Wednesday, August 8, 2012

System failure

Another day, another mind-numbing editorial from the Jakarta Globe. The scandal du jour is that business tycoon and presidential financier Siti Hartati Murdaya has been caught offering a Rp 2 billion ($212,000) bribe to secure a permit for her business. This is obviously embarrassing for Hartati, her business and the Democrats, especially as the latter is already dealing with enough graft scandals in its ranks.

What is more embarrassing — at least if you still believe in quaint notions like journalism — is the Globe's mewling apologetics. Rather than affix any blame to Hartati, the brain trust at Globe Towers would rather use its editorial to fault "the system" and repeat its endless call for nebulous "reform."
Don't Blame Hartati; It's the System's Fault
The announcement of Siti Hartati Murdaya as a corruption suspect by the Corruption Eradication Commission is a sad day for the business community and for the country.
Hartati has been named a suspect by antigraft investigators amid allegations that she ordered the payment of a Rp 2 billion ($212,000) bribe for Amran Batalipu, the head of Buol district in Central Sulawesi, in exchange for a palm oil plantation permit.
It cannot be denied that Hartarti is not the only business owner who has offered a bribe for a license to establish a business. Talk to any business owner who has had to deal with regional or local government leaders and chances are they will have a similar tale to tell.
Unfortunately, this is how the system works in this country and it urgently needs to be reformed. It is common practice for regional bureaucrats to demand such payments from business owners. Yes, some business owners are not angels, and some occasionally find ways to avoid the law. However, it is equally true that business owners are victims of the system and have no choice but to comply if they want their businesses to proceed.
Corruption is a cancer that is eating away the soul of this country. But unless the entire system is overhauled, we will not conquer it and innocents like Hartarti will be ensnared in its web.
We hope investigators will conduct a thorough probe into this matter and allow the Indonesian public to view all the facts. We call on the authorities to also ensure that the recipients of the alleged bribe are also brought to justice.
What Hartarti allegedly did is against the law, but she has also contributed enormously to social causes and helped underprivileged Indonesians through her generous charitable works. This should not be discounted in the investigation.
I'd ask if the Globe was the least bit embarrassed by running something so cloying — "business owners are victims," "no choice to comply," "innocents like Hartati" — but after its slapstick denouncements of pornography and Lady Gaga, defending a corruption suspect is almost genteel.

(Fun fact: Corruption, narcotics offenses and terrorism are considered "extraordinary crimes" in Indonesia. Murder? Notsomuch.)

The Democrats, as ever, can't decide whether to stand by their own or disown the accused to save the party (not that there's much party to save). All this despite Hartati initially expecting people to believe that her bribe was a "donation" and asking: "Do I look like someone who would bribe?" Now we have the House of Representatives speaker Marzuki Alie — also a Democrat — saying that Hartati was "forced" to offer a bribe. I don't recall anyone holding a gun to her head or threatening her family, but feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. Wouldn't such a philanthropist and champion of the poor taking her complaint about corruption to the anti-graft authorities carry far more weight and leave her in a better light than where she finds herself now?

Of course, Marzuki wouldn't just offer up such claims without sound logic behind them.
“Why don’t you ask her [Hartati]? As far as I know, businesspeople are usually stingy. They wouldn’t give any money unless they really had to,” he told reporters in Jakarta.
Can't argue with that.

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