Indonesian View of Corruption

How do Indonesians feel about it?


I am an American, but I have lived and worked in Indonesia for nearly thirty years. After all that time, I can’t see a dime’s worth of difference in morality between average Americans and Indonesians.

Most Indonesians feel sickened and frustrated about corruption. Anti-corruption organizations like KPK (Corruption Eradication Commission) and ICW (Indonesia Corruption Watch) receive overwhelming support from the public.

But many expatriates, after falling victim to fraud from a business partner or spouse, extend their anger to all Indonesia and Indonesians in general. A discussion of causes and possible cures for corruption would be worth a long book, but I don't believe that basic morality would be a big part of it.

In September 2012 four short films were released in Indonesia titled Kita Versus Korupsi (Us Against Corruption) and produced by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), Transparency International Indonesia (TII), USAID, Management Systems International and Cangkir Kopi production house.

The films created a sensation. You can view the films HERE, with English subtitles.

Columnist Julia Suryakusuma wrote an article in the Jakarta Post about them:

Combating corruption: Look in the mirror


In 1978 my father retired as a diplomat, but he was not a rich man and still needed to work. His first job was at a big trade fair in Jakarta. As a civil servant he had received a salary and allowances — that was it. But at the trade fair he found himself in what Indonesians call a basah (wet) position. No, not under water — it means lots of opportunities for corruption.

If a customer wanted to hire a stand at the trade fair, it was common to mark up the fee. But my father never did that. No way, he always quoted the official rate.

When the trade fair staff had to go abroad, they would all claim more per diems than days actually travelled. That way they would get bigger travel allowances, which they used to bring their wives along – or just pocketed. My father? No way.

His colleagues all got rich this way, but not dad. Like all of us, he had his faults, but being corrupt was not one of them. No wonder his colleagues hated him so much!

Corruption is all around us, so how do we avoid being corrupted ourselves? I’d ask my dad how he resisted, but he died in 2006 so I missed my chance … My guess is that he would say, it’s all a matter of character and values.

Sure, but how much character do you need to refuse a bribe, when your family is in dire need of money to buy rice or medicine for your infant child who is seriously ill?

This was the choice faced by another dad in one of the four films I saw recently in the omnibus Kita Versus Korupsi (Us Against Corruption), produced by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), Transparency International Indonesia (TII), USAID, Management Systems International and Cangkir Kopi production house.

Entitled Selamat Siang Risa! (Goodday Risa!), this film by Ine Febriyanti is set in Palembang, South Sumatra, in the 1970s, at a time of soaring prices and starvation. Woko — based on Ine’s father — is in charge of government warehouses. One day a rice merchant who wants to stockpile rice offers him a fat bribe. This would have been as welcome as water in the desert, but Woko refuses it and asks the merchant, “Why does someone as successful as you still stockpile rice?”

It is heart-wrenching to watch Woko’s wife clutching her sick baby in the bedroom, and sobbing as she hears him refuse the money. But it is also touching to see the look of love and pride in her eyes when Woko comes to her after the rice merchant leaves. Talk about moral victory.

The denouement of the film takes place much later, when Woko’s eldest daughter, Risa, (about 5 when her father refused the bribe) now grown up, refuses a very enticing bribe at her workplace.

There were two other films in Kita Versus Korupsi that showed how family backgrounds shape our morality and values. Aku Padamu (Me to You) by Lasja F. Susatyo, is about a young couple who elope without the documents necessary for their marriage to be registered with the KUA (Religious Affairs Office). The young man wants to bribe the KUA official, but Laras, the young woman, refuses because her father, a headmaster, used to accept bribes to give teachers permanent positions. Markun, Laras’ favorite teacher, had refused to pay the bribe. He ended up sick, and dead.

Pssstt … Jangan Bilang Siapa-Siapa (Shhh … Don’t Tell Anyone) by Chairun Nissa shows the other side of the (ahem) coin. In this film, a bunch of high-school girls learn to be corrupt from their parents and teachers. Rather than feeling ashamed, they are proud to be able to buy things with their ill-gotten gains. Yuck!

In Rumah Perkara (The Disputed House) by Emil Heradi, Yatna, a village head (lurah) promises to always defend the people’s interests. But once elected he teams up with a real estate developer. The only thing that stands in their way is Ella, a young widow who refuses to sell her house to be bulldozed — despite having an affair with the lurah. The developer’s thugs burn the house down, with Ella inside. Ironically, Iqbal, the lurah’s son, is also in there with her …

All the films in Kita Versus Korupsi present stories about how people make choices between engaging in corruption and saying “no”. They hold up a mirror and ask us to reflect: What would you do?

We all know about political corruption, police corruption and judicial corruption — so deep-rooted, endemic and widespread that we usually feel powerless. But this omnibus, part of the KPK’s program “Preventing Corruption on a Family Basis”, tells us, like Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”, we are not powerless. Like my dad, we can start with ourselves.

Kita Versus Korupsi was launched in January. It has since traveled all over the country, was screened on TVRI on Aug. 22, and will be appearing soon on other TV stations. But folks, no need to wait: All the films are on YouTube (with English subtitles!). Just google them and you can watch instantly. Apart from the moral message, the films are very well made. The messages are clear but at the same time, subtle. They are a tribute to the talented young film directors who made them.

So readers, look in the mirror, enjoy … and reflect!

The author is the author of State Ibuism (

The original of this article by Julia Suryakusuma, Jakarta Post, Wed, September 05 2012 can be found HERE.