When Greed Reigns Supreme
    Category: Column By : Taufik Darusman Read : 1106 Date : Wednesday, January 13, 2016 - 07:48:22

    The Speaker of the House tells the CEO of a foreign copper and gold miner to pay off the nation’s president and vice president if he desires to see the company’s contract extended. He also urged him to jointly build a power plant with the miner as its major client.  Meanwhile, a House member gets busted in a $110,000 bribery case while her colleague receives a two-year jail sentence for pocketing $15,000 from the wife of a governor who is on trial for misappropriating public funds—all this happened within a span of a few months.

    If an outsider would be asked to identify the country in which all three cases took place, the person would probably mention Indonesia after two or three wrong guesses. But it is also possible that he or she would immediately recognize Indonesia. For as recent as about one year ago, one Cabinet minister from the previous government, in charge of sports and youth affairs, was sentenced to serve a four-year jail term for corruption. Meanwhile, two ministers from the same Cabinet in charge of energy and mineral resources and, yes, religious affairs, are now in the dock on fraud charges. Corruption seems to be the norm in high government circles here, a sort of entitlement, if you will. 

    Vice President Jusuf Kalla has said that the case of the House Speaker in question, Setya Novanto, a powerful board member of the Golkar Party, has greed written all over it. The person who had committed the crime, he noted, “can afford to eat four meals a day.” At the time this magazine went to the printer, the House Ethics Council (MKD) is looking into the matter. Think no more of what the MKD will decide, as the probe is awash with Golkar Party stalwarts.

    So sure is Kalla of Novanto’s guilt, he didn’t even bother to invoke the mandatory word “allegedly” whenever impending corruption cases are discussed. Calling the scandal “the biggest corruption case of our time,” Kalla went on to conclude that the nation’s system of power had become a “tragedy.” What is no less tragic is that the system nowadays shows people now are no longer stealing to supplement their meager incomes; they do so to become even richer than they already are. 

    By any measure, Novanto, a well-off businessman in his own right, belongs to the nation’s so-called 1%. And to be sure, legislators are not exactly paupers. Their salaries are the fourth highest in the world, according to BudgetWatch FITRA, as they earn at least Rp 67 million ($4,900) a month, or about 18 times more than the average Indonesian would earn in a year. In addition, all House members receive a 13th-month salary, housing allowance and state subsidies to purchase cars. Many would earn even more if they serve in House committees that deliberate bills.

    A joke that recently went viral had Novanto marrying off his daughter and telling her she can ask him for anything under the sun as a wedding present except one: a sense of shamefulness. Nothing illustrates this dire impropriety among politicians better than pictures of them smiling smugly to the media as they are brought to trial for committing graft. Their not-so-subtle-message: everybody is doing it, we were just unlucky.