Will Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission Be Paralyzed During the Term of President Jokowi?

By Budiman Tanuredjo, Kompas daily,  4 July 2017

The actions of the Indonesian House of Representatives Committee of Inquiry into the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) are becoming increasingly absurd. The Inquiry Committee is to go on safari to Pondok Bambu and Sukamiskin prisons to meet inmates convicted of corruption offences. It is hoped the Inquiry Committee will find information on how the corruption convicts were treated inappropriately by the Commission.

“We want to look for information about anything they have felt while they were witnesses, suspects and prisoners convicted in corruption cases,” said Deputy Chairman of the Inquiry Committee Rep. Risa Mariska (PDIP-West Java), House member for the electoral district covering the towns of Bogor and Bekasi. She said the Inquiry Committee has received information there was improper treatment when the suspects were interviewed by the Corruption Eradication Commission.

Doubtless the Inquiry Committee will not have any trouble meeting any number of corruption convicts. Take for instance former Chief Justice of Indonesia’s Constitutional Court Akil Mochtar, former Democrat Party Representative and party treasurer Muhammad Nazaruddin, former Democrat Party Representative and party secretary-general Anas Urbaningrum, former Democrat Party Representative Angelina Sondakh, former Banten province Governor Atut Chosiyah, along with any number of other names. From them, one can guess, will emerge any amount of ammunition to finish off the Commission as an ad hoc institution ending in the Commission being disbanded or neutered.

Parahyangan University criminal law lecturer Agustinus Pohan views the effort of the Inquiry Committee as an attempt by politicians to take revenge on the Commission. “The fight against corruption is now dealing with white-collar plunderers who want to prove their power to pay back,” Pohan said.

Earlier, Deputy Chairman of the House Inquiry Committee into the Corruption Eradication Commission Rep. Taufiqulhadi (Nasdem-East Java) planned to invite constitutional law experts to justify the legality of the Inquiry. “Some say this inquiry is not appropriate. Different opinions are all right but we hope it can be kept balanced,” said the National Democratic Party politician, as quoted by Kompas daily on 30 June 2017.

The action of the Inquiry Committee in inviting constitutional law experts Professor Dr Yusril Ihza Mahendra and Professor Jimly Asshiddiqie will be a priority before it calls Rep. Miryam S Haryani (Hanura-West Java) who has been detained by the Commission. Miryam was declared a suspect by the Commission over allegations of providing false information. Her case is to go to trial soon.

The origins of the House Inquiry Committee started when the Commission leadership rejected a request from House of Representatives Commission III to make public the recording of the examination of Miryam Haryani by Commission investigators. The Commission refused to make the recording public without a trial. Up until now, recordings resulting from wiretaps have always been made public in trial hearings. Previously as a witness appearing before the Criminal Corruption Court, Miryam retracted part of her testimony contained in a brief of evidence giving as the reason that she had been coerced by Commission investigators.

In response to the retraction of her testimony in the brief of evidence, senior Commission investigator Novel Baswedan was examined as a witness in the trial. Novel testified there had been no intimidation or coercion. Novel went so far as to claim Miryam had been influenced by House of Representatives colleagues to retract the testimony in the brief of evidence. Novel mentioned several names including Rep. Bambang Soesatyo (Golkar-Central Java) and Rep. Masinton Pasaribu (PDIP-Jakarta) as those who had influenced Miryam. She denied ever having referred to their names. From this, House Commission III asked the Corruption Eradication Commission to make the recording public which the Commission refused to do.

Whether it is related or not is not known, but Novel Baswedan was attacked with acid by an unknown assailant several days after testifying. His eyesight was damaged. He was taken to hospital and is still receiving ongoing treatment. Police are still investigating the case but so far the person who sprayed Novel with acid has not been identified.

After undergoing further questioning at the Commission’s Jakarta offices on Wednesday 21 June, Hanura Party politician Rep. Miryam S Haryani’s (Hanura-West Java) brief of evidence was declared complete, or Form 21 was issued, and ready for trial in relation to the case of providing false testimony in the electronic identity card implementation corruption trial.

Strong resistance

The House of Representatives Inquiry Committee into the Commission seems to need to look for political support from constitutional law experts. Earlier 357 academics from various universities and a range of disciplines issued a “petition” rejecting the House Inquiry Committee into the Commission on a number of grounds. The 357 academics included Professor Dr Mahfud MD, Professor Dr Denny Indrayana, Professor Dr Rhenald Kasali and many other prominent academics.

Inviting experts in constitutional law or inviting anyone else is obviously perfectly legitimate. The Inquiry Committee has indeed been given legislative authority to do that. No one is denying that the House of Representatives has the right of inquiry, the right of interpellation and the right to express opinions. But what actually has become an issue is whether it is appropriate for the House to exercise the right of inquiry for the Corruption Eradication Commission. The Commission is a law enforcement agency and an independent institution, not part of the government. Is the action of the House of Representatives in exercising the right of inquiry in line with the will of the people it represents?

Resistance to the use of the House of Representatives’ right of inquiry for the Commission indeed has been strong. The open letter of 357 academics across numerous universities and disciplines is one form of this. These academics have very clearly captured the intention of the House of Representatives in using the right of inquiry as to weaken the Corruption Eradication Commission. The academics have rejected the use of the House’s right of inquiry for the Commission.

Presently, the Commission is investigating a case of alleged corruption involving the procurement of an electronic national identity card involving a number of House members, including House Speaker Rep. Setya Novanto (Golkar-East Nusa Tenggara) who has been banned from travelling overseas. The alleged loss to the public revenue is substantial.

A Kompas daily poll of Monday 8 May 2017 also contained the same message. As many as 58.9 percent of respondents felt the House decision to use the right of inquiry did not represent the interests of the community. While those who thought that it did represent the interests of the community amounted to 35.6 percent. The majority of respondents (72.4 percent) believed the use of the House right of inquiry into the Commission was related to the Commission’s investigation into the electronic identity card corruption case.

In the virtual world, one internet user, Virgo Sulianti Gohardi, garnered support for a petition against the right of inquiry on the site Change.org. As of midday Friday 30 May 2017, the petition had been signed by 44,350 people. Virgo targeted the petition to be signed by 50,000 people.

In terms of representation theory, the formation of the House of Representative Inquiry Committee for the Commission really does not have social legitimacy or has a very low level of representation. In addition, the Democrat Party (PD) House faction, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) House faction, and the National Awakening Party (PKB) House faction have refused to join the Inquiry Committee.

“The Democrats are not responsible for anything in the Inquiry Committee,” said House Deputy Speaker from the Democrat Party Rep. Agus Hermanto (DP-Central Java) at the congress building while stressing that the Democrat Party does not agree with the Inquiry Committee for the Commission.

“We reject the weakening of the Corruption Eradication Commission through the inquiry. The Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) was being consistent by not sending any members, but the PKS is still critical of the Commission,” said Head of the PKS Advisory Council Rep. Hidayat Nur Wahid (PKS-Jakarta). National Awakening Party (PKB) party Chairman Rep. Muhaimin Iskandar (PKB-East Java) was also of the same opinion, rejecting the use of a House inquiry into the Commission.

History of House inquiries

The right of inquiry is a constitutional right of the House of Representatives. No one can deny this. Article 20A Paragraph 2 of the 1945 Constitution explicitly regulates the right of inquiry. During the period of parliamentary government in the 1950s, the issue of a right of inquiry was also provided for by Public Law No. 6 of 1954 concerning the Right of Inquiry.

Over Indonesia’s history, the right of inquiry was first used in 1959, starting with a resolution by RM Margono Djojohadikusumo that the House of Representatives use its right of inquiry for the government’s efforts to obtain and how it had used foreign exchange. As recorded by Subardjo in The Use of the Right of Inquiry by the Indonesian House of Representatives in Overseeing Government Policy, an inquiry committee during Prime Minister Ali Sastroamidjojo’s first cabinet (30 July 1953-12 August 1955) was given six months. However, this was subsequently extended twice and the committee completed its work in March 1956 during the administration of Prime Minister Burhanuddin Harahap’s cabinet (12 August 1955-24 March 1956). Unfortunately, the fate of this inquiry committee and its results are unclear.

During the New Order period, the House of Representatives also used the right of inquiry several times in relation to the Pertamina case. However, efforts to shake the New Order government failed and were rejected by a plenary session of the House. The New Order government was strong enough to prevent the use of the right of inquiry which had been initiated by Santoso Danuseputro (PDI) and HM Syarakwie Basri (FPP).

