The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Tuesday, April 06, 2010


Sefton Darby
Publish what you pay

Corruption is tough to tame, as the government knows well. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono pledged to beat the beast when he took office in 2004, but six years later it’s still biting.

Maybe a clean administration is just an ideal from outside being imposed on cultures with different values and histories. Not so, according to Sefton Darby, a director of the NGO Transparency International (TI) in New Zealand.

TI is the anti-corruption agency that’s ranked Indonesia 111 among 180 nations measured by its corruption perception index.

“I don’t see this as a Western hang-up,” he said. “Culture isn’t static. Individuals can change when given the right leadership. The evidence shows that in countries with well-run governments people live in equitable societies and enjoy better standards of living.

“However change is best when it comes from within.

“Transparency is a threat to the corrupt. It’s not just a nice thing, a good word. I’ve worked in many countries and met hardly anyone at the village level who hasn’t complained about the wickedness of local officials and expressed their frustration with corruption.

“Corruption damages the international perception of a country and impacts on investment. It pays in the short term but it always leads to disaster in the long run.”

Mr Darby was in Jakarta last month to take part in a four-day international workshop on transparency, backed by Inwent, a German non-profit organization involved in international training and education.

It was the first such workshop in the region. Participants included government, NGO and private company representatives from Afghanistan, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste, the Solomon Islands and the Philippines.

Mr Darby said getting people away from their own countries to talk about contentious issues usually resulted in rational discussions, opening dialogue between groups that might be hostile to each other in their homeland.

He also attended meetings on transparency issues surrounding the huge Cepu oil field in Central Java, which is being developed by the US giant Exxon Mobil and the state oil company Pertamina. It is expected to be in full production by 2013 but the project has run into problems with local authorities and communities.

Mr Darby has long been involved with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), promoted by the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. This aims to persuade companies and governments to be open about incomes, royalties and payments from oil, gas and mining projects.

The slogan behind the philosophy is “publish what you pay” so everyone can determine whether the distribution of funds is fair.

The idea is to ensure that the exploitation of natural resources benefits all. This is a tough ask when there are so many competing parties and ideologies – shareholders, employees, local communities, bankers, foreign and local governments, and other companies that supply services and infrastructure. Soaking through all this are local politics, nationalism and debates over who owns what.

“Indonesia is not yet a member of EITI but is moving in that direction and I’m confident it will get there,” said Mr Darby. “When it does, that will be of enormous significance.

“Some companies and government agencies use the ‘commercially confidential’ argument to avoid releasing data. But not all companies have a monolithic view and corporations differ from country to country.”

Mr Darby, 35, is a New Zealander who has enjoyed a rocket-powered career. After graduating from Otago University in his homeland, he won a scholarship to study at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. He graduated with a master’s degree in international security.

He then worked for the UK Cabinet office as a policy adviser before becoming an assistant director in the Central Strategy Unit. A year later he was a policy analyst in the Department for International Development, which developed the first EITI communications strategy.

After working as a consultant with the World Bank, he started his own consultancy back in NZ, the country that ranks first in the TI index, closely followed by Singapore and Denmark. The UK ranks 17 and the US 19.

“I think that being a New Zealander helps my credibility, although NZ’s status as a country of minimal corruption isn’t widely known,” he said.

While this interview was underway, a senior minister in the NZ government quit because he’d used his official credit card for personal purchases of less than Rp 500,000 (US $54).

Although he’s been an infrequent visitor to Indonesia, Mr Darby has worked in countries with worse corruption ratings like Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

Many of the problems that bedevil Indonesia are not exclusive to this nation, and are often linked to rapid development of natural resources and sudden surges of money. Even when good transparency programs are in place, getting the information out can be tricky.

Not everyone can read a profit and loss statement, appreciate the issues of risk capital and returns on investment, or navigate through the fog of jargon that clouds the business of business.

Should information be aggregated or disaggregated? When people don’t get all the information they want – or can’t understand it – they believe bad things and make accusations.

“Just because an issue is complicated doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be explained,” Mr Darby said. “That’s the challenge. Transparency can’t fix every problem, but it can open a door to other issues.

“Indonesia, like many other countries, has a hyper-complex bureaucracy and social structure. But there has to be separation between the elites of politics and the economy.

“Driving cultural change is risky territory, best left to the locals. However, there are advantages in being an outsider. You’re not part of the local system and you can’t be easily pinned by accusations of being mates with so and so.

“The best you can be is an honest broker.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 5 April 2010)


Dewo said...

Indonesia its so much corupt people,..well the cops has do it their good job also KPK hopelly will grow and strength agains coruption.,.

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tikno said...

Corruption is a social disease which I believe exists anywhere around the world. To freeing a country from corruption is like a mission impossible.

The only difference is who have ranked on the top and who have ranked on the bottom of the corruption's ranking list. This is enough I think. :)