Apr 15

Freedom of Speech - a necessity in democratic societiesFreedom of Speech and Expression are cornerstones and the lifeblood of any democracy. For a free people in mature societies to govern themselves – they must be free to express themselves – openly, publicly, and repeatedly; in speech and in writing.

How else can one put the finger in the wound and take part in discussions about what hinders a country in its progress?

Most Westerners don’t know that Indonesia is a very young democracy. This leads to surprising insights, which surface when you look a bit deeper into the woven society fabric on its long-winding road towards ‘real’ Democracy:

Officially a republic with a presidential system since 1962, Indonesia struggled over decades to come to grips with its cultural differences, exploding population and ethnic diversity.

In reality, the last great dictator of the country – General Suharto, who ruled it with an iron fist for more than 3 decades until 1998 – only died recently in January. His shadow still casts over this beautiful island paradise, although a lot of democratic progress has been made in the last 10 years.

Corruption, unemployment, stagnating wages and increasing food and fuel prices are the main problems in modern Indonesia today. Close to 20% of Indonesians live below the poverty line, almost 50% of the population lives on less than USD 2 per day.

Did I mention Corruption already?

Corruption - a paralyzing pestIndonesia ranks currently number 143 of 179 countries in the Corruption Perception Index, which measures and orders the countries of the world according to “the degree to which corruption is perceived to exist among public officials and politicians”. It ranks well below illustrious candidates like Burkina Faso, Cameroon or Panama and with plenty of space north towards its ASEAN neighbors Philippines or Thailand, with the exception of only Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar, which rank even further below.

Corruption is easily Indonesia’s most suffocating pest, paralyzing and crippling the country from achieving significant progress in its economical and political development.

Here are just a few examples of ripe corruption and problems the country currently faces:

  • Political or Economical posts, as well as most of the countries assets and wealth are strongly in the hand of a few ‘selected’ families (the Sampoernas, Bakries, Ciputras, Tanotos, Widjajas, Halims and Hartonos etc.) – nepotism, cronyism and favoritism are the rule not the exception. Here is a list of the richest Indonesian families by net worth.
  • Law and Order is where the money is. By knowing and bribing the right decision makers you can get out of almost every trouble, which would put you behind bars in any other democratic country. That doesn’t mean, that some things, considered minor offenses elsewhere, are punished hard in general, especially if money can be made in the process.
  • Here is an interesting and comprehensive study that states that Indonesian firms report spending on average of 10% of costs on bribes and over 10% of management time in “smoothing business operations” with local officials.
  • Corrupt Traffic CopTo become a Police Man in Indonesia, you need first the right connections, secondly a huge amount of money to pay your way in. No wonder the Police will try whatever is necessary to extort money from Locals and Foreigners alike to regain that initial ‘investment’ and much more to improve their otherwise meager wages. This starts with simple extortion from motorists, but doesn’t end there at all. Indonesians have a saying “When you lose a chicken, go to the Police, you will lose a cow”. That basically says it all.
  • As the world’s fourth most populous country and the most populous Muslim-majority nation it goes almost without saying that many Politicians are practically puppets on the strings of influential religious leaders. And although Indonesia is officially not an Islamic state – a separation of state and religion is practically non-existent. So Politicians have to do what they can to appease extreme preachers and clerics to avoid religious turmoil or riots, which happened many times before. Recently it looks like the country is shifting more in the direction of Malaysia, with efforts to put Sharia and other more extreme Islamic practices into place. The upside is that there exists a healthy opposition to these ideas, which currently still holds out softening those approaches.
  • In Bali paying the right Official or Banjar currently still ensures that you can build your own Villa development project at unspoiled beaches or in natures reserves, neglecting construction or environmental laws, as currently happening in Dreamland or Padang Bai.
  • Licenses, Levies, Visas, Registrations almost always go along with bribes to local government officials or other somehow involved persons. Official ways are time-consuming, endlessly bureaucratic and usually don’t work like they should. A bit ‘grease’ here or there helps to improve the situation and keep the whole system going, which would otherwise come to a complete standstill.
  • Localities in Indonesia are hampered by insufficient revenues from formal tax and transfer sources to pay competitive salaries plus fund demanded levels of public services, because local tax rates are capped by the center and intergovernmental transfers are limited. Tax money of honest businesses or individuals is regularly finding its way into private pockets and not into the treasure chests of the departments they are supposed to.
  • Illegal Logging in KalimantanIndonesia’s tropical forrests, mainly in Sumatra and Kalimantan but even in protected national reserve areas, are disappearing at an alarming rate. Together with its many species of wonderful wild animals, some of them only to be found in this part of the world, like Orang Utans, Clouded Leopards and others close to extinction. What’s going on? Illegal logging is a profitable business and the natural resources are abused and exhausted by many government officials, businesses and individuals. Imaging a local police man with an average salary of USD 3-5 a day who should fight an international cartel of Timber loggers. A small ‘donation’ of a few hundred USD will probably make him help to load the logs on trucks himself. There are claims that now almost 70% of Indonesia’s timber resources getting to the world markets are coming from illegal sources.

