Editorial

The week in review: Testing
the ‘untouchable’

Tuesday’s arrest of Heru Sulastyono, a senior official with the Customs and Excise Directorate General, on bribery charges is expected to lead the way toward a clean-up in the institution, which has long been perceived as corrupt to the core but untouchable.

Police apprehended the head of the customs and excise import-export subdivision at his mansion in an upscale housing complex in Tangerang, where he lived with his second wife. He was accused of accepting Rp 11 billion (US$979,000) in bribes from a businessman whom he helped to evade taxes.   

Heru’s Rp 60 billion savings in the more than 20 bank accounts discovered by the police merely suggest that he is a “seasoned player”.            

The agency’s political clout is well known. In 2010, the Financial Transaction and Report Analysis Centre (PPATK) reported the names of 12 officials –  Heru was among them – who had suspiciously fat bank accounts to law enforcement institutions; however, none of them took action.

Illegal smartphones remain big business on the black market; they cause state losses of billions of US dollars every year and are proof of the malfunctioning bureaucracy within customs and excise.

In a spectacular case that illustrates the mighty web of corruption among law enforcers and businesses, the Supreme Court acquitted in 2011 a businessman who had been sentenced by a district court to 22 months in jail for smuggling into the country 30 containers of BlackBerry phones in 2009.        

Customs and excise, which underwent a major restructuring program in 2007 under then finance minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati, is yet to show significant progress regarding its bureaucratic reform.

The arrest occurred only a few days after Comr. Gen. Sutarman took the oath of office as the new National Police chief and vowed to play a greater role in combating corruption along with the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) and the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).

It remains to be seen whether the much-applauded arrest is just a gimmick by Sutarman to enhance his image or whether he means what he says and is aiming to silence his critics, who doubt his reputation given his relatively mediocre achievements in his career. During an interview at the House of Representatives, Sutarman raised the idea of forming a special anticorruption detachment in the National Police, emulating the force’s internationally acclaimed counterterrorism unit, Densus 88.

This will become a test case for the police under Sutarman’s leadership. It is definitely a good start to bust corruption within the customs and excise directorate, although many would like to see the police clean themselves up first.

***

Indonesia has strongly protested to the US and Australia following media reports that the two countries have for some time been secretly listening to telephone conversations and intercepting communication networks from their respective embassies in Jakarta.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has instructed Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa to seek clarification with Canberra. On Friday, the ministry duly summoned Australian Ambassador to Indonesia Greg Moriarty for that purpose.

Marty said, “If confirmed, such actions [wiretapping] are not only a breach of security but also a serious breach of diplomatic norms and ethics, and certainly not in the spirit of friendly relations between nations”.

The case of wiretapping stirred anger in Jakarta after the Sydney Morning Herald published classified information leaked by Edward Snowden, a former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor and fugitive, that America had surveillance facilities at its missions in Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Phnom Penh and Yangon.

Jakarta’s protest should help pile the pressure on US President Barack Obama to reduce the NSA’s pervasive authority, and on Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott to stop spying on a friendly neighbor.   

***

After days of nationwide protests, organized to coincide with annual meetings by provincial leaders, employers and labor representatives, regional administrations have caved in to workers’ demands for yet another pay increase; albeit not so high as they had demanded.

Ironically, neither employers nor workers are happy with the pay rise, which will come into effect next year. Employers consider the minimum regional wage levels too high, while workers view them as too low.

In Jakarta, workers boycotted the tripartite meeting after the city administration and employers rejected their demand for a minimum regional wage increase to Rp 3.7 million from the present Rp 2.2 million. The Jakarta government eventually raised it to Rp 2.4, taking into account this year’s expected economic growth rate of 6.15 percent, although employers stuck to their guns by offering Rp 2.29 million.

The labor issue remains complicated in Indonesia, where activism to end cheap labor practices has become increasingly vocal and organized but workers’ skills and productivity remain incredibly low.  

The workers’ demands are logical given rising food prices and transportation costs spurred on largely by the recent increase in fuel prices. However, the concerns expressed by employers are equally understandable in light of the high costs they already have to bear to keep their businesses afloat.    

— Pandaya

Paper Edition | Page: 4

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