just above nations like Kosovo and Ethiopia. This news does not register with the state bandits. If told, they cast their eyes heavenward and move on to the next grimy deal. For them it is all about personal gain, no matter that it adds to the country’s spiralling annual losses of billions of dollars – money that should be used to properly pay government workers (after paring down the top-heavy bureaucracy).

As the apparent Gayus circus act in Bali shows, graft is such a vastly profitable business in Indonesia that efforts to stamp it out are mere words to assuage the public. Though described under the law as a “serious crime,” one that should attract harsh sentencing, those convicted of corruption usually only serve short terms in prison. And the president – who has twice won office on a graft-battling platform – is frequently minded to pardon corruptors. The on-trial judge in the Gayus case: prosecutors this week requested a mere three-and-a-half-year jail term. As for the state lawyers themselves, their colleagues have been snared accepting huge cash sums from suspects, and jailed; more cases are pending.

There is no hope for Indonesia for many generations to come. Perhaps today’s internet generation of youngsters – more informed and more ethical because of that – will rise up and kill off corruption. Or perhaps not: because those who are doing it are still laughing their heads off, all the way to the bank vault.

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