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Corruption fight in Indonesia slowly marches on

Protests in Indonesia as Transparency International releases corruption rankings.

Despite ongoing cases like that of a rogue tax official who bribed his way out of jail to watch a tennis match in Bali, Indonesia’s corruption score has always improved since Yudhoyono came to power in the country’s first direct elections in 2004, when it ranked below Pakistan and Iraq.

“Tackling corruption is incredibly complex, and the government is not monolithic,” said Robin Bush, who heads the Jakarta-based Asia Foundation, which works on promoting good governance in Indonesia. She said departments like the Directorate General of Corrections have shown a commitment to curbing graft. (Given the number of high-level prisoners bribing their way to special treatment, this is still a work in progress)

“But it’s no longer politically acceptable to be corrupt, and the public is no longer patient and no longer tolerant of this type of corruption,” Bush said.

Corruption exists because of need, greed and a political system that rewards bad behavior, said Baswedan, who lists bureaucratic reform and salary improvements as two solutions.

Already financial reform and changes to the tax system that make tax collection more transparent have been credited with helping Indonesia weather the recent global financial crisis. The country’s economy is Southeast Asia’s biggest, and foreign capital has poured into to support new business ventures and bond markets over the past year.

Asagi said teaching youth about corruption is also necessary. She joined the Islamic Students Movement so she could learn more about Indonesian politics and discuss way to improve the system. Paramadina, on the other hand, requires its students to take a summer-long course where they investigate the causes of corruption and discuss the magnitude of the problem.

One of the main reasons corruption is so rampant is the lack of understanding about the issue by graduates of higher education, Baswedan said.

“They study in the universities but they’re not aware of the problems of corruption and or how to combat it,” he said. “The way we view it, let’s cut the supply of potential corruptors; and the way we do it is by educating them about this practice prior to having them enter the job market.”