Is higher pay the way to fix Indonesia’s corruption problem?

opinion January 16, 2019 01:00

By Karina M Tehusijarana
The Jakarta Post
Asia News Network

3,375 Viewed

Indonesia’s National Police chief General Tito Karnavian announced recently that police officers’ allowances would be increased by up to 70 per cent and that raised the question of whether a higher pay may help fix Indonesia’s graft problem.



“The [new] allowances will apply retroactively for the previous six months and will be paid out in January 2019,” Tito said in Semarang, Central Java.

He added that the increase would boost police officers’ performance and may contribute to efforts to reform the institution, as well as reducing corruption. Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati has also said that she is mulling increasing the salaries of regional leaders, following the spate of governors and regents arrested for graft by the Corruption Eradication Commi-ssion (KPK) in the past. As of October 2018, 25 regional leaders have been investigated.

“We are conducting a study. We will also [convey] the idea to the president, because he also has concerns about remuneration arrangements, particularly for officials in the regions,” Sri Mulyani said. Corruption has been one of Indonesia’s most persistent problems since the end of the New Order regime, and successive administrations seem to have barely changed that. Indonesia’s score on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index has fallen to 37 in 2017 from 20 in 1998. Graft remains rife, and the country still ranks below former province Timor Leste.

The number of cases investigated by the anti-graft body has been increasing in recent years, with 118 under investigation in 2017. By contrast, the KPK only investigated 47 cases in 2008 – 10 years into the Reform Era.

The number was even higher in other institutions, with 1,028 cases handled by the National Police and 1,552 cases by the Attorney-General’s Office.

Civil servants made up the largest category of individuals investigated by the KPK from 2004 to 2018, accounting for more than 26 per cent of the total. Transparency International’s 2017 Global Corruption Barometer, which polled more than 1,000 respondents in 31 provinces, found that half of the respondents considered civil servants the most graft-ridden individuals.

Transparency International Indonesia secretary-general Dadang Trisasongko said that, while increased pay could help reduce petty corruption among low-level police and other civil servants, it would do little to address bigger graft cases. “We can see cases of corruption among police that involve very large amounts of money, which shows that an increase in salaries or benefits won’t have much of an effect in preventing graft,” he said. “That level of corruption is perpetrated to maintain a lavish lifestyle. Regular oversight of civil servants’ wealth would be more effective in preventing that type of graft.”

One of the high-profile graft cases involving police officers was that of former National Traffic Police Corps chief Inspector-General General Djoko Susilo, who was sentenced in 2013 to 10 years in prison, later increased to 18 years, for misappropriating funds from a 200-billion-rupiah (Bt437 million) project to procure driving simulators.

Data from the National Civil Service Agency and the KPK show that, while the base salary for civil servants has more than doubled since 2004, the number of civil servants implicated in graft cases has tended to increase over the years. 

In 2017 alone, 47 civil servants were investigated by the KPK, the highest number since the inception of the commission. Dadang said the situation was much the same for regional leaders. “The motive behind corruption of regional leaders so far has not been to fulfil their daily needs but to obtain political campaign funds and maintain [lavish] lifestyles,” he said. “[The government] should look at more suitable approaches, such as improving budget transparency and reforming business permit issuance.”