Addicted to Corruption in Indonesia

Feb 29, 2016 Uncategorized

This piece was written by Ricky Gunawan and was published in Asia Catalyst on 3 December 2009.


Rose (not her real name) has been using drugs for more than ten years. During that time, she had been arrested a number of times, and her life has been harrowing. Not long ago, she began to feel hope for the first time, when in a breakthrough decision, Indonesia’s judges decided to send her to a rehabilitation center to treat her addiction.

However, Indonesia’s rotten and corrupt judicial system dashed her hopes.

Rose was arrested by the police on January 23, 2009 and after a lengthy legal process, received a court decision on July 27. Normally, Indonesia’s courts sentence drug users to prison. In this case, the court ordered her to be imprisoned for one year and eight months, but to begin with a period of rehabilitation for six months. This meant that once she got out from rehab she would only need to stay in prison for one year and two months. Since she had already served six months in detention waiting for her court hearing, that would be deducted from the total sentence, and Rose would only need to serve eight months in prison after her time in rehab.

The court’s decision to sentence Rose to rehab was a breakthrough and a first for Indonesia. It signaled that courts are finally beginning to consider drug users as victims from a health perspective, and to understand that putting them in prison will not treat their addiction. In fact, Indonesia’s poor correctional facilities will only deteriorate their health.

However, as of this writing – more than three months after the court decision – Rose is still waiting in a detention center.

What went wrong? After the court delivered its decision, the prosecutor’s office should have executed the judgment; in this case, they should have transferred Rose from Pondok Bambu Detention Center to Drug Dependence Hospital in Cibubur, Jakarta, for six months, and then sent her on to the correctional facility for eight months.

But the prosecutor, detention center and hospital officials had no idea of how to transfer such a person. Rose is the first person detained in the Pondok Bambu Detention Center to be sentenced to rehab. The prosecutor claimed that they have no standard operational procedure for transferring a person from a detention center to a rehab center.

Poor administration and bad bureaucracy have led Rose’s sentence-execution letter to ping-pong from one unit to another within the prosecutor’s office, with many typos added along the way, thus necessitating repeated rewriting of the letters. Disgracefully and predictably, the prosecutor has tried to extort Rose for fees in order to “expedite the process”.

It seems that the prosecutor doesn’t understand the concept of drug dependence. A drug user who is suffering from serious addiction, and who is detained for more than three months without proper medication, is of course having a very hard time. Ignoring Rose’s dire need to get drug dependence treatment simply amounted to ill-treatment. Rose is suffering terribly in detention.

It is deeply disappointing to see that after more than ten years of efforts at institutional reform, the prosecutor’s office has failed to eradicate the cancer eating away at its heart: that is, corruption. If in this petty case, a prosecutor is unable to handle the execution of a straightforward sentence to rehab, then it is no wonder that in cases involving corruption of high-rank government officials, members of parliament, or even in the case of Munir – Indonesia’s assassinated human rights defender – the prosecutor is utterly impotent.

The key to successful institutional reform lies in the ability of institutions to recognize their own weaknesses. They need to be able to acknowledge that there are internal problems that need to be fixed, and be open to constructive criticism as well as expert assistance from outside. Without this ability to diagnose and fix its own weaknesses, the institution itself will be left behind and excluded by other enhanced and modern institutions that are transparent, accountable, and that have zero tolerance of corruption.

Indonesia’s prosecutors should learn a lesson from Rose’s heartrending story. It should be a basis for the prosecutor in developing procedures to handle similar cases in the future, so that no one again will undergo what Rose has — and still is — suffering.

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