Editorial: Government’s Monkey Business

Editorial Omong-Omong

5 min read

From President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s pettiness, exaggeratedly reacting on otherwise small matters such as illegal importation of second-hand clothing rather than ordering full investigation against hundreds of trillion rupiah of alleged corruption within the Finance Ministry, to senior minister Mahfud MD seemingly accusing Finance Minister Sri Mulyani of having no idea what she is doing in tackling corruption within her office, to FIFA’s removal of Indonesia as a host of Under-23 World Cup, Indonesian political leaders and ruling elites have again demonstrated their corrupt, incompetent and amateurish traits, confirming lingering concerns that they only have been there in bad faith all along.

Facing in front of him undeniably overwhelming proofs that the administration he has put together and led during his nine-year presidency is rotten to its root, especially with the unveiling of spectacular suspicious transaction and alleged money laundering of IDR 349 trillion (USD24 billion) within the Finance Ministry, Jokowi has been focusing instead on what he called hedonistic lifestyle among state officials, not their alleged crime of stealing state’s money. The president is also seemingly willing to find other spots to express his frustration away from his beloved finance minister as the nation’s biggest problems, shifting blame to illegal circulation of imported second-hand clothing, making accusation earlier this month that this illegal clothing has ruined the local textile businesses and ordering law officers to crack thrifting business centers across the country.

After Jokowi’s statement, suddenly many officials joined chorus in blaming clothing business while most media outlets run news about thrifting businesses and how it has disrupted local textile industry. However, data from the Statistic Indonesia (BPS) reveals that the value of second-hand clothing imports during 2022 were only IDR 4.2 billion, such an insignificant figure to ever affect Indonesia’s 30 trillion-rupiah garment and textile industry. How can such small value of trading ruin such a giant industry? We can’t help but wonder if this second-hand clothing hype was only an attempt to shift public focus from massive corruption with the government.

But thanks to Coordinating Minister for Politics, Law and Security Mahfud MD, however, the public’s focus on corruption within tax and customs and excise offices has been increasing rather than dying out as he was willing to enter a tug of war with members of House of Representatives in a heated hearing on Thursday (March 29).

Despite seemingly having sincere motive in cleaning the government he is part of, Mahfud was initially bullied by some House members, who instead of focusing on the corruption proofs, were trying to discredit and bully him, from  accusing him of breaking the law for distributing state secrets and intelligence data, having political agenda for 2024 vice presidency, performing media stunt to gain popularity, to trying to have Sri Mulyani replaced. We should give credit to Mahfud, whatever his motive is, for standing up against House members, who according many surveys are actually elephants in the room in the whole problems the nation is facing.

In a heated hearing with the House members, Mahfud, who was personally picked by Jokowi as a cabinet member and  does not represent any political party, presented the findings of the PPATK (Indonesian Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Center), the country’s top financial intelligence body, to support his previous claim that there have been corruption and money laundering done by hundreds of employees of the Finance Ministry, especially those in the tax office and customs and excise office, amounting to at least IDR 349 trillion in the last several years, refuting Sri Mulyani’s own statement during her previous hearing with lawmakers that it was only IDR 3 trillion, saying she was not aware of Mahfud’s version.

But PPATK chief Ivan Yustiavandana, who accompanied Mahfud in the hearing, confirmed the validity of the findings, adding that his office had submitted the same data to the Finance Minister, prompting Mahfud to allege that there was a possibility that the data was hidden by certain officials, replacing it with much favorable data to Sri Mulyani.

If what Mahfud said is true, and it’s likely what has been happening, Sri Mulyani has been surrounded with crooked officials. It also means that the finance minister has no idea what is happening in her own office, and has lost her control over the situation there, a condition not only is surprising but also very dangerous to the nation.

The IDR 349 trillion alleged corruption and money laundering done by hundreds of officials within the finance ministry is just one example of how dangerous it is for the nation to have a minister not knowing what is happening inside her own ministry. What about tax payment from big corporations or rich individuals and family of conglomerates? How do we know data submitted to Sri Mulyani has been valid all along? How do we know tax revenue revealed to the public is real?