In the Reformasi (reform) era, the right of inquiry has also been used. However, all the targets of the right of inquiry have been the government and this is consistent with the legislation.

Legislation on the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), House of Representatives (DPR), Regional Representatives Council (DPD) and regional legislative assemblies (DPRD) regulates the right of inquiry. Article 79 concerning the Rights of the House of Representatives provides among other things that the House of Representatives possesses the right of inquiry. The right of inquiry is the right of the House of Representatives to investigate the implementation of a law and/or government policy which is related to important, strategic matters and has a broad impact on the life of the community, nation and state which allegedly conflicts with the law. The legislation also provides that an inquiry committee has to be joined by all House of Representatives factions.

From a legality standpoint, the House of Representatives Inquiry Committee for the Commission also does not satisfy the aspect of  legality. Historically, the right of inquiry was given to the House of Representatives to investigate government policies which are in conflict with the law. Whether it was the New Order government or post-Reform governments, it has only been the current 2014-2019 House of Representatives which has innovated by using the right of inquiry for a national commission named the Corruption Eradication Commission. The Commission is not the government. The Commission is a law enforcement agency.

The law also requires that an inquiry committee draw members from all factions in the House of Representatives. Thus, when the Democrat Party (DP) House faction, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) House faction, and the National Awakening Party (PKB) House faction did not send any representatives, the jurisdictional legitimacy of the Inquiry Committee became problematic.

Members of the public in the Healthy Indonesia Movement unfurled posters and banners in front of the offices of the Corruption Eradication Commission in Jakarta on Thursday (15/6). Consisting of writers, artists and anti-corruption activists, the crowd stated that they rejected the inquiry being rolled out by the House of Representatives.

From the political perspective, those who initiated the use of the right of inquiry are overwhelmingly from the parties which support the government. There are the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) House faction which is the main supporter of the government of President Joko Widodo together with the National Democratic Party (Nasdem) and the People’s Conscience Party (Partai Hanura). This coalition of government supporters is actually the group which has been keen to propose the use of the House right of inquiry.

Then there is President Jokowi. He has been placed in the position of a hostage by party officials of his own PDIP. President Jokowi has said he can not interfere in the affairs of the House of Representatives because an inquiry is the business of the House. President Jokowi hopes only that the Commission is still  strengthened.

President Jokowi’s attitude towards the Commission feels different this time. When there was conflict between the Corruption Eradication Commission and Indonesia’s National Police, and the public supported the Commission, President Jokowi demonstrated a firm political stance in support of the Commission. Likewise, when the Commission investigator Novel Baswedan was to be arrested, President Jokowi called loudly for Novel not to be arrested. However, this time President Jokowi is like a hostage, allowing the Commission to be de-legitimized by a coalition of his own supporters in the House of Representatives.

Will the Corruption Eradication Commission be paralyzed during the term of President Joko Widodo? History will record the answer.


Source: Akankah KPK Lumpuh di Era Presiden Jokowi?

Sandalwood Fan

By Gerson Poyk

I live completely alone. But I can still live well enough since I don’t depend on anyone else. I can eat three meals a day. I can live in one rented room where there’s a couch, a bathroom and a kitchen. Outside at the back there’s a roof that extends a long way so the cooker, dish rack, bucket and bicycle can be stored there. There’s a second-hand television in my room which keeps me entertained every day.

If only my daughter hadn’t married a man who worked in the Middle East. Maybe I wouldn’t be living alone as she’d have been able to look after me, and my two grandchildren could have entertained me. But thankfully my daughter can help me out a little financially. For a long time since my wife passed away our situation has been pretty tight. My wife used to cook food out the back to sell for a little income. She’d cook spiced fish, uduk rice, chili soya bean, grilled fish, grilled eggplant and a chili sauce which I liked to call ‘chili Inul sauce’.

Every day I travel around on my bike selling food. I pedal from before dawn, sometimes till afternoon, and sometimes till late in the day. I target selling at the traditional markets and the multi-storey projects where day labourers work.

But after my wife passed away everything was a mess. My daughter was forced to drop out of school in year ten because she had to help me. Every evening I had to cook, carrying on as my wife had shown me. However, after cooking I had to rest half a day which meant the food wasn’t all sold everyday. Luckily my daughter knew a young woman from the island of Madura who sold drop cakes.

“Dad, I want to do what that woman from Madura is doing,” said my daughter.

”She dropped out of primary school but she could still get to run a business,” she said.

”Ah, you shouldn’t make fun of her,” I said.

”The only assets she has is a small cooker and one rice flour dough pot. She runs a business selling drop cakes. She’s very busy, dad,” said my daughter. ”I want to sell drop cakes like her,” she went on.

“But what about the food business your mother left behind? Do we have to forget about that? Would the income from that be enough for the two of us to survive on?” I asked.

”That’s easy. All it needs is one table. Some of the food you cook could be displayed on that one table and you can sell some of it from your bike. What do you think?”

So three days later there was a small food stall in the traditional market. At the side of the table was a hissing cooker wafting the aroma of fresh drop cakes. My daughter’s drop cake “lecturer”, the woman from Madura, was selling not far away beside my daughter’s stall. Everyday very early in the morning my daughter sold by herself in the market without me for company. After sleeping till eleven o’clock in the middle of the day, I pedaled my bicycle to the market and collected some of the food my daughter was selling. I rode around to the busy building sites, outside factory fences and places like that.

Early one morning a young journalist from the tabloid Voice of the Market, no stranger to staying up all night, squatted in front of my daughter’s drop cake cooker. The young journalist fell in love with my daughter. He published a photograph of her and the girl from Madura prominently in his tabloid newspaper. The story was long and detailed and described the “candak kulak” program which was a government program from the time of the New Order government which had provided small-scale capital. The program was long gone, vanished without a trace.

Later my daughter married the journalist from the Voice of the Market.

Her friend the girl from Madura sold up and down the market until one day several months later a minibus driver proposed to her.  

Not long after that my son-in-law moved to the Middle East to work as a journalist with the magazine Oil which is part of an oil company.

Nevertheless, neither of them did help me much because they were studying while they worked there. My son-in-law was at university and my daughter finished her high school matriculation and then she went on to university.

But they did not forget to think about my financial situation. My daughter sent some money for me to use as capital to buy sandalwood and agarwood fans to sell in the Middle East along with necklaces made from sandalwood and agarwood beads. Later they also asked for offcuts of sandalwood and agarwood used for burning in the incense burners of wealthy middle eastern people.

So I was busy with my new business as a sandalwood fan trader. Each month I would freight the aromatic commodity. I rented a small post office box to support my business activity. Everything was small. The post office box was small, the bedroom was small, but with these small things I was involved in a world which was wide and large! Although sales of sandalwood fans was brisk enough for me to be able to buy a block of land in Jakarta, my children told me not to buy land to build a house in the city. My daughter thought it would just be destroyed by floods of both water and people.  

Their thinking seemed pretty strange to me.

Every time I went to the post office to send products I visited a small open air food stall in the grounds of the post office to have coffee or a bit to eat.  

The owner of the food stall Misses Agus was helped by her daughter who had a younger brother who hadn’t undergone the Islamic khitan or circumcision ceremony yet. At first I only had breakfast there then I visited every day to have lunch and dinner. Master Agus who wasn’t circumcised yet was very pleased when I did drop in. Usually if I had any spare change I would give it to him as a present. Suddenly one day he showed me a piggy bank that was heavy. It was full of the coins I had given him. It was a real surprise to me to see a child who had apparently been left by a father who had passed away. Master Agus’ big sister Julie had been a wonderful help to her mother. Almost every day she worked in the small food stall unless she had to wash clothes at home, sweep or hang out washing.   

“Where do you work, sir?” Julie asked one day.  

“I work at home,” I answered.

“Where’s your office?” asked Julie.

“My office is as small as a box, a post office box!”

Julie laughed. “When you go to work, you first have to turn into an ant!”

“Ah, don’t be silly,” I said.

“Ah, don’t underestimate ants. They have a lot to teach humans. They work together and cooperate without anger, without getting emotional, like…”

“You’re having a go at me, aren’t you!” said her mother.

“So you’re emotional?” I asked.

“No, my mother is born from noble Javanese descent but now works in this humble little food stall,” said Julie.

