Graft and the hajj - Jakarta on the spot
By Donald Greenlees International Herald Tribune

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 12, 2006
JAKARTA Every year, more than 200,000 Indonesian Muslims join the pilgrimage to Mecca, Islam's most holy site. This mass movement of people, the biggest annual airlift in the world, is a sacred once-in-a-lifetime duty of all Muslims who are physically and financially able.

It is also a $575 million-a-year business for the Indonesian government, riddled with corruption.

Just how deep, and high, corruption has snaked into the administration of the annual hajj was a matter of gossip and speculation for the most part until the emergence of a tape-recorded conversation in late 2003 produced the kind of evidence that should have been hard to ignore.

Imam Budihardjo, the manager of a Jakarta travel agency, secretly captured Sayid Alwi Fahmi, the brother of the minister for religion then, appearing to ask for a kickback of 400 million rupiah, or $44,000 at current exchange rates, over the awarding of a catering contract for hajj pilgrims.

The request for money was unmistakably clear on the recording, now in the hands of anti-corruption advocates in Jakarta. The tape captures Fahmi at one point saying the money would pay "for the Ramadan bonus at the minister's house."

Budihardjo said in an interview: "Until that time, there was never any solid evidence of the corruption in the department of religion. It was like a ghost. You heard about it, but you didn't see it."

As for his reward as a whistle- blower, Budihardjo said he was blacklisted by the travel industry, and he now teaches Arab history and literature at a provincial university.

At the time, the police went through the motions of investigation, questioning Fahmi and his brother, Said Agil Husin al-Munawar, the religious affairs minister. No charges were filed, even though anti-corruption advocates had pressed the police and the government of President Megawati Sukarnoputri to take action.

It was not until the election of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as president in 2002, and the replacement of Munawar, that an Indonesian court tried and convicted him for corruption in the administration of the hajj program. In February, Munawar was sentenced to five years in prison and was ordered to repay 2 billion rupiah in embezzled funds. Taufiq Kamil, the ministry's former director general of Islamic guidance and hajj affairs, was sentenced to four years in prison.

But the prosecution of the former minister was only a modest victory over corruption. Evidence gathered by prosecutors and the police showed that the beneficiaries of Munawar's corrupt largess were spread far and wide. It also pointed to the deep roots of corruption in the bureaucracy that analysts say will not be removed by high-profile convictions, no matter how significant.

Despite what is commonly viewed as a new climate of intolerance of corruption in Indonesia, law enforcement agencies, including a two-year-old anti- corruption commission, lack the resources to pursue more than a handful of potential investigations. This sometimes leaves an absence of follow-up to high-profile cases. Analysts say the political will evident in prosecutions of some current and former officials has yet to produce the necessary change to bureaucratic culture or administration.

"Things are happening," said Staffan Synnerstrom, governance adviser with the Asian Development Bank mission in Jakarta. "But a few high-profile cases will not change the culture. You need to work on the system and the behavior of the people."

The extent of corruption uncovered by prosecutors within the hajj program suggests that neither the system nor personal behavior will be easy to alter.

Anti-corruption advocates complain that there has been no legal action taken against numerous officials and public figures alleged in a prosecutors' indictment to have received funds from the hajj program, reducing the corrective potential of the case. They also say change in how the hajj works has so far been limited to some tinkering under the direction of a new minister.

One sign of the intractable nature of the problem is that Fahmi continues to be employed by the Religion Ministry more than two years after the emergence of the tape recording of his request for a bribe. A spokesman for the department, Soefyanto, who like many Indonesians uses only one name, said Fahmi had received a "warning."

"I keep an eye on him," Soefyanto said.

When asked about the tape, Fahmi said it had been "fabricated."

But the 400 million rupiah mentioned in the tape was a small fraction of the financial abuse within the ministry identified in the case eventually brought against his older brother, the minister. An indictment filed in the Central Jakarta District Court claimed that the equivalent of about $70 million in hajj funds had been misused over a four-year period. Munawar and other senior staff members disbursed to themselves the equivalent of millions of dollars in allowances and lavished gifts and travel on dozens of members of Parliament and their families, the indictment said.

One of the most troubling discoveries for prosecutors from a special anti-corruption team set up within the attorney general's office was that annual bribes had been paid out to state auditors to validate the ministry's books.

Hendarman Supandji, the special prosecutor for corruption, who was appointed by the president in May 2005, took on corruption in the hajj program and the Ministry of Religion as one of his unit's first investigations. Supandji said Taufiq Kamil, the ministry's convicted director general of hajj affairs, had disbursed 3 billion to 4 billion rupiah in one year to four auditors with the minister's knowledge. Supandji's investigation uncovered a litany of other abuses in the hajj. In an interview, he cited one instance in which officials tasked with taking out insurance policies for hajj pilgrims embezzled the money allocated for the insurance policies.

