From The Jakarta Post

SBY starts war on corrupt immigration

Corruption at the Directorate General of Immigration has reached Rp 1 trillion (US$102 million) per annum, the country's top officials say, including some Rp 200 billion from departure tax at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport.

The situation at the directorate general, which is under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, has come under scrutiny since President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono declared a national battle against corruption, which not only causes financial losses to the state but damages the country's image.

"Irregularities at immigration offices are getting more serious, which is worrisome. It's time for us to reform the offices' management and supervision," he said after a limited Cabinet meeting on the performance of immigration offices.

"I have received reports that immigration offices are not functioning properly. Officials have scared away foreign visitors who want to do business here or have a vacation here," he added.

Corruption at immigration offices comes in various forms including the embezzlement of departure tax together with tax officials, the collection of illegal fees from passport and visa applicants and a "service fee" for the issuance of fake passports and the revocation of travel bans.

Minister of Finance Sri Mulyani Indrawati said "leakage" in the collection of departure tax at the Soekarno-Hatta airport alone could reach Rp 200 billion annually, from the estimated collection of Rp 1.2 trillion.

It is a worrying figure, largely brought about by the misuse of the free departure-tax facility, she said.

At present, 50 categories of travelers are exempted from paying departure tax, including those on sports, cultural or religious assignments or those traveling for trade or export exhibitions or promotional activities.

Travelers outside these categories -- each of whom is supposedly charged Rp 1 million -- can "qualify for the facility" through paying less money to immigration officials in return for a receipt declaring they are exempted from paying departure tax as they fall into one of the 50 categories.

During his visit to Kuala Lumpur last week, Susilo asked Coordinating Minister for the Economy Boediono to review the policy, which has been implemented since the 1980s, if it is shown to be deterring Indonesians from traveling abroad.

The payment is actually an advance on income tax, and can thus be deducted from tax bills. But the government is apparently making a significant profit from the exit tax, since most Indonesians, for one reason or another, do not pay income taxes, and thus do not claim back these payments.

At the Cabinet meeting, Susilo ordered National Police chief Gen. Sutanto, Attorney General Abdulrahman Saleh and related ministers to thoroughly inspect immigration offices and prosecute unscrupulous officials.

Susilo also called for restructuring in immigration offices' management and supervision and an upgrade in the immigration system to improve public services, particularly for foreign visitors.

"The restructuring will help create 'clean', accountable and professional immigration officials. They are needed to stop transnational crime and to boost state revenues from departure tax," he said.

One step ahead of the President's call, the Jakarta Police arrested six people over the weekend -- three immigration officials, two tax officials and one scalper -- suspected of having embezzled departure tax.

City Police special crimes unit deputy chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Ike Edwin said the police were questioning the suspects in a bid to get to other syndicate members.

"We hope we can break up the whole syndicate soon. We are still looking at other people involved in the case, including agents for migrant workers," he said.

The six suspects are accused of have embezzled exit tax from thousands of migrant workers who departed the country over the last few years.
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