“It doesn’t matter that it’s small, so long as it turns a dollar and makes a profit, to turn this food stall into a building. This shop is larger than my post office box. That’s my shop. It only returns a little, but fortunately I’m an ant so I don’t eat much,” I said. “Small people like us have to start small.”

“A post box can’t be bulldozed and relocated but it seems that even if the rent is paid this food stall can be taken away in a truck and piled up in the municipal depot.”   

One day early in the morning when I arrived at the post office I saw Mrs Agus having an argument. Two large men were carrying plates, pots, woks, cookers and other things, and piling them into a pickup truck. It seemed that Mrs Agus owed money to a village money lender. She just sat silently staring blankly, bright red eyes.

Although it was none of my business, something inside me compelled me to ask, “How much money do you owe?”   

“Only three-hundred thousand. How could they do something like that! And after the agreement was to pay a thousand rupiah a day. Suddenly he asked me to repay the whole loan because he said his house had been flooded,” said Julie.

“Where’s the money…”

“I actually had the money but yesterday I paid the doctor and bought blood pressure medicine,” said Mrs Agus.

I wasn’t being rational any more. At once I called out, “Mate, put those things back in the food stall. Here, I’ll pay what Mrs Agus owes you.” Then I pulled out three-hundred thousand rupiah from my wallet.   

“Wow, three hundred, only what about the interest? It’s now three years and my money’s been locked up in this food stall. Five hundred…”

“No way…”

“Why not?”

“There is no more money. Only three hundred.”

“Ah all right. Here’s the money.

“Yeh, and here are your things back,” they said.

After the debt collectors had gone, a little while later Master Agus arrived home from school. The small, first grade child was surprised mainly because there was no food. I told him to buy packets of cooked rice for four people and then help get the stall set up so it didn’t look like a wreck.

Since that incident Julie would always visit my boarding room with food, cleaned all the dirty things, washed my clothes and helped me pack the sandalwood and agarwood fans and also help cut up agarwood pieces. Then, when that was in order, she would help put them into boxes, write sender and recipient addresses and help carry them to the post office. She would also always check the post box and get any mail from my daughter overseas.    

Julie had become my assistant. Although she had only finished junior high school, her writing was good and she was quick with numbers.

After six months there was a disaster. Julie the fatherless child all of a sudden found she had a father in me, and at the same time, fell in love with me. I was racked by conflict. I was fifty five years old and Julie was just twenty. It wasn’t right. Poor Julie. But she stubbornly wanted to be my wife. For me this was not love that was normal, it was all because of the sandalwood fans, the aromatic agarwood fans meant money. If I hadn’t had any money the young woman wouldn’t have wanted this. Ah, sandalwood fans, the beautiful aroma of agarwood fans had preserved an old man who already smelt of the soil. It wasn’t right for Julie to marry this ancient from Jakarta.

Julie hugged me, hung round my neck and said, “I’ll look after you until you’re using a walking stick. You’ll live again, become young again, through our children.   

I became weak, and fell onto the bed.

Suddenly there was a knock at the door and as it wasn’t locked Mrs Agus walked right in. Her eyes were red. Maybe her high blood pressure had come back. Anyway she appeared to have tidied herself up and was thinking herself pretty. In fact because of the bright red of her lipstick I felt like I was being approached by a tiger.

It isn’t right for Julie to become your wife,” she said, “I’m the right one for you.” As she spoke she moved towards Julie then she slapped Julie.

As Julie ran out I made a run for the back door and then into the bathroom. I hid there for an hour. When I emerged into my room Mrs Agus was thankfully no longer in sight.

Since then I haven’t appeared at Mrs Agus’ food stall. I closed down the post office box and moved to another post office.

About three months later, Julie arrived at my room. She sat down as she slid a baby bottle into the lips of the baby in her arms. I was dumbstruck. Surely she wasn’t going to try it on me. I hoped she wasn’t about to go to the police station and report that her baby was my child, the child of a humble sandalwood fan trader.

“I’ve been living with a minibus driver,” she said.

“And had a baby right away?” I asked.

“No. His wife has left him and she handed the baby over to me. I just took her. After all where else was I going to go. My mother has high blood pressure. The important thing is that I have a husband,” said Julie, cradling the baby.

I couldn’t say anything. My eyes missed over.

One day about a year later as I was pedaling my bicycle, I saw Mrs Agus shuffling along dragging a half filled sack. I stopped but she had forgotten who I was which shocked me deeply. When I looked at the sack I realized. It was just full of plastic water bottles and old newspapers. Mrs Agus had become a garbage collector. To her Jakarta had given only garbage.   

“Where’s Julie now?” I asked.

“Julie passed away,” she said.

“And where’s young Agus?” I asked again.

“At the intersection, selling bottled water,” she answered.

“Where are you living?”

“In doorways. There are plenty of doorways. You can just curl up anywhere.”

I was shocked.

“Who are you, sir?” she asked

“I’m a sandalwood fan trader.”

“Oh, my son-in-law, my son-in-law. Please can you just give me a ride on the back of your bike!”

Right away I gave her a ride to my room after getting rid of the sack of garbage. I told her to wash and fetched her something to eat.

The following day I went with her to the psychiatric hospital and put her into a nursing home.  

Depok, 10 February 2008


Kipas Cendana was published in Kompas daily in March 2008. [Retrieved from https://cerpenkompas.wordpress.com/2008/03/30/. Accessed 12 October 2016.]


Image: Back cover of EAP153/13/40: Syair Raksi Macam Baru [1915] http://eap.bl.uk/database/results.a4d?projID=EAP153;r=18467

Two Creeping Geckos

By S. Prasetyo Utomo

Setyawati threw back the blankets and got up. She went over to the small table and drank down the last of the coffee from her cup. Every last bit. Head thrust right back, her mouth gaped wide open. The last wet, muddy granules of coffee were like cold lava flowing into her mouth. I like this least about her. She chewed the final granules of ground coffee, the dregs which to the tongues of most ordinary humans would have tasted bitter with an energy and pleasure that could only be generated by her own mouth.

She stretched out her tongue and licked every last granule from the edge of the cup.

“You’re used to swallowing the bitter,” I teased.

She continued licking the last granules as she watched the geckos crawling along the wall.

Then Setyawati declared, “I’m very used to swallowing the bitter things in life – at home. It isn’t easy having a husband who isn’t as capable, who has no taste for beauty, but who’s into being in control. I’m tired of doing what he wants. Sometimes he thinks he’s the best, always right, knows everything. Ah, I get so mad!”

The two geckos on the wall approached each other nudging together, then scampered after one another. In the corner of the ceiling, right in the corner of the ceiling, the larger of the two geckos pounced on his quarry. Setyawati laughed aloud, shoulders heaving up and down. She turned on the light, illuminating the whole room at once, then blew out the candle. The scent of molten wax and burnt wick lingered.

Outside tree branches and casuarina leaves damp from the drizzly wind scratched against the window.

“My husband wants to show his power through his job,” said Setyawati opening the window and allowing the cold fog and drizzle to blow into the room.

****

“Come on!? Let’s go for a walk.”

“In the middle of the night?”

“Sure. I want to look at the fireflies, feel the mountain breeze at night, listen to the distant sound of the river.”

Without giving me an opportunity to resist Setyawati closed the previously open window. She took up her jacket and sank her two beautiful arms into it.

The pair of geckos were still snuggled against each other in the corner when Setyawati closed the door of the hotel room. We went down to the lobby and stood before the meeting room that was being used for the seminar. Filled with the sound of endless debate from morning till night, the room was now silent, only the proud microphones stood on the moderator’s table.

Gently and with conviction, Setyawati bid farewell to the hotel security guard and set off on foot. Despite his initial blank unseeing look, the security guards still managed a nod and a smile.

It was as though the road set Setyawati free from the evil thoughts of the geckos, from their laughter at mankind’s fumblings. I breathed in the misty night air, the scent of mountain soil, and the heavy scent of casuarina trees. In the darkness I followed as Setyawati led through the quiet of village lanes, past irrigation dykes, rice paddies, meandering vegetable gardens, coming at last to a river, clear, cool, refreshing.

There were no fireflies. Only gatherings of people with guns in the village night watch huts. People greeted us as we passed, suspicious. But Setyawati’s gentleness protected us from the roughness of the armed villagers on night patrol. Passing a mosque we could see a number of the faithful still murmuring prayers, chanting the holy verse even at this late hour. Geckos crept along the walls of the mosque. To what other hidden mysteries did these geckos bear witness in their own tongue?