Visible but painful Progress

Okay, enough of those examples already. Fortunately there is light at the end of the tunnel. More and more Indonesians realize that their country is raped and plundered by a few powerful organizations and abused by many of its shady Politicians.

Signing of the Peace Treaty for Aceh in Helsinki 2005With President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) and his Vice President Jusuf Kalla taking over the helm in 2004, many things improved rapidly.

I just want to mention here the installation of the KPK (the Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi, a Committee to Clean up Corruption). Just a few days ago they didn’t even stop from arresting the chief of Indonesia’s Central Bank on Graft Charges.

Another important achievement was the Peace Agreement with the Separatists in Aceh, culminating with a former rebel becoming the governor of Aceh, allowing serious and significant economical developments for the first time in more than 30 years. (The former governor was arrested for graft as well already back in 2005).

But sometimes even progressive politicians are not free of mistakes, but better they make and realize them than deny and cover them up:

Blocking YouTube and public opinion

When President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono last week bowed down to religious clerics in the wake of the ‘Fitna crisis’ – a swelling storm of protests arose quickly. ‘Fitna’ is a movie shot by a Dutch film maker to stir up unrest amongst Muslims around the world.

YouTube LogoWhile in most Muslim countries worldwide the film was received as what it is – a ridiculous and acidly hateful provocation better left unnoticed or even laughed about – Mr. SBY (ill-advised) did the ‘Full Monty’ to appease to a small group of extreme leaders:

He approved to *ban* YouTube.com country-wide because of that one nasty Video Clip, thus literally incapacitating all citizens to have a mature look at the issue.

Besides alienating the youths, universities, marketeers, media companies and others who make a living from the Internet – the blocking of YouTube sparked an outcry in the local media pretty unheard of before. The Jakarta Post called it a ‘dumb and dangerous move‘ and saw the ‘government’s credibility tarnished‘. They made comparisons with a local saying: “If you want to catch a rat – don’t burn the rice field. If the rat escapes you are left with a burned rice field”.

So following all the public uproar and criticism – the decision was quickly reverted and even an apology followed by Information and Communications Minister Muhammad Nuh!

Maybe that is what will happen soon again, with Mr. Nuh’s next big decision concerning the internet and internet users:

Mr. Nuh said on Sunday, that he will set up a team to collect data on porn websites. All brave citizens are held to report all new sex and porn websites to the Ministry so they can examine and block them if necessary. They know that most of them probably “existed for a long time and their number has reached into the millions”.

Still Indonesia wants to create a unique directory of Internet Porn and other inappropriate websites.Monas monument in Jakarta - "Soekarno's last erection" in vox populous

There are plenty of doubts in the media, if that new law will work or if it would be abolished rather sooner than later.

I just wonder if they will build another monument next to ‘Soekarno’s last erection’ in Jakarta for Mr. Nuh, after him having consumed all those websites personally.

Clearing the clouds on the horizon

So what should we make of some of the recent mishaps?

That guy who was arrested and jailed for life, because he waved the separatist flag of South Malukku during a speech of SBY? The Jakarta Post kicked off an interesting discussion about the fairness of the punishment. Let’s hope for the best that this man doesn’t have to stay behind bars for the rest of his life due to a stupid mistake. If Tommy didn’t have to… but then… let’s not talk about power and money again.

Protests should serve as a testing ground for any democracy – thus the right to peaceful assembly is an essential and integral part in facilitating the use of free speech. A civil society should be able to allow for spirited debate among those in disagreement over issues, no?

Need some oil…

Pertamina LogoAnd don’t get me started on the recurring Gasoline Shortages of state-run Oil Firm Pertamina. Fortunately for the Indonesian people, unfortunately for the Indonesian Finances – gasoline or petrol here is still heavily subsidized. So much actually, that oil-rich Indonesia became an Oil Importer just a few years back, because supply couldn’t satisfy demand anymore. Subsidies exploded from USD 7 Billion in 2004 to USD 14 Billion in 2008.