Although Supandji said he did plan legal action against other less senior officials connected with hajj corruption, including a member of Parliament, the mandate he had received from the president was to prosecute high-ranking corrupt officials to set an example to others. He has been given 10 major cases of corruption in state institutions to resolve in two years. And he has only 15 prosecutors and 15 police investigators attached to his team with which to do the job.

"I don't have the resources," he said. "I have to go after the big fish."

The Corruption Eradication Commission, set up at the end of 2003, faces the same obstacles. It has 75 investigators and brings its cases before a corruption court that so far has only one panel of five judges. In 2005, the commission investigated 21 cases and completed 5 prosecutions.

In Hong Kong, by comparison, the Independent Commission Against Corruption investigated 200 cases in its first year of operation in 1974. This commission, which is credited with significantly reducing corruption in Hong Kong, has 900 investigators in a population of five million, compared with Indonesia's population of 220 million.

Erry Riyana Hardjapamekas, vice chairman of the Indonesian commission, said it had sought to impose a dose of "shock therapy" on society by initially focusing on politically sensitive cases that offered the prospect of easy prosecution. He said enduring results in combating corruption would depend more on the success of the commission's mandate to develop corruption prevention strategies. This will take some years depending on the "political will and commitment" of successive governments, he said.

But anti-corruption advocates say the increased determination to fight corruption evident since the election of Yudhoyono in 2004 has yet to address one of the main weaknesses of the justice system: the lack of impartiality.

Todung Mulya Lubis, a lawyer and chairman of Transparency International's Indonesia office, said the prosecution of a former minister over hajj corruption was typical. Munawar's sentencing sent a valuable signal that corruption was not tolerated. Yet there has been no legal action against current officials, including 36 members of Parliament's religious affairs committee who received gifts and travel from misused hajj funds.

"The prosecutor read a lot of names of people who received funds, yet only two or three people were questioned, investigated and brought to court," Lubis said. "Where are the others?"

Other critics say the prosecution of the former minister and his director general of hajj affairs highlights both the successes and failures of the government's anti-corruption efforts.

Several consumer and anti-corruption advocates set up the Coalition to Reform the Hajj Program in 2004 after the revelations about kickbacks contained in Budihardjo's tape.

But the group has complained that the will to prosecute corrupt officials has not translated into the will to carry out fundamental change in the hajj program. The new religious affairs minister has limited his attempts at a clean up to issuing an edict stating that public officials and their families should no longer be permitted to make the hajj at the expense of the state.

"The hajj program is a public service, and it is one of the only public service areas still being handled by the government," said As'ad Nugroho, a founder of the group. "Others have been handed over to state-owned or private companies. If the minister wants, he can do something about it."


JAKARTA Every year, more than 200,000 Indonesian Muslims join the pilgrimage to Mecca, Islam's most holy site. This mass movement of people, the biggest annual airlift in the world, is a sacred once-in-a-lifetime duty of all Muslims who are physically and financially able.

It is also a $575 million-a-year business for the Indonesian government, riddled with corruption.

Just how deep, and high, corruption has snaked into the administration of the annual hajj was a matter of gossip and speculation for the most part until the emergence of a tape-recorded conversation in late 2003 produced the kind of evidence that should have been hard to ignore.

Imam Budihardjo, the manager of a Jakarta travel agency, secretly captured Sayid Alwi Fahmi, the brother of the minister for religion then, appearing to ask for a kickback of 400 million rupiah, or $44,000 at current exchange rates, over the awarding of a catering contract for hajj pilgrims.

The request for money was unmistakably clear on the recording, now in the hands of anti-corruption advocates in Jakarta. The tape captures Fahmi at one point saying the money would pay "for the Ramadan bonus at the minister's house."

Budihardjo said in an interview: "Until that time, there was never any solid evidence of the corruption in the department of religion. It was like a ghost. You heard about it, but you didn't see it."

As for his reward as a whistle- blower, Budihardjo said he was blacklisted by the travel industry, and he now teaches Arab history and literature at a provincial university.

At the time, the police went through the motions of investigation, questioning Fahmi and his brother, Said Agil Husin al-Munawar, the religious affairs minister. No charges were filed, even though anti-corruption advocates had pressed the police and the government of President Megawati Sukarnoputri to take action.

It was not until the election of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as president in 2002, and the replacement of Munawar, that an Indonesian court tried and convicted him for corruption in the administration of the hajj program. In February, Munawar was sentenced to five years in prison and was ordered to repay 2 billion rupiah in embezzled funds. Taufiq Kamil, the ministry's former director general of Islamic guidance and hajj affairs, was sentenced to four years in prison.

But the prosecution of the former minister was only a modest victory over corruption. Evidence gathered by prosecutors and the police showed that the beneficiaries of Munawar's corrupt largess were spread far and wide. It also pointed to the deep roots of corruption in the bureaucracy that analysts say will not be removed by high-profile convictions, no matter how significant.

