Posted by: Frederik Balfour on January 28, 2008
The death of former Indonesian President Suharto has sparked a rigorous discussion of the legacy his 32 years in power. Though democracy has successfully taken root in the 10 years since he was forced out of office in 1998, the perception of corruption in the country has deteriorated, according to Transparency International which says Indonesia’s rank fell from 80 in 1998 [number 1 indicates least corrupt] to 144 in 2007.
It’s not hard to see why. The question of how Suharto and his six children amassed such enormous wealth while he was in office [estimated to be about $15 billion by Time Magazine in 1999] has never been satisfactorily answered. Though Suharto was charged with embezzling nearly $600 million in public funds, the courts ruled in 2000 that he was too frail to stand trial. His health, however, apparently did not prevent him from playing golf for a few more years. A civil lawsuit against him for another $1.54 billion in damages and missing funds was unresolved at his death.
If Suharto and his family get off Scot-free for possibly having bilked the country of billions, then why shouldn’t the traffic cop in Bali, or the district governor in charge of mining concessions in Kalimantan, or the judge be allowed to palm a few hundred thousand rupiahs here and there? Indeed, most people in Indonesia say that at least under the Suharto regime the amount you would have to budget for kickbacks was fairly predictable. But nowadays greasing the wheels of the bureaucracy with baksheesh is more costly, and time consuming than ever before. It’s little wonder that all but the most determined international foreign direct investors have stayed away from Indonesia in droves.