But it seemed that Setyawati didn’t notice the geckos on the mosque walls.

“Isn’t it strange,” whispered Setyawati. “People on guard suspiciously in the hut.”

Setyawati’s step was becoming uncertain, fearful. However propelled by a desire to understand the situation and squeezing my arm tightly she went on. There was no moon light. A dog barked in the far distance and the torch lights of the patrolling villagers criss crossed up and down the lanes in the paddy fields and over the vegetable gardens.

Suddenly one of the villagers called out from a rice field. People began to run towards him, far from the road in a vegetable field not far from the bund of a paddy field. Torch beams darted. Then the commotion grew to an the uproar. As the commotion grew Setyawati tugged at my arm and we moved towards the excited gathering.

Forcing her way into the tightly packed crowd of people shining torches at something, Setyawati screamed, “Ah! Two dead bodies lying in the mud – like two dead geckos!”

The bodies lay face down half covered in the mud. When they were turned over, wide slash wounds yawned across both their chests.

****

Placing her hands over her face, Setyawati couldn’t hide the horror. She held back tears. In the hotel room far from the bodies lying face down near the paddy field bund half covered by the mud, Setyawati restrained her terror with no more than a pair of hands. But even so her hands weren’t strong enough to bear within themselves the upheaval in her soul.

Unconsciously, and I will be convinced forever it was unconscious, she nudged against me, gently pressing her head to my chest. Her arms were strong around my waist. She had forgotten the two geckos were still crawling along the wall. Were geckos, to Setyawati’s mind, incapable of comprehending the language of human sadness?

“I am terribly frightened my husband or I will be slaughtered like the two people we saw in that field,” whispered Setyawati. “My husband has a great many enemies. A man once came to the house carrying a knife and threatened to kill us.”

I didn’t want to comfort her; I wanted to leave the trembling fear until her own courage returned. She was so tired and sleepy and her eyelids were closing when she dropped off, arms tight around my chest.

The two geckos had long since moved far apart, each scurrying after its own prey. But Setyawati was searching for a feeling of peace, seeking the sense of tranquility she had lost, by falling asleep, head nestled in my chest, like a newborn child slumbering soundly as it suckled it’s mother’s nipple.

“I think I had better head into town now,” she whispered, rousing, smiling and finding her inner quiet.

“It’s still dark, and what’s more there are interesting sessions all day.”

“I’m not interested any more. Say goodbye to the others for me,” Setyawati declared in front of the door to the hotel room as she straightened her hair. Her eyes were warm. “The pair of geckos on the wall are laughing at me, aren’t they. And you think I’m like a little girl, don’t you?”

I walked Setyawati down to the lobby. She returned the key and climbed into her car which was covered in dew. In the remaining darkness and enveloped in the damp misty air, she left, leaving behind a roaring silence.

I entered my own room again and on slamming the door two geckos dropped to the floor right at my feet, tails breaking off in the process. Leaving their tails flicking back and forth they scurried back up onto the wall. I was not Anglingdarma(*) at the side of Setyawati, able to understand the language of the geckos, having to keep their secrets unto death in the midst of raging flames for the sake of his beloved queen.

Pandana Merdeka, October 1998

 


Dua Cicak Merayap was published in Kompas daily in January 1999.

(*) A character from the Hindu epic the Mahabharata who rescues Setyawati and eventually wins her hand in marriage.

Stink Beans

By Seno Gumira Ajidarma

A discrete young couple were engrossed in an animated argument about petai beans. Indeed they had just finished a dinner that had, among other things, consisted largely of petai beans.

      “Just imagine if there were no petai beans in the world,” mused the young man.

      “Well, what about it?”

      “If there were no petai beans in the world, the poor wouldn’t have anything to make them happy. Imagine! Wouldn’t it be dreadful if the only thing that made the poor happy was owning a Mercedes Benzes and working in an office. We’re lucky to have petai beans! Every individual petai bean makes a great contribution to the total sum of human happiness. It’s about time we realized that petai beans are one of Indonesia’s most important national resources.”

      “But the image of the petai bean doesn’t fit the image of the newly rich city living office worker, the collar-and-tie look. It’s obvious that the petai bean just isn’t, or at least isn’t very, well, cool. You can hardly be proud of the smell! After all, people these days are only happy if they have something to be proud of.”

      “To be proud of, or, to be arrogant about? Look at us. We’re happy eating petai beans. Try smelling my breath.” The young man exhaled, “Phewww!”

      The young woman waved a hand in front of her nose. “Yuck! What a revolting odour!”

      “Well, of course it smells! But the embarrassing smell of the petai bean is only an image problem. Something has to be done to change its image. You can’t deny it. It does bring joy to millions of people, people who can only afford to find happiness in eating petai beans. That’s the first thing. And another thing, aren’t they also good for you? According to a friend of mine they’re good for your kidneys; they help you piss. And the problem of the smell? Ah! The smell could even be turned into…, a unique national symbol! I might even write a letter to the newspaper suggesting, yes, that the Director General of Tourism start an advertising campaign promoting the smell of petai beans as – `The Smell of Indonesia’. What do you think? Do you like that?”

The attractive young girlfriend was silent, blinked and listened to her animated boyfriend’s ideas. Out of affection she usually tried to agree, even though she did think this suggestion sounded a little odd. There was no way in the world the petai bean was ever going to amount to anything of world importance. Not like crude oil, or nuclear energy. It was just a fact that the petai bean would probably only ever be important to the little person, to the ordinary man and woman in the street.

      “I don’t think you’re actually wrong,” she said, “but do you really think many people are going to be able to follow what you’re getting at?”

      “Well, of course. What’s so hard about it? It isn’t complicated. It’s getting harder and harder to make a living. The measure of success is becoming more and more difficult to achieve. And this means too many people are going to feel they have failed in life, that their lives are worthless if they can’t live up to this measure of success. These are the defeated people, the unfortunate, those who, despite having worked and worked, are never going to strike it big. These people have to be entertained…”

      “And how is that going to be done?”

      “Oh! I can’t believe you haven’t got it yet!”

      “You mean they have to be made to realize that happiness can be achieved, not through having a white-collar job but by, eating petai beans?”

      “Exactly!”

      “You mean grilled petai beans, don’t you?”

      “They could also be fried.”

      “What about raw petai beans?”

      “Not interesting enough.”

      “Then steamed?”

      “Now that’s a little better, but what would be exciting is beans mixed with milk.”

      “You mean…?”

      “A petai bean nogg! Not milk, egg, honey and ginger, but milk, egg, honey and petai beans! Ah ha ha!!” they laughed together.

      “Then, you could also have petai bean juice.”

      “Wow! That’s a great idea!”

      “Now you’re getting silly!”

      “Why?”

      “If the meaning of life can only be found in eating petai beans, what would be the point of going to school and getting a good education? Surely the achievements of human civilization can’t be measured by the happiness someone finds in eating petai beans. It wouldn’t be right for petai beans to be so important that nothing else made people happy.”

      “Hang on! Do you actually believe that? Look, the central business district of Jakarta, Jakarta’s ‘golden triangle’, is just the tip of an enormous pyramid and only a mere handful of people ever get to enjoy the bright lights. If everyone tried to climb to the top of the pyramid it would be a disaster! Most people are going to roll back down again or fall off or get pushed off and become poor again and then they’re going to finish up believing there isn’t any point to life.”

      “You’re so cynical.”

      “What do you mean cynical? I hold out a great hope.”

      “You mean placing hope in petai beans? That the only thing that will make Indonesians happy is eating petai beans?”

      “You can make an Indonesian happy with a tie, and you can get millions of ties Sogo department store.”

The pair nattered on excitedly, the distinctive aroma of petai beans spraying from their mouths with every enthusiastic breath.

      Having explored every aspect of the petai bean for more than an hour they finally realized they were very tired.

      Eventually all that was left was for them to kiss passionately.

      “You reek of petai beans,” said the young man.

      “You smell of petai beans yourself,” replied the woman as each departed for their homes.

      Arriving at his home the young man kissed his wife.

      “You smell of petai beans,” she greeted him.

      “Yes, I did have some at a small food stall.”

      “You’re always eating those things!”

      “No, I’m not, only now and again.”

