Anti-Corruption, Exploring Indonesia

Jodi Fischer previously worked for Chemonics International based in Washington, DC and is now an international development consultant, working primarily with the Marshall Direct Fund and Roaring Fork Business Resource Center. She has worked and lived in the Middle East, South America, and Southeast Asia, working on global health, youth livelihood, and capacity building projects.

What should have been a 24 hour, 3 leg excursion from DC to Jakarta turned into a 35 hour, 5 leg adventure. I'll spare you the minute details... Let's just say it involved a passenger medical emergency, re-routing over the Pacific Ocean, missed connections, a barfing baby, inadequately cleaning off the aftermath in the tiny confines of an airline bathroom, and very little sleep. When I finally arrived into Jakarta, which has a 12 hour time difference, I was delirious. Breathing in the thick, smoggy, humid air, I watched the traffic weaving through the rain and smiled at the familiar sight of 3-4 people per moped.  Despite having traveled previously for DC-based government contractor Chemonics International, I was still surprised by the extravagance of the hotel accommodations. All of my work prior to working with organizations in Washington was with non-profits and small businesses where pennies always needed pinching. My conscious over staying at the Ritz was slightly solaced knowing tax payer dollars weren't paying full price with negotiated government rates, and that having access to reliable internet and a good night of sleep were important to maximizing the value of my limited time.

The mission in Jakarta wasn't very glorious - I was tasked with doing a preliminary desk audit and pre-closeout mobilization plan for the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) funded, USAID operated, two year, $24 million Indonesia Control of Corruption Project (ICCP). Fortunately the Chemonics home office team allowed me to augment my responsibilities by facilitating a training session.  Due to the nature of the project and need for quality photographs to document the progress, successes, and lessons learned, I offered to put my freelance photography skills to the test and provide the field office staff tips, instruction on how to use the high-end office camera, and marketing ideas going forward.

On staff drivers took us to/from the hotel and office every day. Like everyone, we got full blown security inspections. Guards used mirrors to search the underbellies of vehicles and metal detectors were everywhere. Indonesia, as you may know, is home to centuries of conflict. A central government system in a country that comprises over 17,000 islands (the world's largest archipelago) with over 237 million people is quite difficult to maintain. It's the most populous Muslim-majority nation and fourth most populous country. Ethnic, religious, and linguistic differences in combination with natural disasters, economic changes, separatism, democratization, and corruption have made uniting this geographically beautiful country difficult.

Corruption in Indonesia has been monitored by the international community for quite some time and any organization hoping to address issues relating to it faces much frustration. Indonesia is a MCC Threshold country which means that it is on the verge of receiving direct MCC funding, but has to meet certain indicators before they are qualified to gain access. Despite the best of intentions, I believe this is a recipe for disaster. Once you introduce financial incentives, effecting sustainable reform becomes difficult. Chemonics is doing the best they can by working with several counterpart agencies to improve the integrity, competence, and productivity of court officials. They are addressing infrastructure issues to enhance the investigative, communications, and outreach capacities of the government. Activities include the promotion of anti-money laundering through authorized money changers, improving reporting, and developing the government's e-procurement system with five new regional technology centers open and available to the public to increase public awareness and transparency.

In anticipation of the work in Indonesia I took a free Bahasa course through the Indonesian embassy in DC. Bahasa is a modern language imposed after WWII as the official national language, designed to unify the linguistic differences of the archipelago. It's amazingly easy to learn because there is no verb tense distinction, plurals, participles, or gender distinction for third person pronouns.  I was excited to flex my Bahasa skills, but most of my interactions were with field office and hotel staff whose English exceeded my Bahasa. As a result, I looked for excuses to get into taxis and explore Jakarta. If you can get past the horrendous traffic, pollution, and malls Jakarta has a lot to offer. The harbor, fish market, previous Dutch quarter, and national museum are amazing. Due to the Chinese influence dim sum restaurants are aplenty and worth seeking out if you're into that kind of thing. 

The project activities went smoothly. Slowly but surely Chemonics and USAID are seeing positive changes. Two years is a very short time frame to get sustainable results when addressing issues of corruption. Hopefully the partnerships, work with local populations, and tools and resources being provided will endure beyond the scope of the project and assist in building a more transparent and just system.

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