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Indonesia Rule of Law Program
MCC Indonesian Control of Corruption Project

By Hon. Joseph P. Nadeau

My fourth trip to Jakarta to continue training judges on the Code of Conduct began April 8. We conducted a program for more than 80 the country’s regional appellate court chief judges and left April 27 to train trial and appellate judges in their regions. I will return to New Hampshire May 25. So it will be flights and buses to the places marked with green and red dots on the attached map. From Surabaya (2nd Largest City) in South Java to Medan in Sumatra with training in between in Yogyakarta, Semarang, Bandung and Serang.

The leaders here have been slow to recognize (or maybe admit) what activity constitutes conflict of interest and how blending personal benefit with public business creates distrust and cynicism. It is reported that bribery ranges from national figures to petty bureaucrats. There is an Indonesian Corruption Commission very determined to attack corruption aggressively and broadly. The media report daily of arrests and charges of corruption against government officials. A Member of Parliament was arrested recently while accepting a bribe at the hotel where I am staying.

I think this country has the prospect of a bright future. It is the third largest democracy and has the fourth largest population in the world. It is made up of 17,000 islands stretching the distance of Boston to Los Angeles. Business, banking and agriculture are thriving and there is great interest here from all the major countries. Indonesia is very diverse ethnically and religiously. Although 90% Muslim, (Indonesia, remember, is the country with the largest Muslim population; Asian not Arabic) there is broad tolerance of the other major religions, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity.

Recently, however, a governmental agency called "The Coordinating Board for Monitoring Mystical Beliefs in Society," made up of senior officials from the Attorney General's office, The Religious Affairs Ministry, the Home Ministry and the National Police, issued a recommendation that a "deviant" Islamic sect be banned. The recommendation was followed by an announcement from the government that the sect would be banned. The sect has been in existence since the early 1900s and follows the Koran but not all the beliefs and practices of mainstream Islam.

Editorials critical of the government and denouncing its decision as against democratic principles and the Indonesian Constitution, were immediate--once again convincing me that freedom of the press, even if not always responsibly exercised, is absolutely essential to a meaningful democracy. In addition, there have been heated protests in the streets of Jakarta; all of which convince me that the government will reverse the decision. Also, in April a man claiming to be a Muslim prophet was sentenced to four years in prison for heresy to Islam. So democratic principles are tested regularly.

In spite of all the challenges, the people here are really wonderful. They are mild mannered, deferential and peaceful. I have never seen a public outburst; even parents with unruly children control them without raising their voices. Being argumentative or contentious is just not acceptable. They love individual Americans even as they seem to wait with high anticipation for a new U.S. administration. Obviously the American foreign policy in Iraq is not popular but the people are thankful for our aid efforts and our support for their new institutions. Frankly, in my years of working in countries throughout the world I have always found that people are respectful and eager to interact even if they do not like their own government or the government of others. I believe we can accomplish a lot by working person to person without worrying about political ideologies. And this MCC USAID project is a good example of that philosophy.

Changes in attitude and conduct will not come overnight, but we do have to remember that our early years were tumultuous and our democratic experiment is still unfolding. I remain optimistic that conduct will eventually change but corruption has been entrenched at many levels for a long time. So we should understand that it will probably take a generation to see a significant difference. I do believe, though, that judges and the judiciary will be the first ones to change the culture.

I enjoy this judicial work because I believe the judges are the key to successful development of an emerging democracy. A trusted court system is the best way to gain public respect for the government and for the principles of democracy. Training judges is the best place to begin. They can learn that it is not necessary or appropriate to determine public policy or support political views in the decision making process. They really understand the role of judges in protecting individual rights even if that is a relatively new concept.

International professionals impress upon judges the idea that perception of fairness and impartiality is as important as the reality. We can help them see that doing the right thing for the right reasons in the right way is a goal that can be achieved without concern for political agendas or personal benefit. For now that may be the hardest lesson for a ten year old democracy to learn.

It is, however, a lesson worth trying to teach.

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