Indonesia Anonymus

We are a group of Indonesians, ranting about our beloved country. This blog is a result of many people grumbling about many things in many ways.
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Anonymus is the Latin word for anonymous, the correct English spelling. The Latin spelling, however, is traditionally used by scholars in the humanities to refer to an ancient writer whose name is not known, or to a manuscript of their work. Read more at Wikipedia.

Our blog in Bahasa Indonesia (but rarely updated) can be found here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Chicken or fish

Our young friend Roni went on assignment a while back. On the plane he had an interesting conversation with a fellow passenger. Here it goes, in his own words:

I got on the plane and found my seat. Next to me was an elderly gentleman. Grey hair, nice batik shirt. Awfully familiar face although I still couldn't remember where I saw him before.

While waiting for the plane to take off, I emptied my bulging shirt pocket to organize it a bit. Boarding pass stub, money, receipts, and oh yes: traffic violation ticket that I got from the police an hour ago. How annoying.

"Traffic ticket?" asked the gentleman next to me with a friendly smile.
"Yes. I was in a hurry driving to the airport and there was this roundabout with time restriction on it... I made a wrong turn..."

"Ah, yes. Happens all the time. So you asked for a ticket? Didn't play along and pay a bribe. You opted to go to court. What a good man."

I didn't answer. Not sure if he really meant it or just being sarcastic.

In the meantime, the plane took off.

"It's a terribly inefficient system." the gentleman said after a while.

"What is?"

"That. Think about it. You didn't crash into other people's car, you didn't do drunk driving, you didn't cause any harm to anybody. You made a turn at a wrong time. It's an honest mistake. Yet they took your driver license, and you have to go to court to pay the fine and get your license back.

Imagine how many people will have to push the papers because of this. The police department will have to process it, then submit it to the court, where more people will have to process it so that everything is ready when you go there.

All this people, pushing papers. For what? Just because you made a turn at a wrong time."

He has a point. I never really thought of it that way.

"It's understandable if you made a serious violation. But simple ones like parking at a wrong place or a broken brakelight... do we really have to go to court for this and waste everybody's time? Imagine all the productivity lost. Now you will have to be there all day instead of doing your work..."

"True. So what do you suggest?" I asked. Curious.

"Ideally, they don't need to take away your license. Just give you a ticket and let you go. You can then pay your fine at a bank somewhere, and done with it. It should be as simple as that."

"But..." the gentleman continued, "Do you know what will happen if we do it this way?"

"Some people will ignore the ticket and do not pay?"

"Exactly. And why is that?" asked the gentleman, seemingly very happy that I was willing to play along.

"Because the police did not have anything to force us to pay. The reason why they took my driver license hostage is because that is the only way to force me to pay the fine."

"True, but that is not the whole story. After all, they wrote down your license plate number. They can still track you down."

"Yes, but not all cars are registered in the owners' name. My car for example, I bought it second hand and it is still in the previous owner's name... So if they track me down, they'll get the previous owner..."

"Exactly. Now we're getting closer to the root of the problem. It's not a matter of giving traffic ticket per se. So young man, why didn't you switch the car registration to your name?"

"Err.. mostly because it's expensive... and some say it's bureaucratic. I've never done it myself, to be honest."

"So we should make it easier to do, and cheaper."

"That's not going to happen. The government wants all the money they can get..." I answered.

"Ah, young man. Look at it this way. Let's say they make the registration very easy to do and only takes 10 minutes. And they cut the fee in half. That's 50% off.

I am willing to bet that the number of people who go to change their car registration to their name can easily triple. Cut the fee in half, but you get three times more business. The government actually will make more.

Not to mention the benefit of having the cars on the street all registered to the rightful owner. If anybody failed to pay their traffic fine before the deadline, the police can track them down and slap even more hefty fines. More money for the government."

I nodded. Make sense.

The gentleman continued:

"With all the money goes to the government, we can then use some of it to take care of our policemen. This folks work day and night at polluted streets. It's also a dangerous job. We have to take care of them better. With the money we can also provide them with better equipments: better communication devices, computers, cameras, better cars and motorcycles. In the end they will work better and can catch even more traffic violators and bring even more money for the government.

And us, when we made a mistake, we will be happy to pay the fine because: one, we don't have to waste our time going to court and two, we know the money will all go to the government.

