Issue - How Often

How often?


The “vast and extensive jungle of law” which is Indonesia includes vaguely written laws, haphazard application of law, and collusive practices by lawyers, police, and courts. So how extensive is the impact, and how likely will it affect you?


How much risk can you accept?

Statistics are hard to come by, and we are covering a broad range of problems here.

If vagueness of law were restricted to certain obscure issues like validity of renewable leases on mining claims, or the worst of corruption meant paying extra for a telephone line, or problems with law were extraordinarily rare, it would not even be worth a blog.

But experience, media coverage, street marches, internet forums, NGOs, law suits, death threats, and the beatings and even murders of journalists indicate that the problem is much bigger.

We hear about occasional airline crashes, but we still ride planes, so apparently most of us figure the benefit of air travel makes up for the risk. On the other hand, we also buy automobile and health insurance.

We have a hierarchy of risks:

  • our health and the health and safety of our loved ones rate very high;
  • our businesses and properties, even those we may have spent years in building, rate somewhat lower;
  • a mad investment, a vacation villa, a fling at opening a restaurant, we can shrug off as a lesson learned.

An expatriate buying a villa with a bit of extra cash—ready to accept the gamble that he may lose the entire investment—makes perfect sense.

But trusting the fate of your children to your spouse’s endless love, or of your business to your partner’s good will, is foolish. Laws about marriage, family, and contracts exist in the first place because thousands of years of human experience tell us that relationships do fall apart, and we then need rules to protect us.


So how often?

There is a story of a forest ranger who tried to reassure a nervous hiker with “bears don’t eat people often,” to which the hiker protested “they don’t have to do it often! Once is enough!”

But in my experience, a lot more people get eaten than we ever hear about. A language, media, and cultural divide separates Indonesians and expatriates, so many stories don’t pass between them.

Indonesians who experience law problems can also be threatened—especially see the Prita Mulyadi case—and they know then how to keep their mouths shut.

Expatriates with law problems usually flee Indonesia.

The percentage of Indonesians or expatriates who write intelligible websites afterwards is very small.


So how often?

The Indonesian / expatriate divide can leave the impression that law problems are unique to one or the other, while in fact the problems are identical and extend from the same causes.

In an interesting article ‘Illegitimate’ Children and Inheritance in Indonesia of September 2012, Dr Simon Butt of University of Sydney discusses “In February 2012 the Indonesian Constitutional Court invalidated Article 49(1) of Indonesia’s 1974 Marriage Law No.1—an anachronistic provision under which countless women and children had suffered. The provision stipulated that a child born ‘outside of a valid marriage’ had a civil legal relationship only with its mother and mother’s family.”

The issue is complicated and the paper is certainly well worth reading if you have an interest in the subject. (And also see the Indonesian Law Advisory chapter Children). But the significant point for “how often?” is that Dr Butt looks exclusively at the impact of this law on Indonesians. As an Australian and an expert on Indonesian law, surely he must know that this law also frequently impacts mixed-marriage children who lose their expatriate fathers.

Maybe the key here is “countless women and children have suffered,” while the more limited number of fathers and children who suffer in expatriate marriages makes this less interesting. Or as an expert in Indonesian law, Dr Butt is only interested in Indonesians. Whatever, there is a divide which the public, law professionals, and academics all help perpetuate.


So how often?

I don’t know. A lot.

Dr. Butt says it’s “countless.”

Finally, just to be clear, because these issues sometimes cause people to become emotional: problems of Indonesian law do not mean that every marriage, every partnership, and every contract will end in disaster. In fact, most will never be tested, because most people do the right thing.

It has been said that the phrase “ignorance of the law is no excuse” is true because law is not supposed to be difficult; most people will do it anyway, you don’t have to hand out written instructions. Laws are formal rules to apply to the small minority of people who “just don’t get it,” the people who treat others without proper respect or consideration.

So almost by definition, problems with law will only affect a small percentage of people, because most people do treat one another decently.

So it is only in that fortunately-rare situation when we need help—make your own estimate, five percent? fifteen percent?—that the issue of law arises. And it is then that your protection under law in Indonesia approaches zero.

If you don’t feel that five or fifteen percent is worth worrying about, then why bother to write a contract or get married in the first place?

We each have to decide our own level of acceptable risk.