Government Offices

Government offices...


Unless your law problem is criminal, you are probably involved in civil law, or hukum perdata in Indonesian. Although we often think of civil law cases as starting with attorneys and courts, in fact you almost certainly started with a government office.

It is not unusual for anyone involved in a civil law case to discover that the documents or contracts at the heart of it are not as purported to be when signed. (See Criminal False Documents.)

Government offices involved might include:

  • Badan Pertanahan Negara (BPN) - the National Land Office, formerly known as Kantor Agraria;
  • Kantor Catatan Sipil - the Civil Records Office;
  • Kantor Agama - the Religious Office for Islamic marriages;
  • Depnaker - the Department of Labor;
  • Kantor Imigrasi - the Department of Immigration;
  • Perdagangan - the Ministry of Trade;
  • and others.

Many expatriates don’t actually go to these offices directly, and for good reason. Few civil servants speak English, all the documents are in Indonesian, and expatriates are likely to run into almost inpenetrable obstruction intended to elicit bribes. As a result, expatriates tend to use a jasa or service, a law office, or an Indonesian friend or spouse as an intermediary.

Expatriates wishing to marry, start a business, or purchase land are quickly socialized to the idea that false documentation is normal in Indonesia. Law offices assure potential clients on public websites that they can prepare clearly false documents involving proxy shareholders and bogus loan agreements, while marriages apparently must based on false religious conversions. The corruption in the system is so blatant that everyone just sort of winks and looks the other way.

So typically after a jasa, lawyer, friend, or spouse arranges the documents, the expatriate signs them—without reading them thoroughly because they are in Indonesian. Even if the expatriate can read the documents, the meanings can be so opaque that eventually all the expat can do is receive the explanation “that's the way it’s always done; it’s okay!” and sign with a shrug.

Not all the false documentation is harmless, and the opportunites for misrepresentation and fraud are obvious. But there are few alternatives for expatriates who do not speak Indonesian and are unfamiliar with Indonesian law.


Protecting yourself: try not to sign false documents

But how will you know?

In the earlier discussion we pointed out that the purpose of the Mafia Hukum is often to rake off profits from local economies. As the first point of contact to that economy, some civil servants are on the look out for opportunities.

When we talk about corruption, the problem is NOT the irritant of extra payments to obtain documents from government offices, but the possibility that the documents will be deceptive—either because they say something other than they are supposed to say, or because their purpose is not as explained.

If the documents are properly prepared to begin with, or at least if it's true that they are “okay” because they are always done that way, it doesn’t mean they will stay that way, or that another set of documents is not floating around as well.

Acquiring false official documents is relatively easy, involving only a payoff to government office staff. Documents in government offices can also mysteriously appear, disappear, or change. Using false official documents in theory can result in severe criminal penalties for False Documentation, Fraud, or Perjury. But in practice, if the Mafia Hukum system is working properly, police investigation and criminal prosecution is unlikely. In the absence of criminal investigation, courts will then readily accept false documents and use them as basis for civil decisions.

If the documents are clearly false or stating something with which you do not agree, don’t sign them. You will have enough trouble with documents which seemed okay at the time, and yet turn out later to be misrepresentations. Having signed something which is clearly false will weaken your legal position.