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Time for Indonesia’s Political Will to Out-Flex Entrenched Corruption

JAKARTA : The Indonesian Finance Ministry’s crackdown on lavish displays of wealth by tax officials could create the momentum needed to root out perceived corruption in the government and regain public trust, analysts say.

An assault allegedly perpetrated last week by the flashy son of a mid-level tax official has renewed debate about the sources of wealth of some of the country’s highest-paid civil servants, and stirred calls among netizens to boycott the filing of income tax.

Facing a firestorm of criticism, Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati has gone on the warpath this week against public servants’ ostentatious displays of riches.

She suspended Rafael Alun Trisambodo, the father of the 20-year-old assault suspect Mario Dandy Satrio, who had a penchant for flaunting his lavish lifestyle – including his family’s Jeep Rubicon and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle – on social media.

She also ordered the dissolution of a big-bike fan club in the taxation directorate general (DJP), a state agency in charge of implementing tax policies.

She even instructed taxation director-general Suryo Utomo, who is also a club member, to explain his wealth to the public.

“The hobby and lifestyle of riding MoGe creates a negative perception in society and raises suspicion about the sources of wealth of DJP officers… This hurts public trust,” she posted on Instagram on Sunday. “MoGe” is the portmanteau of the words motorcycle and gede (large).

Civil servants in the DJP have the highest take-home pay in the state bureaucracy, followed by those in the Jakarta administration and Finance Ministry, according to local media and analysts.

Even so, critics have pointed out that some officials appear to have income and wealth disproportionate to their legitimate earnings.

Rafael, for instance, had reported personal assets worth 56.1 billion rupiah (US$3.7 million) to the Anti-Corruption Commission (KPK), curiously high for an official of his rank, who typically earns around $3,000 a month.

Bhima Yudhistira, director at the Centre of Economic and Law Studies in Jakarta, said Dr Sri Mulyani needs to dig deeper.

“The swift investigative audit on Rafael’s mysterious wealth is good, but the minister must tackle the real issue. If she disbands the big bikes club, then how about the golf club?”

A task force made up of agencies dealing with corruption and money laundering, as well as each ministry’s internal monitoring department, should be established, he told The Straits Times. This unit should evaluate the incentives of all tax officials and match their wealth reports with their real lifestyles.

Analysts noted the current case had highlighted the weak internal controls within the financial institution and oversight bodies.

Dr Agus Eko Nugroho, economist at the National Research and Innovation Agency, noted that civil servants submit wealth reports to the KPK every year, but the question remains if the data is adequately scrutinised and verified.

“The verification of details could serve as an early warning system on potential corruption, but it depends on whether KPK is capable of doing it and wants to do it. It’s possible there could be a shortage of manpower since there are so many public servants to check, but most importantly, there must be political will to do so,” he said.

Corruption is pervasive in South-East Asia’s largest economy and country, ranging from political corruption to conflicts of interest, analysts say. In the 2022 Corruption Perception Index issued by watchdog group Transparency International, Indonesia ranked 110th among 180 countries on perceived levels of public sector corruption.

Flaunting wealth on social media, or “flexing”, is common among rich Indonesians.

Public officials, however, have received flak for doing so, and some have even lost their jobs in recent years. A district police chief in Sumatra, for instance, was suspended in 2021 after his wife posted a video on TikTok of herself dancing with wads of cash in her hands.

Professor Hamdi Muluk, senior psychology lecturer at the University of Indonesia, said Indonesia has “a long way to go” to end hero-worshipping those with power, money and status.

“Our society is still feudal and far from being an achievement-driven society that values success based on integrity and merit. Education is key to transforming society,” he said.

Prof Hamdi said President Joko Widodo has set a good example for a modest lifestyle, but could go further by implementing his election pledge of Revolusi Mental, or Mental Revolution, aimed at establishing good governance and fighting corruption, among other things.

But Bhima said: “The President may want to do more, but he is held hostage by the political elite, who also enjoy the fruits of corruption in terms of undeclared wealth.”

Source : TheStar