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Indonesia's "honesty cafes"

Want a hit of ethics in your coffee? Head to East Kalimantan.

The fight really began with the creation of the powerful Anti-Corruption Commission shortly after Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was elected president in 2004. Ever since, high-profile arrests are splashed across the front pages on a daily basis. Local reporters are stationed outside the commission’s offices almost 24 hours a day to catch parliamentarians, businessmen, judges, banking officials and governors being brought in for questioning — the sort of “perp walk” that can instantly end careers.

The revealed tales of respected lawmakers caught with satchels full of cash on their way to late night hotel room meetings are so common here they have become cliche.

Not satisfied with prosecutions alone, the commission has several times floated the idea of forcing graft suspects to wear special uniforms, or a scarlet letter, to single them out as corrupt. The idea, however, has not yet been approved for fear of making suspects seem guilty before a trial.

But the commission is desperate to find new ways of fighting graft. In the last five years it has had many successes, but has not yet netted any “big fish” and has failed to prosecute some important cases.

Worst yet, on May 4 the commission’s director, Antasari Azhar, was arrested in connection with the mob-style murder of a businessman and golf buddy, leading to his dismissal. The media here has widely assumed his guilt but the director has many obvious and powerful enemies and his attorneys are claiming he was framed. At least one major police official and a media mogul have also been brought in for questioning.

In short, the fight against graft here, made endemic by Suharto, the country’s kleptocrat ruler for almost 30 years, is an uphill one.

Even when it comes with a hit of coffee or a plate of nasi goreng.

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