What did I learn from the coalface?

  • • Most people, rich and poor, in an endemically corrupt country, practise corruption. It is only when corruption is extreme, and beyond a limit that is difficult to identify, that people feel strongly enough to try to do something about it. And the rich and powerful are quite able to employ thugs and gangsters (“prentan” in Indonesian) to stop those who want to do something about it.
  • • It is very possible when sitting opposite someone from government and discussing the evils of corruption that this person is the recipient of the “vertical hierarchy of corruption” - i.e. that he or she is receiving a percentage of any illegal extortion that subordinates have received.
  • • Amazingly, very poor people, instead of being angry at extortion by other poor people who happen to have more power than them, can explain that such people are poor as well and need to receive bribes for them and their families to live at even a low level, and they pay up.
  • • Indonesians were not prepared to call out corrupt officials to their face.

What happened to it all?

Soon after I left the Partnership and went on to my next job in East Timor, the Anti-Corruption Commission in Indonesia was established with serious and solid staff, and a legal set-up that seemed to allow it to work with integrity. As its work started to bite, however, it received vicious, false and personal attacks on its senior staff from those they had accused. Its future was precarious, but a large and widespread campaign was undertaken by CSOs to expose the accusations, and the institution was saved. It continued, under further Presidents, to do its work with integrity. If not invulnerable, it is at least able to attack anyone in the country' who they consider to be guilty. Indonesia is still a country of great corruption, but the mood of tolerance has modified.

The Partnership has continued to the present and has taken on a range of other topics and issues in addition to the ones it started with. Its staff is now completely Indonesian, and it has a strong reputation for professionalism and probity.

What were we thinking at the time?

The Partnership was in business to publicise harmful aspects of corruption and the workshops and research it underwrote gave us the opportunity to do so.

Holloway, Richard and Makarim, Nono (eds). 2002. Stealing from the People: 16 studies on corruption in Indonesia. Partnership and Aksara Foundation, Jakarta, Indonesia.

Stealing from the People has four volumes:

  • 1. Corruption: From top to bottom
  • 2. Big Feast: Soldier, judge, banker, civil servant
  • 3. Foreign Aid, Business and State Enterprise: Counting the cost
  • 4. The Clampdown: In search of new paradigms

Hardjono, Ratih and Teggemann, Stephanie (eds). 2002. The Poor Speak Up: 17 stories of corruption. Partnership, Jakarta, Indonesia.

Partnership. 2001. Diagnostic Study of Corruption in Indonesia. Partnership, Jakarta, Indonesia.

Holloway, Richard (ed.). 2002. Controlling Corruption in Indonesia:

20 practical ideas. Partnership, Jakarta, Indonesia.

Holloway, Richard (ed.). 2003. Assessing the State of Governance in

Indonesia in 2002: The Partnership’s governance assessment. Partnership, Jakarta, Indonesia.

Holloway, Richard and Teggemann, Stephanie. 2002. Participatory Corruption Appraisal: A methodology for assessing how corruption affects the urban poor. Partnership, Jakarta, Indonesia.

There were few documents on corruption that go into the details of how corrupt people work — and there have continued to be few. 1 tried to get beyond that in Indonesia and subsequently in Myanmar (see Chapter 18) with regard to corruption in the timber industry.

There was, however, a fine document from the World Bank along these lines that many assured me was based on Indonesia.

Della-Giacoma, Jim and Wherry, Frederick. 2001. The Anti-corruption Handbook. World Bank, East Asia Environment and Social Development Sector, Washington DC, USA.


1 Paper presented by H. S. Dillon, Executive Director of the Partnership for Governance Reform in Indonesia, at the pre-CGI meeting in Jakarta, January 2005.

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