Bribery and pirate politics

The G20 Conference in Bali earlier this month, which addressed international bribery and a number of bribery cases involving politicians that are handled by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), reminds me of an old tale about pirates that were arrested by Alexander the Great’s forces.

The legend says that, in ancient times, Alexander the Great’s troops arrested a pirate captain. Alexander’s forces had long targeted groups of pirates because their activities were disturbing and harmful. In an interrogation, the king asked, “What kind of right do you have that you plunder the seas?”

“I have the right to plunder the seas as Your Highness has the right to plunder the world. It’s just because I use a boat that I am called a pirate, while Your Highness has a large fleet, so you are called Maharaja (emperor),” the pirate captain said.

Alexander gasped when he heard the pirate captain’s answer, which was straightforward and very critical.

Weeks ago, news reports were dominated by the hijacked Indonesian-flagged ship in Somali waters. From the perspective of power, we may conclude that the existence of power outside that of the state does exist, and often such power is out of reach. But what does the story of the Somali pirates imply for Indonesia? What to do with the most debated topic here: Corruption?

Please take note of the pirate captain’s answer. He calls himself a pirate, a relatively small force because he sails on a boat, while he refers the authorities as “real pirates” because they own a big state fleet with great power, which is systematic, financed from taxes collected from the people, legitimized by formal law and has a strong political position.

In the House of Representatives’ terms, “the fleet” could be the authority to determine the budget, pass a law along with the president, choose public officials such as heads of the House commissions, Chief Justice, etc and to supervise the government.

From a number of studies we know that there are powers beyond the formal government in corruption cases. Moreover, the invisible powers have the control over decision-making processes in this country.

Some define the phenomenon as a “political cartel”, a term used to describe a condition that participants do not fight in a real competition but tend to implement the concept of power sharing.

On the other hand, there is a rent-seeking approach to describing the affair between political power and the bureaucracy with businessmen. Such a conspiracy has a reciprocal relationship.

The political and bureaucratic actors provide “services” — policy or rules that benefit the business — while the latter give money or other benefits in return. This relationship has been studied by many observers and political economists, both with their own orientation: free-market based orientation or idealist orientation.

John T Sidel uses the term “bossism”. In his book, Capital, Coercion and Crime: Bossism in Philippines (1999), he says, political power and the state facilitate the accumulation of capital and profits among capitalists, so the distribution of power and economic resources is controlled only by a specific group of politicians called “state” which, in fact, is formed and dominated by the “bosses”. They are both exploiters.

In other words, instead of managing the state for people’s welfare, the authority attached to the state organizers only benefits the “bosses” in a small circle. Here it seems that the state has a strong position, although its function has been hijacked so that it no longer serves the interests of the people.

In 1995, William Reno mentioned an interesting term to describe the power that referred to the politics-business collusion that emphasizes the non-state actors: the shadow state and the informal economy. Based on his research in Sierra Leone, he found some of the main characters in piracy practices of state functions were by non-state forces.

This phenomenon occurs in a weak state or fragile country, especially when the officials and state executives tend to serve interests outside the trusts and duties given to them.

The goal is simple: Share the short-term profits between the owner authorities (politics, bureaucracy and state officials) with business interests and organized crime.

One party is to get the “service” policy and regulation while others take advantage of bribes, kickbacks or other concessions that are difficult to identify by the naked eye.

Political-business conspiracy seems to be one of the most fundamental problems in Indonesia today besides rampant corruption, political power becoming the bumper
of corruption and irregularities, which are vulnerable, hijacked legislation and bribes to officials and House members.

From a number of cases being handled by the KPK, one by one, puzzle pieces from a bigger picture of how the hijacked state functions with corrupt forces can be seen. Based on the classification of corrupt actors snared by the KPK, the Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW) recorded 42 House members who had been prosecuted to date, scattered in eight major cases.

All corruption cases showed a conspiracy between the mafia business in the banking sector, forestry and procurement of goods and services with House members who had authority in policy making.

In conclusion, we can contemplate further what the pirate captain said. Sure enough, some “fleets” are controlled by the organizers of this country and used to rob its own people. However, corruption certainly is not done by an individual alone.

If the decayed condition of the country and the eradication of corruption is still just political jargon, the “shadow power” will remain large, taking over the state function to protect its people and build a shadow government (shadow state) that is increasingly powerful. At the end, the shadow power will transform into a real pirate state.

We must combat the robbery hand in hand with political forces that have not yet been contaminated by corruption: Religious social forces and the civil society.

One of the immediate challenges is to draft revisions on the Anticorruption Law and the Anticorruption Commission Law. It is obvious that there are systematic efforts to weaken the KPK.

Why has the KPK become a target? Quite simply, this institution, though it could have done more, has been very disturbing against those intending to “proclaim a government of the pirates”.

The “pirates” will do their deeds until their dream of a “pirate state” is materialized, while our ideal state will eventually collapse due to acts of the “decomposer”, called the “fleet of the state”.

Febri Diansyah, The writer is coordinator for the division of Legal and Judicial Monitoring at the Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW)

Source: The Jakarta Post, Thu, 05/26/2011 7:00 AM

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