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

Monday, June 10, 2013


Frenky Simanjuntak

Inspired by Orwell                            

What does a corruption-buster do when hassled for a backhander?

Pay up and get back to business because protests waste time and temper – or berate the official and call the cops?

Raising Cain isn’t smart when the gouger wears a uniform.

This was the dilemma faced by Transparency International’s Frenky Simanjuntak when being fingerprinted by the police for a clean slate certificate required for a foreign scholarship.

“To be honest I paid the Rp 10,000 (US $1),” he said.  “It wasn’t a legal charge but I reasoned the money would have gone into the staff fund.  Some argue this is disguised welfare for people on low wages – but it’s still wrong.

“Though the police have the highest bribery rate in Indonesia with up to 40 per cent corrupt according to TI research, I have a little sympathy for their dilemmas. In some cases they have cars but no fuel, so resort to shaking down motorcyclists for gas to maintain their patrols. Reform must be integrated.”

Big corruptors outrage the electorate and inflame headlines with their gross behavior.  But it’s the petty everyday graspers who are hardest to eradicate because they’re tolerated by the public as the price of doing business.

“Corruption thrived for the 30 odd years of Soeharto,” said the former manager of TI’s economic governance department in Indonesia, “but decentralization has made the problem worse.

“We are making progress in countering corruption, though it’s a slow process.  There’s a strong need for education about the damage caused to the country, but so far most effort has been put into prosecution.”

Indonesia ranks alongside Egypt at 118 according to TI’s corruption perception index, slipping down from 100 the previous year. New Zealand, Finland and Denmark are the least corrupt, all at number one.  The US ranks 13.

TI is a non-profit organization operating in more than 100 countries and promoting good governance.  It is funded by agencies, governments and individuals and publishes the donor list on the Internet.

Frenky, 38, quit his job in Jakarta this year after winning a NZ government scholarship to study public policy.  He listed transparency, ease of accessing information and good law enforcement as key factors in clean administration, along with social intolerance of dishonesty. 

Shortly after arriving in the South Pacific nation he saw media hounding of a government politician who had been rude to a hotel waiter.  Public distaste of the policy maker’s behavior forced the man to quit parliament.  Commented Frenky wryly: “That would not have happened in Indonesia.

“Our education system is a disgrace.  Schooling is not about understanding integrity but rote learning. We should be teaching honesty and accountability from the very beginning.

“At TI I worked with the private sector in anti-corruption projects.  Foreign bosses often asked: ‘How can we do anything here without paying bribes?’

“The answer is to join with other companies where all agree not to support corruption.  Overseas countries that have laws prohibiting their nationals from bribing public servants in Indonesia and elsewhere are effective.  They provide the initiative for business people to work together.”

Before joining TI Frenky worked as a researcher with another Non Government Organization, the now defunct Center for East Indonesian Affairs under sociologist Dr Ignas Kleden.

The center closed when overseas funding evaporated, though not before Frenky had spent six years on conflict resolution in Kalimantan between indigenous Dayaks and Madurese transmigrants, and in Ambon between Muslims and Christians.

He was involved in voter education projects leading to the 2004 election particularly in Papua, a province he first visited as an anthropology student on fieldwork from the University of Indonesia.

“The things I’d heard about Papua were very scary, but that wasn’t true,” he said.  “They are intelligent and funny people and I really enjoy their company.

“There has to be a peaceful resolution to the problems after pulling out the military.  But I don’t want to see West Papua secede.”  His wife Florencia Yuniferti also works as a university researcher in the province.

Frenky’s track into the dirty world of corruption started as a child when he read British writer George Orwell’s famous allegory Animal Farm in English, a language he’d been encouraged to study by his parents.

“For me politicians were like the pigs in the book,” he said.  “They talk glibly and make lots of promises.  There’s always the possibility of change, however dire the situation.”

The exception on his loathe list is former president Gus Dur - “a powerful Muslim leader with an open-minded approach.”

Frenky’s father, an executive with a fertiliser company, traveled widely overseas, returning with books and stories of a wider world to grow the imaginations of his four children.

The Christian Batak family moved from Palembang in South Sumatra to the capital when Frenky was a babe.  So he considers himself a Jakartan raised in an ethnically diverse district where, he said, he never experienced prejudice.

At university he demonstrated for democracy and became a political activist, though “not hard core, and never arrested”.   He started working for NGOs “because I felt a responsibility to be an agent of change – and wanted to work where it matters.”

Though shrinking from the idealist label he added: “I want to contribute something, to myself, the people around me – and the community.”

After two years studying public policy in NZ he’ll be looking for a position with the Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (KPK – the Corruption Eradication Commission) – if it still exists after a new president is elected in 2014.

The job he wants is in public education, not bugging hotel rooms and retrieving fat envelopes from startled crooks in sting ops.

“The KPK does a good job, but prosecution and prevention should be separate,” he said. “We need to explain that corruption is stealing from our country, denying the government money necessary for public works.

“You cannot be a corruptor and morally pure.  That may not be the situation legally but it is so ethically.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 10 June 2013}


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