      “I’m amazed. I’ve told you before but you just don’t learn, do you?” said the man’s wife. “If you eat petai beans everyone in the house has to put up with it. You know no one else in the house likes them besides you. I don’t like them and neither do the children. Whenever you eat petai beans the smell gets goes everywhere, from the toilet at the back to the gutter in the street at the front. The smell gets into everything; it’s embarrassing! The neighbours are going to say, “Errrr. The people next door are eating petai beans again!” Try to cut down a little, will you. Try to show a little consideration for someone other than yourself, all right! So you honestly enjoy them, but you have to realize, only poor people eat petai beans, darling.”

      After that she didn’t say anything more. But before going to bed she suddenly remembered that her petai bean munching husband had in fact given them up before they got married fifteen years ago. But lately over the last few months she had noticed he had started eating them again. She couldn’t understand why.

      “Maybe he needs a little variation,” she thought.

      (Jakarta, October 1990.)


Petai was published in Kompas daily in December 1990.

Image: Pierre, L., Flore forestiere de la Cochinchine, vol. 4: t. 393, fig. B (1880-1907) [E. Delpy]

Graffiti

Letter For Wai Tsz

By Leila L. Chudori

The weather in Jakarta seems to be reflecting the state of the nation, hot and sticky, not a tree anywhere to shade under. As for myself I don’t know why I suddenly thought of writing you a letter. I know all too well that in our graduates’ newsletter Keep In Touch they’re always mentioning that you’re one of the graduates who hasn’t been seen since Tienanmen. But I live in hope because I will always believe that God will stretch out his hand and protect you. Your last letter, the one smelling of rotten vegetables and dried fish, the one you seemed to have sent from somewhere in the outskirts of Beijing, just before your escape – so heroic, so inspiring – more and more makes me feel so small, so insignificant.

      Dear Wai Tsz,

      It’s been exactly fourteen years since the four of us were gazing up at the stars, since you, Finn, Maria and I made that promise. We promised we wouldn’t marry until we had reached those stars.

      Our roommate Finn, with her long Snow White blonde hair and blue eyes, told us her life’s mission was located in the constellation of Andromeda.

      “What I want is for men and women to have the same rights. And I think that’s an ideal we all share,” she said in her romantic way.

      Our Danish roommate’s idealism was really extremely annoying and because of that I couldn’t be bothered talking about the problem of the completely rampant poverty and corruption in my own country. It would have been very hard to make her understand. Could you just see it, with her own country so rich and peaceful, how could she have begun to imagine?

      Then I remember that Maria from the Philippines said with her firm, convinced voice, “I long for change in my country and I hope that I can be a part of that change.” And straight away you and I yelled out trying to be first, “I wanted to say that too!”

      “Come on! How could Indonesia have any problems? Your economy is wonderful compared to ours,” Maria replied. “And you, Wai Tsz, China is a sleeping giant that’s just beginning to wake up. When she’s standing on her own feet Western countries will be lapped up in one gulp. The Philippines is the only one with such an uncertain future under a president like Marcos…”

      But as it transpired, the first country to see the smoldering embers of democracy burst into flame was her own country, the Philippines. And just as she had wanted, Maria was a part of the process of bringing democracy to her country. I remember when she sent a newspaper clipping showing her and a group of friends from the University of the Philippines in the middle of that historic demonstration in Edsa Road. Like a movie I imagined our roommate Maria, the one who couldn’t even get up in the mornings, now part of such momentous change in her country. Image. She became part of the Philippines’ peaceful revolution in February 1986 when Marcos was finally forced to flee to Hawaii and a widow ended up moving into the presidential office. As all this was going on, for me, her neighbor, nothing had changed. I was working for the largest news magazine in my country naively thinking that here everything was nice and peaceful and prosperous. I thought, well, at least it wasn’t as bad as some of the countries that some of our campus friends had come from where there were several of coups every year.

      Wai Tsz, after we graduated I came home again to breathe our pollution filled air and I became a journalist. You went home to breathe your own pollution filled air in Beijing and you transformed into a human rights activist.

      The interesting thing about your country was that as soon as your country opened up and allowed in a handful of American companies everyone began saying that this was Deng’s great breakthrough. When Chinese students were allowed to read translations of Milan Kundera and watch James Bond movies it was as if democracy had started to arrive in China. One of your spirited letters related how interesting Fang Lizhi’s lectures were, how he had no hesitation at all using words like “democracy” and “freedom”. But it was only after Tienanmen happened that we realized the so-called breakthrough talked about by Western experts was just an immensely simplified view of the problem.

      Meanwhile, Wai Tsz, in my own country new economic policies were being implemented which produced hundreds of new banks, new buildings, new companies, new television stations, new rich people, new cars, still more new policies, even more new buildings, more highways, ever more even richer people, and other, oh, absolutely astonishing, truly astounding…

      All of this, Wai Tsz, in fact turned us into journalists. Supposedly professional, deft, flexible, competitive, heads in the clouds. It made us forget a lot about humanity. For example, yeah, for example, in planning meetings talking about a war in some country somewhere we would sit around like a bunch of know all football commentators abusing one of the “stupid” players while we ate fried chicken and laughed. And really what we were talking about was the fate of thousands of women and children being slaughtered in the country. This profession made me, just as Professor Humphrey had predicted (he didn’t agree with my choice of becoming a journalist), turned us into “know alls who don’t know much about anything”.

      Professor Humphrey wasn’t completely right but I have to agree that in a couple of cases he wasn’t too far wrong either. This profession set me up in an ivory tower, made me look at the people as a news item, part of a “deadline”, a conversation on a mobile phone, as no more than a series of meaningless statistics. Tienanmen, an event that was so important for you, was a moral movement. But for us it was nothing more than a bit of excitement, a fresh infusion of adrenaline, a new pump keeping our journalistic blood circulating. I almost forgot that for years I had a roommate who was probably still on the run, still hiding in garbage bins on the edge of the city. Wai Tsz, where are you?

      In your last letter, after the events of June 1989, that smelly smudged letter, I read your handwriting through the ink which had run, “Nadira, help us through your writing.”

      Oh, Wai Tsz, I am so ashamed. For sure we wrote, we covered, we photographed, the events in your country proudly. But I am not convinced the hundreds of journalists who swarmed to cover those events were moved by concern. Maybe there were some who were, but the others were driven by competition, the desire to get an exclusive, and maybe even out of a desire to win the coveted Pulitzer prize.

      Then this year, 1997, and suddenly I received a shock…

      Only now in the midst of so many corporate collapses, bankruptcies, millions of people losing their jobs, bank liquidations, hoarding of food sending prices soaring, newspaper companies complaining about never ending increases in the price of paper, student demonstrations, mothers protesting the increases in the price of milk, only now have I again become “human”. Only now have I thought of you. Only now have I thought about our walks along the banks of the Otonabee River, recalled our arguments about equality and about the differences between East and West, and, oh, how I remember the Galaxy Theory you explained to me that time you tried to cheer me up after you found me crying. You made me to lie down on the grass and look up at the stars.

      “At times of sadness and pain, Nadira, fly up to one of those galaxies and leave the Earth. Then from way up there look back and the Earth will seem so small you will wonder what on earth you’re crying about. After that fly back to Earth, take a deep breath, and the problem will be solved.”

      Wai Tsz, your Galaxy Theory was so simple and so good for so many reasons. But it won’t be any use for the problems of my country, or for the problems of your country. I have never before been as hopeless as I am now. I have never felt as powerless as I do now. Every day I open the window and I hear the complaints of ordinary mothers about the rising price of food, of people who have just lost their jobs, hear news about the speculators dancing for joy with every fall in the value of the currency. Hundreds and hundreds of people have suddenly become actors, smiling sweetly in front of the television cameras saying how much they love the nation.

      William Shakespeare was truly a genius when he wrote: All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players, They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts.

       Do you remember when Professor Johnson read this verse from As You Like It? Am I becoming a useless melancholic character like Jacques?

      I can see Shakespeare doubled up in stitches laughing because the world, the stage for this drama, is full of nothing but a rabble of idiots. According to me the stage for this drama is full of people whose acting skills are terrifyingly good. Every morning the papers are full of stories about our economic problems but even the people complaining are still running around scratching for rupiah to exchange for foreign currency, still feeding from the corpse of other people’s suffering.

