Although it remains shocking to hear the news of a minister being arrested, it is well known that corruption (which is defined as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain), nepotism and collusion are intrinsic parts of governance in Indonesia.

Hence, Indonesia has never scored particularly well in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). This CPI measures how corrupt each country’s public sector is perceived to be, based on the input from experts and businesspeople. In the latest edition (2022) Indonesia fell from a ranking of 96 in the preceding year to 110th. It is interesting that throughout Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s first term (2014-2019) Indonesia experienced a significant improvement in this index, rising from 107th in 2014 to 85th in 2019. However, during Widodo’s second term (2019-2024) it – for now – seems that all progress will be undone (if not worse).

Relation between Crisis and Corruption

When we read Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index report (the 2022 edition), it states that corruption and conflict feed each other and threaten durable peace. This is particularly relevant because the world has been in a state of constant crisis over the past couple of years (such as the COVID-19 crisis, the climate crisis, economic crises, and geopolitical turmoil including the Russo-Ukrainian war). Amid this state of constant crisis, there subsequently arise more opportunities for people to engage in corrupt practices.

We can illustrate this relation between crisis and corruption by using an example from Indonesia. Juliari Batubara served as Indonesian Minister of Social Affairs amid the COVID-19 crisis years. In the context of this crisis, the Indonesian government introduced a generous social and corporate assistance program because its social and business restrictions (aimed at curbing the spread of the virus in Indonesian society) damaged the Indonesian economy in an unprecedented manner. In other words: new money flows became available, while at the same time monitoring was not functioning properly amid the hecticness (for example because funds had to be disbursed in a much more rapid manner than under normal circumstances).

On 6 December 2020, Batubara was arrested for (allegedly) receiving bribes from two food suppliers that were active in the government’s social assistance program. Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi) alleged that Batubara received around IDR 17.0 billion (approx. USD $1.2 million) in bribes as the two suppliers paid a commission fee of IDR 10,000 (to Batubara) for each package of basic food worth IDR 300,000 that was distributed to the poor (and which was financed through the central government’s aid program). Batubara was later sentenced to 12 years in prison (and an IDR 500 million fine).

This example illustrates that a crisis period (when the government introduces new money channels) opens up opportunities for corrupt behavior. And so, it should not be a coincidence that 124 countries had stagnant corruption levels in the latest CPI that was released by Transparency International, while the number of countries in decline increased in an environment where the world is in constant crisis-mode.

So, a crisis like the COVID-19 crisis does not only facilitate a money flow that would be unacceptable under normal circumstances (in this case, the many billions worth of tax money that went to a handful of pharmaceutical companies), but it also opens the floodgates for people (including government officials) to initiate schemes aimed at stealing public money for private gain.

Facilitating a new money flow that wouldn’t be acceptable under normal conditions isn’t necessarily corruption (particularly if it has been approved by parliaments). However, we do feel that in today’s world (especially in the West, although problems are exported into the rest of the world) people have to be careful that policymakers are not creating a crisis for the sake of facilitating certain new money flows (instead of creating new money flows to combat a crisis). That is also why it is crucial that media institutions can freely report on all relevant issues, and not present one-sided information only.


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