Despite what is commonly viewed as a new climate of intolerance of corruption in Indonesia, law enforcement agencies, including a two-year-old anti- corruption commission, lack the resources to pursue more than a handful of potential investigations. This sometimes leaves an absence of follow-up to high-profile cases. Analysts say the political will evident in prosecutions of some current and former officials has yet to produce the necessary change to bureaucratic culture or administration.

"Things are happening," said Staffan Synnerstrom, governance adviser with the Asian Development Bank mission in Jakarta. "But a few high-profile cases will not change the culture. You need to work on the system and the behavior of the people."

The extent of corruption uncovered by prosecutors within the hajj program suggests that neither the system nor personal behavior will be easy to alter.

Anti-corruption advocates complain that there has been no legal action taken against numerous officials and public figures alleged in a prosecutors' indictment to have received funds from the hajj program, reducing the corrective potential of the case. They also say change in how the hajj works has so far been limited to some tinkering under the direction of a new minister.

One sign of the intractable nature of the problem is that Fahmi continues to be employed by the Religion Ministry more than two years after the emergence of the tape recording of his request for a bribe. A spokesman for the department, Soefyanto, who like many Indonesians uses only one name, said Fahmi had received a "warning."

"I keep an eye on him," Soefyanto said.

When asked about the tape, Fahmi said it had been "fabricated."

But the 400 million rupiah mentioned in the tape was a small fraction of the financial abuse within the ministry identified in the case eventually brought against his older brother, the minister. An indictment filed in the Central Jakarta District Court claimed that the equivalent of about $70 million in hajj funds had been misused over a four-year period. Munawar and other senior staff members disbursed to themselves the equivalent of millions of dollars in allowances and lavished gifts and travel on dozens of members of Parliament and their families, the indictment said.

One of the most troubling discoveries for prosecutors from a special anti-corruption team set up within the attorney general's office was that annual bribes had been paid out to state auditors to validate the ministry's books.

Hendarman Supandji, the special prosecutor for corruption, who was appointed by the president in May 2005, took on corruption in the hajj program and the Ministry of Religion as one of his unit's first investigations. Supandji said Taufiq Kamil, the ministry's convicted director general of hajj affairs, had disbursed 3 billion to 4 billion rupiah in one year to four auditors with the minister's knowledge. Supandji's investigation uncovered a litany of other abuses in the hajj. In an interview, he cited one instance in which officials tasked with taking out insurance policies for hajj pilgrims embezzled the money allocated for the insurance policies.

Although Supandji said he did plan legal action against other less senior officials connected with hajj corruption, including a member of Parliament, the mandate he had received from the president was to prosecute high-ranking corrupt officials to set an example to others. He has been given 10 major cases of corruption in state institutions to resolve in two years. And he has only 15 prosecutors and 15 police investigators attached to his team with which to do the job.

"I don't have the resources," he said. "I have to go after the big fish."

The Corruption Eradication Commission, set up at the end of 2003, faces the same obstacles. It has 75 investigators and brings its cases before a corruption court that so far has only one panel of five judges. In 2005, the commission investigated 21 cases and completed 5 prosecutions.

In Hong Kong, by comparison, the Independent Commission Against Corruption investigated 200 cases in its first year of operation in 1974. This commission, which is credited with significantly reducing corruption in Hong Kong, has 900 investigators in a population of five million, compared with Indonesia's population of 220 million.

Erry Riyana Hardjapamekas, vice chairman of the Indonesian commission, said it had sought to impose a dose of "shock therapy" on society by initially focusing on politically sensitive cases that offered the prospect of easy prosecution. He said enduring results in combating corruption would depend more on the success of the commission's mandate to develop corruption prevention strategies. This will take some years depending on the "political will and commitment" of successive governments, he said.

But anti-corruption advocates say the increased determination to fight corruption evident since the election of Yudhoyono in 2004 has yet to address one of the main weaknesses of the justice system: the lack of impartiality.

Todung Mulya Lubis, a lawyer and chairman of Transparency International's Indonesia office, said the prosecution of a former minister over hajj corruption was typical. Munawar's sentencing sent a valuable signal that corruption was not tolerated. Yet there has been no legal action against current officials, including 36 members of Parliament's religious affairs committee who received gifts and travel from misused hajj funds.

"The prosecutor read a lot of names of people who received funds, yet only two or three people were questioned, investigated and brought to court," Lubis said. "Where are the others?"

Other critics say the prosecution of the former minister and his director general of hajj affairs highlights both the successes and failures of the government's anti-corruption efforts.

Several consumer and anti-corruption advocates set up the Coalition to Reform the Hajj Program in 2004 after the revelations about kickbacks contained in Budihardjo's tape.

But the group has complained that the will to prosecute corrupt officials has not translated into the will to carry out fundamental change in the hajj program. The new religious affairs minister has limited his attempts at a clean up to issuing an edict stating that public officials and their families should no longer be permitted to make the hajj at the expense of the state.

"The hajj program is a public service, and it is one of the only public service areas still being handled by the government," said As'ad Nugroho, a founder of the group. "Others have been handed over to state-owned or private companies. If the minister wants, he can do something about it."
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