The police department and the court of justice will be happy too. Less papers to push. Less work. They can focus on more important cases."

"Sounds good," I said. "So why is it not being done? Why are we stuck with this inefficient system?"

"Think of it this way: It's just like when we have our reformasi."


"Yes. Before we have our democracy, some of us were doing very well under Suharto. They made a lot of money, building even more businesses and make even more money. So when the people wanted Suharto out, they initially resisted. Life is good, why change? It's understandable. They did not want to lose their investment, their business, everything that they have worked for to achieve.

But guess what. Now that we have our democracy, this same people are now doing just as good, if not even better. Most of them are just as rich, if not richer because of the reformasi. Now even they don't want to go back to dictatorship.

Same thing with all this traffic fine system. Some people are actually doing well with the current system. Making good money out of this inefficiency. They don't want to lose it.

But if we ask for it, pressure the parliament and make it happen, this same people will later see that they will do just fine if not better under a reformed system.

We just have to help them to see it. And to make this happen, we the people have to ask for it. Demand it. Just like we demand our reformasi."

What a passionate old man, I thought.

The gentleman took a deep breath.
"It's nice to dream, isn't it. " He chuckles.

"Yes sir. It is."

Then a stewardess came with a trolley, waking both of us from our dream.

"Chicken or fish, sir? ... And what would you like to drink?"

Thursday, July 09, 2009

To be continued

That seems to be the theme these days, since it is 'almost' certain that SBY will keep his job for another term.

It would be an understatement if we say we are not touched by the whole democratic process. Watching people going to the voting booth, having their say, and see for themselves how their votes actually matter.

You see, we here at the IA compound are not young (average age of 54) and we grew old under dictatorship. We never thought we would be alive to experience this:
Indonesia, directly electing its leader. Twice! Yet although we have only had done it twice, the whole process was so natural like we have done it hundreds of times.

You did it, Indonesia. Oh yes you did.

Sure it is not perfect (even America with its hundreds of years of democracy still has problem in election), but hey: the vote-counts are credible and the election commission although silly at times is still a trusted institution.
To put into perspective of how important this is, consider this: Iranians recently are going to the street in great numbers, taking the risk of beating, arrests, even getting killed, because the lack of these.

Credibility. Oh yes. Indonesia got it.

And one more thing: George Bush once said "If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier" [1].

Not his best quote, but can help put one more thing into perspective. Yes, let's not forget that in all three tickets in this presidential race, there are three generals in all of them.

We, who grew up under military rule, once thought:
"Gee, if they want, they can just take the power, Thailand style..."
(That would be a nightmare, wouldn't it? Yet it happened in Thailand after they enjoyed a period of democracy [2]).

So the fact that the generals prefer to go through the democratic channel to gain power -- despite the risk of losing -- is a good thing.

So far so good. So what's next?

SBY promised not only to continue, but to do better, and with such big mandate, we surely hope he will be more aggressive this time around.

Other than that, we still think political parties need a growing up to do. You see, the problem is -- at least in our point of view -- political parties in Indonesia are not created to fight for certain set of principles or idealism. In America there are Democratic and Republican party. In England Labour and Conservative. Regardless who their leaders are, they do have different set of principles between one another.

In our country, political party is a vehicle: When Amien Rais wanted to run for presidency, he created a party. When SBY wanted to run, he created a party. Same with Wiranto. Same with Prabowo. A party is like a car: you get one when you need to go from point A to point B.

That brings us to the question: Other than fighting to get their man into office, what do political parties do? What are they fighting for? What set them apart? We don't know (yet). We don't even know why we have so many parties when despite different flags and t-shirt colors, they all talk the same.

It's shouldn't be this way beause we are not the same and we don't have to have the same idealism and principles in order to be a great country.

Even one question of "should the government stop people from smoking?" can stir an endless debate about principle among us here.

"That's a personal preference. We don't want a nanny state. Government should stay away".
"Oh shut up. Government should protect its people from harm. Cancer included."
"Oh really? What's next? Government go after you for not looking left and right before you cross the street?"

We do have differences and we do have different views and principles on how to make this country great. Political parties need to do some soul searching and find what values and what principles that drive them and set them apart.

That if they don't want to be just a vehicle. Taken for a ride the whole time.


[1] CNN - Transition of Power: President-Elect Bush Meets With Congressional Leaders on Capitol Hill

[2] New York Times - Thailand