      Wai Tsz, why was I born in a community which created such a meaningful word for community duty as our own word gotong royong but which is in reality just a collection of completely selfish individuals? My heart is broken. If I had been as selfish maybe I would already have flown off to join our friends chasing ever higher qualifications in the United States. But when all’s said and done, my heart is here, Wai Tsz, planted firmly here, rooted firmly in this soil. No matter how strong, there isn’t a crowbar or a hoe that could dislodge my heart from this land.

      For months, Wai Tsz, I’ve been afflicted by horrible nightmares, more like Salvador Dali visions than dreams. One night I dreamed that I had fallen from a skyscraper and even though all my limbs came off I was still alive. Another night I dreamed my hands were chained together and the ends of my legs were being eaten by a pack of black dogs. And another night I was suddenly transported to an empty field where hundreds of crows were attempting to suck my baby from my stomach. Trying to stop these dreams I bought a pile of comics. I thought it would make me laugh. In fact all that happened was I laughed so hard I cried.

      Wai Tsz, I remember the time you said, “Something started with a good intention and a good conscience is always harder to believe in than something started with a bad intention.”

      Maybe that’s the reason people find it hard to believe that a protest movement could be driven by conscience. Maybe the word conscience isn’t used very much today, or maybe it’s time to archive it forever in some dusky old museum.

      Wai Tsz, where are you? Pretending to be a shop assistant? Or teaching in a tiny primary school in some far away village? Or maybe you’re really still hiding somewhere in Beijing? I have no idea whether you will ever read this letter. I’ll send it to your old address in Beijing. Wai Tsz, wherever you are, if you do not get to read this letter I am sure, you have read what is in my heart.

      Your friend, Nadira. (Jakarta, November 1997)


Surat Untuk Wai Tsz was published in Kompas daily in March 1999.

Written six months prior to, and published some ten months after, the resignation of President Soeharto in May 1998. 

Megawati and the Corruption Eradication Commission

megawati-dan-kpk-okezone1By Luky Djan (Executive Director, Institute for Strategic Initiatives (ISI) and jury member for the 2013 Bung Hatta Anti-Corruption Award)

The endeavor to eradicate corruption will always travel a rocky road. Indeed it is necessary for anyone acting against corruption to face off directly against criminals working together in an organized group. Criminal corruption is almost certain to be perpetrated as a conspiracy jointly in conjunction with others and in a way that is highly organized. Organized criminal corruption has a stronger staying power than other forms of organized crime because the group of perpetrators involved typically occupy positions of formal authority and inevitably command considerable resources.

For this reason, anyone going up against so called “uniformed criminals” must steel him- or herself with both ingenuity and resilience. He or she must also not be surprised at the range of strategies deployed to weaken the agenda and institutions endeavoring to eradicate corruption which will vary from the intervention of those in power to the use of physical violence.

Is the anti-corruption agenda in this country driving towards a yellow light? Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi or KPK) is the front line vanguard and driving force in the fight against corruption and is once again now facing strong headwinds. The institution has weathered past tests successfully. Hopefully the current crisis will likewise result in the strengthening of efforts to defeat corruption. The experience of South Korea and Thailand can provide lessons in the conditions under which institutions are tamed and those under which anti-corruption efforts are successful. The fate of anti-corruption bodies in these places is quite tragic.

Thailand’s National Counter-Corruption Commission (NCCC) and the Korean Independent Commission Against Corruption (KICAC)

Prospects for the fight against corruption in Asia are currently entering their twilight. Anti-corruption institutions are collapsing. The anti-corruption agenda in South Korea commenced when the leader of the opposition to the military regime Kim Dae Jung became President in February 1998. Kim’s main strategy was spearheaded by an initiative to pass legislation establishing an anti-corruption commission in August 1999. Kim’s idea produced resistance from politicians and legislators with the result that anti-corruption legislation took two years to produce, passing finally on 24 July 2001. Following the enactment of this legislation, opposition emerged to the establishment of an anti-corruption commission from the public prosecutor’s office as well as the police. The Korean Independent Commission Against Corruption (KICAC) was finally formed six months later in January 2002.

The breakthrough of the KICAC shook the corrupt relations between those in power and the chaebol business conglomerates and caught in its wake senior government officials and businessmen. The breakthrough began to unsettle the corrupt even though the KICAC was in fact not as powerful as its other Asian counterparts such as Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption, Thailand’s NCCC or Indonesia’s KPK because the KICAC was not given investigation or prosecution functions. Efforts to shake the KICAC gained momentum after the 25 February 2008 when the government changed, following two periods of progressive leadership under Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, to the conservative government of President Lee Myung-bak.

After only three days in office, on 29 February 2008, President Lee merged the KICAC with two other institutions, the Ombudsman and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, an administrative decisions court like Indonesia’s Public Administration Court (Pengadilan Tata Usaha Negara or PTUN), to form the Anti-Corruption Civil Rights Commission (ACRC). The sway of the KICAC declined, with the new body becoming more of a think tank with the primary function of preventing corruption. The major reason for the reduction in the power of the KICAC was the view that its breakthroughs in this period hampered economic growth. President Lee’s background as an executive of one of the chaebol conglomerates meant he viewed the fight against corruption as a hindrance to economic growth.

Of course the public reacted and opposed the merger. Transparency International Korea Chairman Geo-Sung Kim believes that economic growth is driven by a clean business environment and that an organization like KICAC is necessary in order to achieve this. While ACRC commissioners are selected by and are responsible to the president, KICAC commissioners were selected by the Supreme Court, legislature and president. There are now valid concerns over the ACRC’s loss of independence.

In Thailand following the establishment of the People’s Constitution in 1997, the National Counter Corruption Commission (NCCC) was formed in November 1999. This agency represented a strengthening of the previous anti-corruption institution, the Counter Corruption Commission or CCC, which had possessed limited functions and been less independent. The NCCC was responsible to the Senate and its nine commissioners were nominated by the Thai Senate and confirmed by the King. The NCCC took direct action by revealing the embezzlement of assets by Deputy Prime Minister Sanan Kachornprasart which led to his resignation. Two months later the NCCC uncovered a 30 million baht bribery scandal which led to the dismissal of Deputy Finance Minister Nibhat Bhukkanasut.

The NCCC’s next target was a tax evasion scandal and dishonesty in the public wealth declaration filed by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. This case put  Thaksin’s political career at stake. However, after the legislative elections in 2001, which handed control of the Senate to Thai Rak Thai, Thaksin soon gained control of the Supreme Court, leading to the asset embezzlement case being frozen. As payback, allegations were made against the nine NCCC commissioners alleging criminal conduct and accusations of involvement in a conflict of interests by increasing their monthly salary of 45,000 baht (approximately Rp25 million). The ensuing investigation eventually forced the commissioners to resign in May 2005.

Having control of the majority in parliament, Thaksin had no difficulty installed ‘puppet commissioners’ (Pasuk and Baker, 2004). Following a power shift in a military coup, the military junta replaced the NCCC on 15 July 2008 with the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC). The NACC became an instrument for the removal of political opponents of the Thai military regime.

Megawati’s Legacy

Every leader possesses a legacy which becomes a monument to his or her success. President Sukarno created magnificent landmark sites ranging from Gelora Bung Karno Stadium (GBK) to Istiqlal Mosque and the statues which adorn the capital. Times, however, change and monuments today no longer take the form of urban architectural landmarks. On the contrary they now represent elements of constitutional architecture. President Habibie left monuments in the form of the rights of freedom of assembly and association, multi-party elections, freedom of the press and regional autonomy. President Abdurrahman Wahid reorganized the function and position of the Indonesian Armed Forces, respect for pluralism and human rights.

Megawati carved out important milestones in the nation’s efforts against corruption. Probably not many people remember that on 27 December 2002 Megawati signed into force Law No. 30/2002 concerning the Corruption Eradication Commission. This institution represented the spearhead and hope of the nation for the elimination of the misuse of power in the form of looting public resources by organized criminal groups who possess political power and financial strength.

So the commitment of President Megawati to try to remove all forms of criminal corruption could not be doubted. A year later the Corruption Eradication Commission was officially established. This writer’s experience ranges from the drafting of the Commission bill to the establishment of the Commission itself which was at the time appropriately resourced by the government. If the commitment to the eradication of corruption had not been strong it would have been simple to abort the drafting of the bill or to stall for time over the establishment of the Commission. Likewise, when on a number of occasions the Commission investigated cases of corruption involving senior politicians from her Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), Megawati did not intervene in the Commission.

