The challenges of corruption in Indonesia - Monocolumn | Monocle


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30 April 2012

Not many countries have an acronym for corruption. Indonesia does. KKN or korupsi, kolusi, nepotisme is the term used for what has become a phenomenon here. It includes everything from straightforward bribes to high-level official double-dealing.

Traced back to the early years of the Suharto regime during the 1960s when corruption was institutionalised but controlled by elite circles, the corruption of Indonesia today has been spread further in tandem with the country’s democratic reform and the decentralisation of government.

Nowadays, you don’t necessarily need to be connected to the upper echelons of power to be able embezzle money in Indonesia – you can be a mid-level tax official too. A recent case involved one such official who amassed billions of rupiahs on his measly government-salary.

Thankfully the biggest embezzler of them all is long gone. Suharto, who is alleged to have misappropriated billions of dollars during his rule, was named “the world’s most corrupt leader of all time” by Transparency International in 2008.

It could be argued that Indonesia’s endemic corruption has little impact on the country’s economic performance. Indonesia gets top marks for economic growth. In fact Indonesia’s economy has soared in the past four decades despite corruption.

By circumventing inefficient government bureaucracy, some say the corruptors are doing their country a favour by getting any business done at all. Without strong governmental institutions corruption may be the only thing that oils the wheels of growth.

There may be some truth to it that corruption has little impact on GDP growth rates but it’s fairly well accepted that it causes unsustainable development. It breeds poverty and leads to waste of sorely needed resources.

Corruption makes it impossible for a state to function, to deliver basic and essential services. Corruption in Indonesia threatens the very core of the nation’s efforts to transition to a fully-fledged democracy and become a world-player.

And it’s embarrassing. Indonesia hovers at number 129, just above Ecuador, the West Bank and Gaza and India, and very much in the bottom half of the 183 countries measured on the World Bank’s ease of doing business ranking.

Most Indonesians recognise corruption as an evil that needs to be stamped out once and for all. A complete overhaul of the civil services is called for.

Let’s just hope for Indonesia’s sake that the government decides to put its house in order sooner rather than later.


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