All we know is that Indonesia’s index of corruption, for instance from the Transparency International, is worsening year after year mainly exactly because officials in tax and customs and excise offices have stolen the people’s money. Or, that based on more valid international data Indonesia’s tax to GDP ratio is very low – one of the lowest in Asia and the Pacific, considering Indonesia’s almost 280 million population.  Indonesia’s tax-to-GDP ratio was 10.1% in 2020, far below the Asia and Pacific average of 19.1% by 9.0 percentage points, and only above Bhutan and Laos out of 28 countries in the region.

What we know is true also is that the country keeps on borrowing and borrowing from abroad to finance government’s expenditure and Jokowi’s outlandish projects. Last year, for instance, Indonesia’s tax income reached 1,716 trillion rupiah, and with other revenues, Indonesia only has 2,2660 trillion rupiah to finance the whole things. But in that same year the country’s expenditure reached 3,106 trillion rupiah. It means Indonesia then must borrow around IDR 850 trillion last year, piling up Indonesia’s accumulative foreign debts to almost IDR 8,000 trillion.

The fact that this one scandal only involving stealing of tax money of IDR 346 trillion, it’s very reasonable to conclude that if the government can root out most – if not all – of the corruption within the Finance Ministry and many more in other ministries, which can be much more corrupt, Indonesia does not need to borrow from abroad, and put the burden of paying back on the shoulders of our grandchildren and great grandchildren. And possibly, there are more money left to help almost 30 million people living in poverty across the archipelago, and possibly also we can keep the prices of food and housing affordable to those more than 100 million Indonesians struggling just to survive every day.

It’s that simple.

But it seems that for these decision makers serving people’s interests has never been the goal in the first place. It’s always about accumulation of personal glory, power and wealth, especially with Indonesia is heading to pivotal general elections next year. Scoring a point and getting credits here and there are the name of the game here.

The drama surrounding the cancellation of Indonesia as a host of Under-20 FIFA World Cup is a perfect example of this bad faith.

With the massacre of 135 people in Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, East Java, is still fresh in people’s mind, the government must have done all it can to give justice not only to victims and their families but also to Indonesian people as a whole. The authorities can’t just put 135 dead bodies under a rug, and hope everybody will forget and everything will be fine. So, it should have been wise for Indonesia’s football association, PSSI, officials to wait for Kanjuruhan tragedy to resolve before the country is ready to host a big international football event.

Secondly, as soon as the fact that Israel football players will play in Indonesia, PSSI should have been really careful and make sure Muslims’ reject was minimum before they gave any promises to FIFA.

But fresh from being elected as PSSI chairman and as a figure mentioned as candidate for president in 2024 election, Erick Thohir wanted to score a point, big point. And hosting the world cup – even if it’s only U-20 — and as a host allowing the national football team to automatically participate in the competition will woo millions of football fans to support him.

Jokowi, who also see that he could leave a big legacy, threw his full support behind hosting the event. But then every other powerful politician, including Megawati Soekarnoputri, chairwoman of the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, could also see this, and they would not want their competitors score a big point. It’s like writing in the wall that it’s her daughter Puan Maharani that will run for presidency in 2024.  So, Bali Governor I Wayan Koster, a PDI-P cadre and Megawati’s close man, refused to host it, on security risks, citing possibility of suicide bombing taking place again in the province as Israel entered the equation.

FIFA which seemed realize that the risks were too high and did not want to be entangled in local politics finally removed Indonesia as host despite Erick’s last-minute heroic move to fly to meet with FIFA officials.

In a final analysis, hosting or not hosting the U-20 FIFA World Cup has nothing to do with the noble intention to make the country’s football better, let alone it is done for defending athletes’ right to compete or being rejected for defending Muslims and the Palestine. No, it’s not.

It’s just for personal glory and power. It’s only for 2024 elections.

It’s just politics. And it’s that simple.

Editorial Omong-Omong

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