Unfortunately, in the middle of the Commission’s efforts to strengthen measures aimed at combating corruption, a wave of attacks have emerged from all directions, including the PDIP. Reports by a member of the House of Representatives related to legal action launched over the disputed election of the head of West Kotawaringin Regency have resulted in a storm of crisis over the very existence of the institution of the Commission and the entire effort to combat corruption. This writer believes that the nature of these reports have destabilized the Commission because they have led to an institutional crisis as a result of a Commissioner of the anti-corruption agency being named as a suspect in a criminal investigation.
It is regrettable that this has happened because as noted above President Megawati both as head of state while in power and today as party chairwomen has not taken action to weaken the Commission. As a mother Megawati fully understands that the Corruption Eradication Commission is a child of her government to oppose the phantom of corruption that has taken root and become entrenched.

The experience of South Korea and Thailand show that anti-corruption commissions will be stunted and even amputated by subsequent regimes. President Jokowi himself has a real track record in promoting an anti-corruption agenda. He is a recipient of the Bung Hatta Anti-Corruption Award (BHACA) which clearly demonstrates he possesses a strong commitment to the eradication of corruption. The current crisis should be resolved with prudence and expedition. Now the community is waiting for action from President Jokowi as “party official” to strengthen both efforts to eradicate corruption and the Commission, an institution which is an important legacy of Megawati’s.


Published in Kompas daily, Thursday 29 January 2015 (Retrieved from http://youthproactive.com/expert-says/megawati-dan-kpk/  Accessed 8 April 2015.)

And the Sufi Teacher Passed By…

By Seno Gumira Ajidarma

One ordinary sleepy day a sufi teacher landed in Jakarta on his magic carpet at the gates of the toll road leading from Jakarta to Cengkareng international airport. He hopped down and strolled into Jakarta as his magic carpet flew off again back up into the heavens.

It happened to be a Friday and at midday the sufi teacher went looking for the nearest place to perform his Friday prayers. He went into the office block he was passing and on the ground floor found a small prayer room. The usual plastic prayer mats were laid out ready for Friday prayers but the room was still empty. A man who seemed to be the prayer room attendant was getting ready to perform his prayers, so the sufi teacher asked, “Prayer room attendant, isn’t it Friday today and shouldn’t everyone be here performing their prayers?”

kebenaran

“True. Usually there are lots of people here on Fridays to pray. The office workers in this building prefer to pray here on the ground floor rather than go out and look for a mosque.”

“But prayer room attendant, why isn’t anyone at all here today even though it’s time for prayer?”

“Ah, they’re all praying on the ninth floor.”

“And why is that?”

“Because.., it’s air conditioned. They say the atmosphere there is more conducive to prayer, and it’s nice and cool on the ninth floor, while down here it’s hot and sticky.”

“Ah, I see,” replied the sufi teacher in English, nodding.

And so he and the attendant performed their prayers together by themselves with the attendant leading the devotions.

When they had finished, the sufi teacher continued on his way looking for Gus Dur, the director of the Islamic community organization called Nahdlatul Ulama. He wanted to ask whether Americans could use the English phrase ‘good morning’ instead of the Arabic greeting ‘Assalamu alaikum’.

A month later the sufi teacher was again going past the same building and as it happened to be right on time for midday prayer he once again entered the building.

It turned out that this time there were dozens of people preparing to pray in the small prayer room. There were so many in fact that they were spilling out of the prayer room into the lobby as the fiery sermon lambasted the spread of worldly greed.

The sufi teacher again asked the attendant, “Prayer room attendant, why are there now so many people praying here, so many that they are overflowing into the lobby? What has become of the air conditioned prayer room on the ninth floor?”

“Sojourner, the office workers have come back here to pray because the air conditioning is out of order, and the room which used to be so nice and cool is now unbearably hot. Because of the humidity on the ninth floor, they now want to pray here; if they are lucky they might catch a passing breeze.”

The sufi teacher again nodded, saying in English, “I see. I see.” Then he continued, “Well then, take note prayer room attendant. Reflect on this question: Is there any difference between those who pray in an air conditioned room and those who do not?”

The prayer room attendant was silent, and, after midday prayers were over, forever more followed the sufi teacher wherever he went.

One day on their travels they arrived at the edge of a river somewhere in Central Java where there was no bridge. To cross to the other side it was necessary to use a small bamboo raft. The raft landing on the other side was not directly opposite and had to be reached by using a punt some way along the bank before crossing over.

Punting along the edge of the river the sufi teacher noticed a man fishing at the edge of the river who didn’t seem to be using any bait. But even though the fisherman wasn’t using any bait, the fish were just jumping from the water by themselves and landing in the man’s basket, filling it to overflowing. As the basket filled, the local people emptied fish into their own baskets and carried them away to their homes. The villagers flocked to the fisherman’s basket.

Amazed at this sight, the sufi teacher asked the raft keeper, “Raft keeper, who is that man by the river fishing without any bait?”

“That’s Saint Jagakali.”

“Who’s he?”

And so the raft keeper told the sufi teacher the story of the fisherman. It was said that long ago in that village there had lived a fisherman who lived solely from the fish he caught. Every day he would take his catch, return home and cook and eat it. One day one of the fish he caught was flapping gasping on the ground near him when it had begun speaking to him.

“Fisherman, please let me go. Grant me a great blessing and throw me back into the river. What good can I be to you? The small amount of flesh on my tiny bones will hardly fill you.”

The fisherman was astonished, but replied, “Talking fish, why do you speak to me this way? Does a fisherman not have the right to eat a fish he catches? This is the way it has always been, and the way it always shall be.”

“But life is like a wheel,” replied the fish. “What would happen if you should die and be reborn as a fish?”

The fisherman laughed aloud and threw the speaking fish into his basket.

Finally after the fisherman had died he was indeed reborn as a fish. On the other hand, after passing away the talking fish was also reborn, but as a fisherman.

One day the fisherman who had once been a fish caught the fish who had at one time been a fisherman. The fish who had been a fisherman was also able to speak.

“Good fisherman, I beg you to let me go because I am just a small fish and life means so much to me. My small body will hardly provide you with enough. Please throw me back into the river and set me free.”

The fisherman who had once been a fish happened to recognize that the fish he had caught was the fisherman who had once caught him.

The fisherman said, “Talking fish, do you not remember that once you were a fisherman and that once you refused to grant the request of a small fish. I am that very fish, and now you must experience what I felt that day.”

“No! Please! Haven’t you thought that one day you might be reborn yet again as a fish and I as a fisherman who might catch you? Remember that life is like a wheel, spinning around and around and around.”

“I don’t care; I desire vengeance. Aha ha ha ha ha!” responded the fisherman as he threw the fish into his basket. The fish flip-flopped backwards and forwards with slowly weakening flicks until it was finished.

In its next life, the fish did return as a man and the fisherman too returned, this time as a fish. The man who had once been a fish who had once been a fisherman did indeed become a fisherman who loved fishing more than anything in the world. But he did not forget that once he had killed a fish and had finally as a fish himself been killed by a fisherman despite his pleas for mercy. Full of reverence, he resolved to return the fish he had caught to the river.

Hence forth the fisherman fished without using any bait. The strange thing was that ever since he had decided not to use bait the fish had just leaped from the water by themselves into his basket. Even then he couldn’t bring himself to eat the fish so he allowed the local villagers to take them. As there were more fish than a fish factory the local villagers took them gratefully.

The fisherman would sit by the river day and night fishing, refusing to use any bait. He did not want to eat any of the fish and he lived solely from the dew that formed on his lips in the morning, chanting the mantras of the poet Sutardji Calzoum Bachri:

How many centuries must pass,

How many watches must stop,

How many signs must appear,

How many steps must I take,

Before I am able to reach You?

Over time the fisherman had been given the name Saint Jagakali after the great Muslim mystic of Central Java, even though the fisherman himself had acknowledged no creed.

When the sufi teacher and the prayer room attendant arrived at the other side of the river, the sufi teacher thanked the raft keeper and together he and the prayer room attendant continued on their journey to East Java.

The sufi teacher wanted to meet the chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama, Kiai Ahmad Shiddiq, to ask the venerable teacher what he would think if Michael Jackson and Jean-Michel Jarre were to record Arabic devotional songs.

After that, the sufi teacher wanted to summon his flying carpet and return to Isfahan. He was planning to drop into Qom and let Khomeini know that wisdom had spread to every corner of the earth. But then he remembered, the Great Teacher was already dead, so he changed his mind.

