Indonesia Expat
Scams in the City

It’ All About the Money

President Joko Widodo came to power on promises to fight corruption and initiate a mental revolution, but scammers are still finding hundreds of people willing to pay bribes in the hope of becoming civil servants.

Why pay a bribe to become a low-paid civil servant? Because once in the job, you can augment your meagre salary by being corrupt. This can be seen at various government offices, where some officials will only provide a service if a bribe is paid. For example, a friend of mine visited the police after she was scammed in a real estate deal, only to be told she would have to pay for an investigation report.

The sad state of the Indonesian bureaucracy is reflected by the fact that at least 780 people in West Java province recently paid bribes ranging from Rp.50 million to Rp.100 million in the expectation of gaining positions in the civil service, mostly as teachers and nurses. Some of the victims said they had sold property or borrowed to raise the funds.

Police have so far arrested four people over the swindle. Two of the suspects are civil servants, including an employee of the Finance Ministry’s Treasury Office in Bandung. The fraudsters used forged “letters of assignment” for civil service jobs across several cities. Police said one of the perpetrators had collected about Rp.7 billion. The four face charges of fraud, embezzlement and falsification of documents, which carry a collective jail term of 29 years.

Civil servants in Indonesia

The fraud was uncovered on July 29 when the three of the swindlers invited the victims to a hotel in the West Java capital of Bandung and asked 420 of them to sign a sheet for the processing of the promised employment. Many of the recruits then visited the nearby local office of the National Civil Service Agency (BKN) to inquire about their jobs. BKN officers broke the news that there were no jobs. Police were then called to detain the scammers.

The Ministry of Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform said the arrests should serve as a wake-up call to people that they cannot use brokers to buy jobs. The ministry’s head of information and public service, Herman Suryatman, said the fraud had tarnished the bureaucratic reform process.

The level of fraud was surprising, given that the Government in January imposed a five-year moratorium on the recruitment of civil servants in an effort to reduce the state’s notoriously inefficient bureaucracy.

Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform Minister Yuddy Chrisnandi said the moratorium had been requested by Vice President Jusuf Kalla to improve efficiency and reduce wasteful spending on civil servants’ salaries.

The moratorium doesn’t mean that no civil servants will be recruited. There are exemptions for hiring teachers, lecturers, health workers and law enforcement personnel. “But this is done selectively,” said Yuddy, adding that only governors, mayors and regents could apply to make recruitments. Government ministries and agencies are supposed to undergo an organisational audit to determine whether they have enough staff or need more recruits.

Yuddy, a member of ex-general Wiranto’s Hanura Party, said police should unmask the perpetrators of the recent fraud and return all of the money to the victims. He added that any state officials involved in recruitment scams will be fired – if they are convicted of fraud. So far, police have identified the suspects only by their initials.

The minister said it was easy for people to become victims of fraud, partly because not everyone has access to information in the media. He said Indonesian society has become too oriented toward civil service jobs, whereas the spirit of entrepreneurship remains low, and there are insufficient job vacancies in the business sector.

He urged people not to be fooled by scammers, emphasising that any efforts by agents to lure people to apply for civil service jobs are all a big lie. He said that although teachers and medical personnel are still urgently needed in some areas, they can only be recruited through official mechanisms and procedures in accordance with regulations. In other words, bribes should not be paid to secure a job.

Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform Minister Yuddy Chrisnandi

Compared to other Southeast Asian countries, Indonesia does not have a huge civil service. There were about 4.46 million civil servants in 2013, including some 500,000 military and police. That leaves about 4 million public servants – under 2 percent of the country’s population of 250 million people. Despite the relatively low ratio, the civil service is a drain on the state budget. Much of the funding for development and education programmes ends up going on administrative expenses.

According to the Indonesian Forum for Budget Transparency, spending on civil servants’ salaries increased by Rp.43.6 trillion in 2014 from the previous year, compared to an increase of only Rp.13.2 trillion in development spending.

Some government departments seem to be fond of initiating change for the sake of change and additional funding, rather than for improving service. For example, Immigration offices recently changed the process for visa applications and extensions. It now takes a lot longer and costs more to extend a visa. Filling out a visa form, collecting stamps from different officials and paying can take seven hours if an Immigration office is in snail mode. The last time I complained about this, I was told that I could simply “use an agent” to get the job done faster. In other words, pay above the official costs so that a go-between can bribe civil servants to do their job. There are banners outside Immigration offices, exhorting people not to use the services of agents – yet there are still many agents there, handing over bribes.

There are many genuine attempts at positive reform, but these sometimes seem to be sabotaged. For example, visitors to some government agencies are supposed to take an electronically printed number and wait in a queue to be called – so that service will be based on arrival time, rather than bribes. But in many buildings, these electronic number dispensers are broken for months at a time.

Indonesia’s high level of bureaucratic red tape is a significant impediment to much needed foreign investment and infrastructure development.

The Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) has rated Indonesia as having the second worst bureaucracy in Asia, after India.

PERC noted that some bureaucracies have become power centres in their own right, enabling them to resist reform efforts made by politicians and officials.

Efforts have been made to curb bureaucratic waste, such as banning government officials from holding taxpayer-funded meetings in hotels, but as long as people still think civil service jobs are based on bribes rather than merit, there remains much room for improvement.

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