Indonesia Expat
Scams in the City

Failing to Buy an Income

One of Indonesia’s biggest problems is law enforcement, or more accurately, the lack of it. Part of the problem is that recruitment and promotion within the police and civil service is not always based on merit, but sometimes on the payment of bribes. Yet many of those soliciting bribes are scammers, taking money from people trying to buy prestigious positions for themselves or their children.

It has long been alleged that entry to the police academy can cost upward of Rp.200 million, while the going rate for becoming a civil servant starts at about Rp.100 million. The bribes are invariably paid to intermediaries, known as calo, who then distribute the money to officials. Sadly, this crooked system discourages the nation’s best graduates from joining the civil service.

Police in September arrested a civil servant and two Mobile Brigade police officers, who were taking bags containing Rp.1.9 billion ($152,600) in cash from Sumatra to Jakarta. The money comprised of bribes, each ranging from Rp.170 million to Rp.200 million, paid by aspiring civil servants.

Recruiting crooked people to run the civil service is grossly counterproductive if Indonesia wants to halt institutionalized corruption. Yet President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo this month tried to appoint a corruption suspect, Budi Gunawan, as the National Police chief. Budi is alleged to have been nominated for the position because he was extremely close to former president Megawati Sukarnoputri when serving as her adjutant. The House of Representatives’ approval of the nomination only shows the utter putrefaction of the system.

Some scammers pretend to be connected to the president or a minister, claiming they can provide access to government funds, for a fee, of course. Countless victims fall for these scams because the process of obtaining a civil service position, a promotion or state funds is often facilitated by bribery.

Police in East Java last week arrested the leader of a gang that had amassed at least Rp.6 billion ($480,000) from thousands of people who had tried to buy their way into the bureaucracy. Sumarno and his two cohorts had posed as members of the State Intelligence Agency and claimed to be close to government officials. The trio usually collected Rp.100 million per victim.

In the South Sumatran capital of Palembang, police last month arrested a former legislator for taking bribes ranging from Rp.100 million to Rp.500 million from aspiring civil servants. Doni Romadhona (34), who served in the Palembang City Legislative Assembly from 2012-1013, took money from at least 11 people, promising positions in the bureaucracy without undergoing requisite tests. None of them became civil servants. After his arrest, Doni threatened to douse reporters with urine if they tried to ask him questions. Charged with fraud and embezzlement, he now faces a maximum penalty of four years in jail. He had previously served only three months in jail for the same type of crime.

Also in South Sumatra, a woman studying for her master’s degree, Astria Anindita (30), last week complained to police that she had paid a bribe to get a job with the National Civil Service Agency but the recipient had absconded with her money. Astria said an old high school friend, Yusman Reza (32), claimed he was working for the Agrarian Affairs Minister and could help her if she paid him Rp.100 million. She transferred Rp.30 million in August 2014 and promised to pay the remainder after starting work. She was never recruited. When she requested a refund, Yusman asked her to pay an additional Rp.2.5 million, which she duly transferred, and still her money was not returned.

In North Sumatra, police in October arrested Julius Silalahi (50), who served as deputy chairman of the Simalungun Regional Legislative Assembly for the 2009-2014 period, for the same type of offense. He was accused of accepting sums of up to Rp.150 million from people who wanted their children to join the bureaucracy. He also allegedly received a bribe of Rp.690 million from a businessman seeking projects from the local government.

Julius told police that most of the bribe money had gone to Agustiar Saragih, the brother of Simalungun Regent J.R. Saragih. Julius was never brought to trial. He was released in November after reaching settlements with his victims. He was back in the news this month for refusing to return his official car to the state.

Civil servants who speak out against corruption can end up in jail. Take the case of Fadli Rahim (33), who worked for the Tourism and Culture Office in Gowa regency in South Sulawesi. He has been behind bars since 24 November 2014 after criticizing the Regent of Gowa, Ichsan Yasin Limpo, in a group conversation on the popular messaging app Line.

Fadli had claimed that investors were reluctant to come to Gowa because they had to pay bribes to the regent. He also accused the regent of cheating in elections and using strong-arm tactics to benefit one of his affiliated companies.

Police responded by arresting Fadli, accusing him of defamation and libel, indiscipline and failure to respect his superiors. He is now on trial for defamation and faces a six-year jail sentence under the 2008 Law on Electronic Information and Transactions. This law was supposed to punish online scammers but is instead being used to silence people who expose corruption or incompetence. Meanwhile, Fadli’s mother, a senior high school teacher, has been transferred to a distant school.

Regent Ichsan warned journalists that if they make accusations against him, they will also be punished. There is little protection for those who blow the whistle on corruption.

The Minister for Disadvantaged Regions and Transmigration, Marwan Jafar, this month urged all village heads to ignore offers from brokers who claim they are connected to the president and can disburse village assistance funds from the central government – in return for bribes of Rp.15 million. 

Marwan said he had been informed of fraud related to the assistance program, in which the country’s 73,000 villages can each receive Rp.1 billion for economic and infrastructure development.

The minister said the disbursal of village funds need not be done via intermediaries, although all village heads must prepare a Local Government Medium-Term Development Plan and a Local Development Work Plan to qualify for the assistance, which will start being distributed in April.

One slight ray of hope is that Jokowi himself is not pulling the strings of nepotism. His daughter last month failed to make the grade for applicants to join the civil service.

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