Sure, Oil Prices rose world-wide – no big deal – I hear you saying.

But how come then that there is an ongoing swinging trade of subsidized fuel with neighboring countries?

Talking about a country literally bleeding money. A time-bomb in the making.

The Sky is the Limit

And the recent scandal around Pay TV provider ASTRO? Astro was shut down by the Information and Communications Ministry last Friday morning, because officially ‘some fees weren’t paid in time’.

ASTRO LogoRings any bells?

It’s still down by today – more than 4 days out of operations due to some minor lapse sounds really, should one say definitely reasonable.

ASTRO is the fastest growing Pay TV provider in Indonesia, undercutting then near-monopolist Indovision and eating massively into its base of subscribers, even more so when Indovision lost their rights to broadcast the English Premier League. Some people wonder what kind of fees ASTRO could have forgotten (even though they stated they didn’t) or if the whole process was motivated otherwise in the more common, ‘usual’ manner.

Yes. No. Yo!?

A pattern people see in Free Speech and Corruption issues in Indonesia may involve the ‘Depkominfo’ – above mentioned Information and Communications Ministry and other governmental Ministries which give out misjudged, sometimes incompetent guidelines and pull-through or execute with questionable actions.

Please Mr. Yudhoyono and Mr. Kalla! If you *really* do love Indonesia:

Set those guys straight! Their credit is up by now.

Indonesia is on its path to become a modern and informed society. Who needs corrupt incumbents looking only to fill their own pockets at the expense of the whole population?

Outdated practices and narrow-minded talking heads should be so yesterday.

With Suharto out of the way there is really no need anymore to keep the population uneducated and in fear, suppressing non-conform opinions and keeping internet, external resources and free media out of reach for the common man or woman.

Visit Indonesia Year 2008Malaysia just learned it the hard way and it seems that new ideas can break ground pretty fast here as well, as the recent West Java elections seem to show.

So – why not walk down this way together – with all our colors and voices, may it be sometimes thorny or painful. We can shed a tear or two, but succeed ultimately with and because of all our unique diversity.

Merdeka dari korupsi! Untuk kebebasan berbicara dan pendapat!

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written by Chris

14 Responses to “Long Plea about Corruption, Freedom of Speech and Indonesia’s road towards ‘real’ Democracy”

  1. Nomadic MattNo Gravatar UNITED STATES Says:

    I think that took me 8.36 minutes to read!! good in depth article though. I agree with a lot of your insights.

    You’re also linked on my site now


  2. ChrisNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    Matt – many thanks for the link and best of luck with your site! ;-)

    Oh yeah and an update: Astro is back online since this morning. Probably paid their dues?

  3. devari baliNo Gravatar UNITED STATES Says:

    now I am afraid that my country Indonesia will also prohibit/strict filtering to Google. Regarding to Youtube blocking, I think Indonesia is over reacting, obviously it is not pure govt decision but pretty much influenced by ‘the major force’ inside the govt.

    other scenario is, to distract people from the real problem of the country.

    Astro? well well, there is a ‘big player’ in astro competitor Indovision, so you can guess what is actually happening.

  4. vicongNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    Alas. Indonesia has been and continues to be wracked by every pestilence known to man: earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, terrorism, civil strife, corruption and crime make the headlines on a depressingly regular basis.

    The bad news is that every disease known to man can be found somewhere in Indonesia

    from : wikitravel.org

    I am very sad read that quote, but can’t say anything cause it’s true… :((

  5. panjiNo Gravatar GERMANY Says:

    @ vicong: Although it is true, you feel well inside, dont you? Cause the fact is, the pestilence doesnt come daily. Man made can be avoided through development and education. If you live your life properly, you don’t get much trouble, anyway.

    Every disease known to man can be found somewhere in Indonesia doesnt mean anything since it is located in tropical region (and badly managed). This is about imaging. You can see a thing more from its bad or good side. It is personal option. Use own judgement.

