- As head of Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation’s labor rights section, Teten came face-to-face with Indonesia’s huge “corruption tax.” Thirty percent of manufacturers’ operating expenses went to pay off officials, far less to workers’ wages.
- In 1998, Teten volunteered to head Indonesia Corruption Watch, a new LBHI program, and two years later established it as an independent organization.
- During 2004’s parliamentary election, Teten launched the National Movement for Not Electing Rotten Politicians, and lately he has been raising the alarm about vote buying and other forms of “money politics.”
- The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “his challenging Indonesians to expose corruption and claim their right to clean government.”
Corruption is a blight on many nations. But there are few nations where corruption is so deeply entrenched and habitual as in Indonesia. Years of venal dictatorship made it so. Under President Suharto, an elaborate patronage system channeled much of the nation’s wealth to its power holders. By paying bribes to certain members of the ruling circle and to military men, officials, judges, and police, Indonesians learned that just about anything “could be arranged.” This culture of corruption has flourished anew in Indonesia’s post-Suharto era of reform and democratization. As coordinator of Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW), Teten Masduki knows the degree to which, in Indonesia today, corruption is a fact of life. But he wants Indonesians to know that corruption need not be their country’s way of life.
Born into a family of farmers in 1963, Teten studied chemistry in college and became a high school teacher. In 1985, he joined a demonstration by local farmers whose land had been stolen. After that, he says, “I plunged into the activist world.” By 1990, he had joined the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (Lembaga Bantuan Hukum Indonesia or LBHI). As head of its labor rights section, Teten came face-to-face with Indonesia’s huge “corruption tax.” Thirty percent of manufacturers’ operating expenses went to pay off officials, far less to workers’ wages. In 1998, Teten volunteered to head Indonesia Corruption Watch, a new LBHI program, and two years later established it as an independent organization.
Under Teten, ICW became a public clearinghouse for information about corruption, collusion, and nepotism. It solicited reports from the public, investigated them, publicized them, and passed them on to the authorities for action. The press became Teten’s ally in campaigning for public integrity and exposing flagrant irregularities: the attorney-general who received large anomalous bank deposits; the provincial governor who pocketed a US$20 million markup for a local power plant; the military procurers who charged Indonesia US$2.5 million for a tank that Thailand bought for US$1 million; the officials who paid themselves some US$4 million for a nonexistent river-dredging project; and countless other irregularities in projects of the World Bank, the state oil company, the national airline, the tsunami relief agency, plus sundry ministries, courts, banks, utility companies, and lo
cal governments. In 2004, ICW examined 432 such cases causing an estimated loss to Indonesia of some US$580 million.
Corruption on this scale, says Teten, “generates poverty, environmental destruction, uncertainty of law, and bad public services.” It also threatens Indonesia’s burgeoning democracy. During last year’s parliamentary election, Teten launched the National Movement for Not Electing Rotten Politicians, and lately he has been raising the alarm about vote buying and other forms of “money politics.”
Teten and his ICW staff of fifteen are assisted by a team of loyal volunteer accountants, lawyers, and economists, and a network of regional partner organizations. He practices transparency and has made his own income public. The work is dangerous. Threats to Teten’s life are not idle: Munir, a fellow activist and ICW Ethics Board member, was murdered last year.
Teten confesses frustration at how few of Indonesia’s corrupt leaders have been prosecuted and convicted. The problem, he says, is that the country’s political and business elites are linked by patronage and unchecked by the law. They act with impunity. Even so, Teten says, “I don’t agree with the idea that corruption rules our culture.” He dreams of a more democratic Indonesia where empowered citizens will insist upon honest government and “clean up
the political elite.” This will take stamina and lots of time, he says, adding hopefully: “I think my children and grandchildren will perhaps benefit from our work.”
In electing Teten Masduki to receive the 2005 Ramon Magsaysay Award for public service, the board of trustees recognizes his challenging Indonesians to expose corruption and claim their right to clean government.
First and foremost, I would like to thank the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation for giving me such an honorable award. It is truly far beyond my imagination. Actually, I believe that what I have done so far deserves no immense appreciation. It is by no means extraordinary. I am just an ordinary man who cannot bear to keep my silence when people around me suffer because of severe abuses of power within our government.
Corruption is so rampant in our country. It has become a part of our lives. A lot of my countrymen and women don’t realize that they live in a country rich in resources, but most of us live in poverty. This is because of corruption. The people are the victims. However, experience has taught me that people care more about their own personal gains, rather than our collective interest as a nation.
After President Suharto stepped down, we at the ICW started our endeavor to empower the people to fight against corruption. We simply provided the initiative. We began by receiving complaints against corrupt practices. We then used the media to expose these practices and forwarded the reports to legal offices.
Right from the start, I realized this is a heavy task. We had to institutionalize this movement to establish a strong foundation to combat corruption. People often think that our worst enemy is the big corruptors. But I think my worst enemy is myself. I often feel that I haven’t achieved enough. Sometimes, this makes me very frustrated. When this happens, I amuse myself with a Javanese philosophy on luck, which in my own version says: “Perhaps not many corruptors have been convicted and sent to prison, but as long as I am not the one who goes to prison, I’m still lucky.”
It is very fulfilling for me to see that the small seed we sowed has started to grow. Anti-corruption movements have recently spread throughout our country, even to small sub-districts. This reinforces my belief that anti-corruption has to be no less than a primary agenda for our whole nation.
Personally, therefore, this award is very significant for me. It will be one source of my strength, where I anchor my hope for a better future. It will drive me to work harder and more wisely. More importantly, it serves as a valuable symbol for the Indonesian people at large to be courageous in fighting against abuses of power.
On this very special occasion, I would like to also thank my family, friends and colleagues, donor organizations, as well as journalists. They have given us enormous support. Their trust opens a wider path for me in doing my work.
Once again, I thank all of you and the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation. Last but not least, I sincerely hope justice will prevail against the unjust.
Thank you and mabuhay….
ONE cupboard, a stove, and a refrigerator. Three chickens in a cage. His wife’s monthly salary of ten million rupiah (US$1,105) and his own more modest income of four million rupiah (US$442) a month. A house, a Kijang van, and fifty million rupiah (US$5,525) in a bank account. It took Teten Masduki five minutes to enumerate his assets at a 2001 seminar in Jakarta on how to audit the wealth of Indonesia’s civil servants.
It was accountability in its truest sense. As coordinator of the non-profit, non-government organization Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW), Teten says he has the duty, no less than the public officials, military officers, tycoons, and other Indonesians his group investigates, to be totally transparent about his own finances. It escapes no one’s notice how far smaller his modest means were compared with the US$1 billion in bribes, for example, that executives of the national airline, Garuda Indonesia, were suspected to have pocketed in a leasing scheme. Or the twelve billion rupiah that then Attorney-General Andi Muhammad Ghalib, the government’s point man in the fight against corruption, was said to have received in his and his wife’s bank accounts in 1999.
These cases are just a tiny sampling of Indonesia’s institutionalized culture of graft and corruption, one that had flourished during decades of President Suharto’s authoritarian rule, which ended in 1998, and sadly continues even today under a democratic government. But forty-three-year-old Teten and his eight-year-old ICW are undeterred. “Corruption is always related to power, and corruption is by far the most common abuse of power,” he says. “The cause [for inaction] is not because people are poor but because people are helpless. They cannot control these powerful figures. That is why we cannot ask the government for help in combating corruption. It is we ourselves who should fight corruption for our own sake.”
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