Online Extra: Q&A With Teten Masduki

Q&A with Teten Masduki

A satirical poster on a bare wall in Teten Masduki's spartan Jakarta office shows a well-dressed man urinating on a homeless man lying in an alley while his uniformed chauffeur holds his jacket. The poster caption reads, "Trickle Down Theory." It's an apt summary of the views of the Coordinator of Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW), a nonprofit group that investigates and reports on abuses in one of the world's most corrupt countries. The wiry, intense Javanese answered questions for Michael Shari, BusinessWeek's International News Editor, on June 16. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow:

Q: You started out as a labor negotiator in the early 1990s. Why did you make the transition to corruption investigator?

A:

My concern is social transformation toward improved conditions and democracy. When I struggled for labor, I couldn't shut my eyes to the labor exploitation and military repression that supported a low-wage policy in order to invite foreign investors. Workers have to receive low salaries because most of the profit is used to pay "invisible costs," which go to the corruptors.

Q: What's the purpose of your work?

A:

We dream of empowering a social movement to counterbalance political and business patronage as the main pillars of a corrupt regime in Indonesia. This is a country that's rich in natural resources, but this natural gift doesn't bring welfare to the people because of mismanagement and corruption. Indonesia has a big problem with corrupt and bad politicians who have hijacked reform.

That's why much of the reform agenda since the fall of Suharto doesn't work properly. All energy has to be directed to changing the political and economic structure and [building] public accountability. Without that, corruption can't be eliminated.

Q: What's the impact of your work thus far?

A:

Now people have the courage to reveal corruption in various sectors, although law enforcement doesn't run properly. People's involvement in public monitoring has strengthened, and people dare to demand better public services. Organizations to combat corruption have been cultivated in many places, from the national level to the local village level.

Many organizations, such us workers' unions in state-owned enterprises, teachers associations, and religious organizations, are making the eradication of corruption their main program. In government, institutions to eradicate corruption exist formally, although their effectiveness is still questioned.

Q: How have you shaped opinions?

A:

Actually, we don't have enough resources for a massive campaign to combat corruption. So we are using mass media, such us national newspapers, radio, and television. That's how we shape public opinion here. We get support, too, from journalists in Jakarta, especially those who have high integrity and are concerned with combating corruption. We're focusing on the national level.

But sometimes we do international campaigns for particular cases, like corruption in an education project at Garut, West Java, which was funded by a Dutch grant. We also monitor World Bank projects because they are often corrupted by public officials. That's why sometimes we do international campaigns, and maybe help shape the image of Indonesia internationally.

Q: What organizations finance your work now?

A:

Unfortunately, most rich people in Indonesia aren't willing to support the anticorruption movement, as with the human-rights struggle. Some corruptors and bad businessmen offer funds, but we can't take them because we would have conflicts of interest. But we thank international donors and development agencies like the Ford Foundation, the Asia Foundation, and the U.N. Development Program [for their support].

Q: How many people do you have working for you?

A:

We have 15 full-time staff members and around 10 volunteers. But we get support from experts from various fields, such us economists, lawyers, taxes, and banking. We're managing available resources. I don't want ICW to become bigger and centralized. There are so many requests from regions [of Indonesia] to open branches, but we deny them.

Q: How do money politics work in Indonesia?

A:

Money politics have become the usual practice in Parliament. In the 2004 legislative election we estimated that the amounts had doubled since the 1999 election. Vote-buying has become a new phenomenon, even in a transparent election. For the poor, vote-buying is not a crime against democracy but a blessing. Law enforcement and combating corruption were just politicians' promises during the election campaign.

Q: What's your hope for the future?

A:

In the future, I hope Indonesia will be more democratic. I hope the anticorruption social movement will become more influential and get real support from political and business groups.

Q: What are your fears for the future?

A:

There is a growing weak-government syndrome since the fall of Suharto. But we are very worried that the New Order [as Suharto's government was known] is strengthening [again]. It's developing through corruption and violence. This is a real threat to democracy.

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