  6. Cutting Subsidies - Indonesia’s Government will raise Fuel Prices by app. 30% in June | nomad4ever UNITED STATES Says:

    […] Another method would be in the form of direct cash distributions to help cushion the impact of rising fuel; although I would see that as a more problematic way – prone to be misused by legions of corrupt politicians and officials. […]

  7. Funny Aliens: Land for Sale, Invest in your Future in Lombok | nomad4ever UNITED STATES Says:

    […] yours. Why buy property in a foreign country with a long history of an unreliable legal system and corruption, when you can rent it sooo much cheaper. If things go wrong, you can always move on. Simple like […]

  8. ryanNo Gravatar SINGAPORE Says:

    for me is okay for everything in indonesia,if you dont cheat why must be worry??so take the right time if you want invest make by your own if you mind dont GO on!! although in indonesia true about corruption why you must bother you want gift some help??is it they will listen.i am indonesia live on this country i still fine because i do the rigth thing and i am much happy feel of all this i dont mind what the foreigner think about my country because true for everything.BY the way WHAt matter happen i always by site my beautiful indonesia is colourful for everything.Just happy and relax IN mainland diversity of indonesia

  9. ryanNo Gravatar SINGAPORE Says:

    Now i still study in singapore and next month i flew to rinca island to dive and stay in GILi-t.i always spent my days in my beautiful indonesia emm…………………well just enjoy it.AND i miss my sweet home in lampung

  10. Frank A.No Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    What a fricking zoo of a country! I can’t wait to get the hell out of here.

    If you’re thinking to come here, either to live or on a vacation, do yourself a huge favor and think again; it could save you from making the biggest mistake of your life. Bare in mind, you could lose a lot more than your money, your property and / or your time here, and in some cases, once you realize it, it just might be too late.

    If you really want to be surrounded by a bunch of corrupt, money grubbing, tire swinging, chimpanzee mentality, fuck-tards, go to the monkey house at your local zoo; it won’t cost your as much, and your separated from the apes by steal bars and plexiglass. L-)

  11. ChrisNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    Frank A, you are right in what you describe, although I see another color to it. For me it’s more convenient to live in a surrounding of open and blatant corruption, than having the same or worse level of corruption in the developed world, disguised as the so-called welfare state. Corruption exists in the western world also, but you are lulled into a state of mind by media, society and politicians that the world out there is dangerous and they are much better in taking care of you. That might well be so, if you like someone to tell you what’s right for yourself, but you will pay for it with an arm and a leg and sometimes even with selling yourself to life-long slavery labor for a mediocre middle-class lifestyle. It’s up to you, what you prefer. You make the call! ;-)

  12. Frank A.No Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    Thanks for responding Chris.

    You and I think very much alike, but there are a few factors you need to know about me. I still see Asia as my escape from the confines of a boring, routine life I used to lead in the United States, and when I manage to get out of Indonesia, there is absolutely no way in hell that I will return to that country for more than a brief visit. I moved to Thailand 5 years ago and loved it. I actually plan to return after this ordeal is over.

    However, I did make a couple of bad choices after my business there went bust and the other work I was doing dried up. One of those bad choices was taking up doing some “work” for a guy in Indonesia. Doing so landed me on the wrong side of the law in Indonesia. Now before you go passing judgment on me, let me add in that what I was caught for would probably have gotten me a couple of years in the USA, but seeing that the police here were involved in the case, the prosecution and the judiciary committed evidence tampering & theft; the BNN resold the drugs confiscated from me; the Indonesian lawyers (3 sets of them) stole all my remaining money that wasn’t stolen by the police; and the fact that I was threatened with torture and watched my girlfriend getting slapped around by police, would have gotten this entire case thrown out of court in the first place. BUT, being on Monkey Island / Indonesia what ended up happening instead was that I was sentenced to death while my boss, was given a 12 year sentence and the owners of the drugs were released from the police station after paying a large sum of cash to the BNN Narcotics chief.
    Please, take a moment to read this article I posted on Facebook; it will fill in a lot of the details.

    Thanks for your time and this forum, Chris. :-)

  13. Frank A.No Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    :-o Had to correct my website contact.

  14. ChrisNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    Frank A: that sounds like a very tough and horrible story on what can happen worst case, if you happen to be on the wrong side of the law!

    While I don’t advocate the traffic or use of drugs of any illegal kind, it is a common knowledge and widely publicized in the media, that Indonesia deals out tough verdicts on the smallest of those incidents. Foreigners are no exception in that regard in Indonesia, which is for many understandable, as probably most of the drugs brought into the country are smuggled by foreigners anyway.

    You can argue with or against those laws or the money that’s exchanging hands in the process by some who just want to milk those unfortunate effected, but these rules are in place already many years, usually enforced strictly and there is in my view no change to that stance on the horizon.

    Definitely you made your mistakes and probably learned the lesson in the hardest way possible. Probably now, when faced with the dire consequences of your actions you realized that it was a very bad idea. I’m sure, if you could turn back time and change things along the way – you would.

    As that is no option, I can only wish you the best from the bottom of my heart and hope that there is any way for you to avoid that final judgment day. :(

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