National News - August 09, 2007

Tony Hotland, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A police officer pulls over a motorist and asks him to show his driver's license and his vehicle's documents. Upon receiving the documents, the police walks away from the scene.

The motorist then stops his vehicle and follows the officer. A brief conversation ensues, with the police insisting the motorist has violated the traffic regulation and has to be booked.

Often he also tells the motorist that his license and vehicle documents will be seized.

Another conversation follows, with the motorist taking out his wallet. Shortly afterward, the two shake hands and the motorist gets back his license and vehicle documents.

This scenario is still very common in Jakarta.

Virtually all motorists can say they have had to pay some kind of kickback after violating a traffic rule -- they pay the money to avoid the promised red-tape at the nearest precinct.

The bribe is sometimes as low as Rp 5,000 (55 U.S. cents), but that's not the point.

It's been 61 years since the police force was formed in 1946 and it's been nine years since Soeharto's tyranny in 1998 -- but still the nation's police are described as despotic.

And this is despite the force having seen a series of internal reforms.

A nationwide survey carried out in May by two institutes suggested the police force's despotic attitude and the illegal fees they collect on the street remain a huge headache for motorists.

But still the police are praised for sustaining national security.

The survey was carried out by Indo Barometer and ProPatria Institute and involved 1,200 adults across 33 provinces. It used a questionnaire with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.

More than 45 percent of the respondents said the police needed to berate "ill-behaved" officers and 39 percent said the illegal fees the public often paid to officers must be stopped.

But around one-third of the respondents said a functioning reward and punishment system would address these issues.

Coordinator of the National Police chief's staff, Insp. Gen. Winarto, said Tuesday the negative culture within the police force must be addressed, particularly because Indonesia was a young democracy.

"Reforming such culture (goes hand in hand) with an improvement of welfare and comprehensive training for new officers," Winarto told a discussion on police reform.

Low-ranking officers in Indonesia get a monthly basic salary of Rp 793,500 (US$88), while those in the highest bracket get Rp 2,512,800 per month.

Fajrul Falaakh, a member of the National Law Commission, said the police force's failure to deliver their service to the public was a sign they did not apply democratic values to their role.

"But failure to treat the police fairly as citizens, which includes their salary and the conditions in which they must work, is also a show of poor democratic policing," said the Gadjah Mada University lecturer.

Some 20 percent of the surveyed respondents also said the police should have an internal supervision mechanism to hold them accountable.

Such a mechanism was realized with the creation of the National Police Commission in 2005, but critics said it does not have the authority it needs. They said it needed the kind of power the Judicial Commission enjoys.

The Police Commission is chaired by the Coordinating Minister of Politics, Legal and Security Affairs and consists of the Home Affairs Minister, the Justice and Human Rights Minister and six other independent members.

The commission is designed to help the President steer the policies of the force, to help select or dismiss the police chief and to receive public complaints.

The Commission's secretary, Insp. Gen. Ronny Lihawa, said the commission should restore public trust in the police's political neutrality and accountability.

But he said only 47 out of 217 complaints filed by the public since December 2006 had been resolved by the police.

University lecturer Fajrul said an external overseeing body was a prerequisite to ensure full supervision of the police's vast authority.

The police force's Winarto said they were making efforts to change the mindset of new officers, with a curriculum highlighting respect for human rights.

He also said a ratio of one policeman to every 500 civilians would help deliver a quicker service.

Perhaps when all of these measures have been put in place, motorists can rest assured they'll be able to leave their money in their wallets when they're next pulled over by a policeman.
"People say funny things......."

Peter Kay