The sufi teacher next planned to fly from East Java to Japan, but first he wanted to take the prayer room attendant to the modern Islamic boarding school at Gontor in East Java so he could learn English. After all, a prayer room attendant in an office block in Jakarta’s ‘golden triangle’ central business district crowded with the offices of foreign investors needs to know English.

When he arrived in Japan the sufi teacher planned to go straight to Kyoto, find a Buddhist priest, and find out how he practiced Zen.

(Jakarta, February 1990)


Guru Sufi Lewat… was published in Kompas Daily in May 1990.

Karyamin’s Smile

leftphotoBy Ahmad Tohari

Karyamin measured careful deliberate steps. The weight bearing down across his shoulders was a long supple bamboo pole with woven rattan baskets full of river rocks swinging pendulum like from each end. The steep dirt track leading up the river bank was wet from the sweat that had dripped from Karyamin and the other workers as they trudged up and down the bank hauling rocks from the river to the storage bay at the top.

        Long experience had taught Karyamin that he could make the climb to the top all right if he kept the centre of gravity for his body and the load either on the right, or on the left foot, and if he shifted it very carefully from one foot to the other. He had also learned that to maintain his balance he had to concentrate on each breath and every movement of his arms.

        Even so, Karyamin had slipped over twice that morning, collapsing in a heap and tumbling back down the trail followed by the rocks disgorging from his disheveled baskets. Every time Karyamin’s fellow rock collectors had doubled up in fits of laughter, pleased for the amusement that could be extracted from laughing at one another. This time Karyamin crept up the bank more cautiously. Despite his trembling knees, he gripped the earth with his toes as he went, every ounce of attention focused on maintaining his balance. Tension was visible on his face, sweat covered his body and poured through his shorts. Ridged veins bulged from his neck under the strain of the weight bearing down on his back and shoulders.

        And maybe Karyamin would have made it to the top, if it hadn’t been for that blasted bird! A kingfisher dived from a branch dangling above the river, splashed into the water and emerged with a small fish in its beak. The bird then darted whisker-close across the front of Karyamin’s face.

        “Damn!” cried Karyamin, feeling his balance begin to slip. He tottered momentarily, and then, collapsed, onto the ground surrounded by the clatter of his two baskets of disgorging rocks. Beginning to slide backwards down the slope, Karyamin pulled himself to a halt by grasping handfuls of grass. Four or five of Karyamin’s friends laughed together; the rock collectors pleased they could find some happiness in laughing at themselves.

        “Haven’t you had enough, Min? Go home,” urged Sarji, quietly jealous of Karyamin’s fulsome young wife.  “Your heart isn’t in it, you’ve been daydreaming all morning.

        “And it’s dangerous leaving that wife of yours by herself at home, Min. Remember those young bank workers who call in to the village every day? They’re not just after loan repayments from your wife! Don’t trust those loan sharks. Go on, go home. They’re probably trying to chat her up right now.

        “And it’s not just those young bank workers who have their eyes on your wife! Don’t forget the door-to-door lottery ticket hawker. I hear he’s always hanging around your place when you’re away. He isn’t just selling lottery tickets either; he’s got to be pushing some other kind of business too!!”

        The sound of laughter intermingled with the clatter of rocks landing on the edge of the river and the splash of water as the rock collectors moved around through the river. One large teak tree leaf lept from a branch and sailed down to land on the surface of the river. Impelled by the breeze, it began to move upstream in opposition to the current. Further up the river, three women were preparing to cross on their way home again from market. The rock collectors fell silent, entertained by the sight of the women gathering up their sarongs.

        Karyamin sat on the ground, stunned, staring at his empty disheveled baskets, the gentle breeze bringing goose bumps to his arms even though the sun was already starting to become hot. Then the same kingfisher again flew past just above his head. Karyamin was about to curse it but stars suddenly began to fill his eyes and a roar like the roar of swarming bees filled his ears, and he could hear his empty stomach rumbling full of nothing but wind. Everything in front of Karyamin turned yellow, bathed in bright dazzling light.

        Karyamin’s friends meanwhile had started guffawing about the women crossing the river. They had seen something wonderful, or something with the power to induce them to forget, even if just for a moment, the pain in their fingers made sore by scratching over the rocky riverbed; forget the rock trader who they had not seen for a fortnight after vanishing with a truckload of their rock, unpaid for; forget the woman selling packets of peanut-flavoured pecel salad and boiled rice wrapped in banana leaves who were going to arrive in the afternoon asking to be paid; forget the lottery tickets which, not for want of trying, they never won.

        “Min!” Sarji called out, “where’s your tongue? Take a look at those big white fish. They’re as big as thighs!”

        Everyone laughed again. The rock collectors really did find some joy in laughing at each other. But this time Karyamin didn’t join in the laughter; he settled on a smile. They could all laugh and smile together. That, all accepted, was their ultimate defence, a symbol of their victory over the traders, over the low price of rock, over the slipperiness of the steep climb up the river bank. That morning too, Karyamin’s smile was a sign of his victory; victory over his gnawing stomach and his blinding star-filled eyes.

        Karyamin had succeeded in creating an illusory paradise of victory by laughing and smiling in the face of his fate. The strange thing was, he felt so annoyed by the kingfisher flying back and forth over his head. For a moment he wanted to grab his bamboo pole and hit the bird, but suddenly he changed his mind. He realized that he would never be able to do that with all these stars swirling in front of his face.

        So Karyamin just smiled and got to his feet even though his head was still pounding, and the sky still seemed to be spinning. He picked up his baskets, then his pole, and then set to climb the bank again smiling wryly as he noticed he was stepping through the depression he had made in the earth where he had fallen a few moments earlier. At the top of the bank he stood for a moment, startled by the sight of the pile of rocks that didn’t yet amount to even a quarter of a cubic metre. Even so he had to head for home. Under a waru hibiscus, Saidah had laid out her food for sale, rice and packets of pecel salad. Karyamin swallowed and felt a knot form in his stomach.

        “Going home so early, Min?” asked Saidah. “Not feeling well?”

        Karyamin shook his head, then smiled. Saidah noticed his lips were quite blue, that the palms of his hands were pale, and, as he drew slightly closer that his stomach seemed to be making a noise.

        “Have something to eat, Min.”

        “No. A drink will be fine. Just look at how little you have to sell, and, anyway, I already owe you enough as it is.”

        “Yes, yes, Min. But you’re hungry, aren’t you?” asked Saidah.

Karyamin just smiled, then took the glass of boiled water Saidah was holding out. A warm comforting feeling swept over his throat and down through his stomach.

        “Won’t you have something to eat, Min? I can’t stand to see someone hungry. I don’t mind waiting for the money. I can wait till the rock trader shows up. He hasn’t paid for your rock yet, has he?”

        The kingfisher once again flashed past singing. Realizing that it was probably only searching for food for its babies, tucked away in a nest somewhere, Karyamin no longer felt hatred for the bird. He pictured the bird’s chicks huddled weakly in a nest that the bird had built in some sheltered ledge in the side of a cliff. The breeze began to blow again and teak tree leaves started to swirl through the air. Several glided down to land on the surface of the water. Compelled by the wind, the leaves always struggled upstream against the current.

        “So you really won’t have anything to eat, Min?” asked Saidah, as Karyamin stood up.

        “No. If you can’t stand to see me hungry, well I can’t stand to watch all your stock disappear with me and the others not being able to pay,” he replied.

        “Yes, yes, Min. But… “

        Saidah didn’t finish because Karyamin was already walking away. But she did catch sight of him turn and glance back at her. She noticed him smile. Saidah smiled back and swallowed anxiously. Something had stuck in her throat and she couldn’t make it go away. She watched Karyamin as he made his way along the narrow path winding through the undergrowth along the river basin. Karyamin’s friends called out friendly obscenities but he only stopped once, turning and beaming back to them a large smile.

        Before climbing up out of the river basin, Karyamin caught sight of something moving on a small branch overhanging the water. Oh it was the kingfisher again. Bright blue back, clean white chest, and sago-red beak. Suddenly the bird dived down plunging into the water. Then with a victim in its beak it shot past the rock collectors, rose to avoid a clump of tall reeds and vanished behind a clump of pandanus grass. Karyamin felt a sense of jealousy towards the bird, but as he looked at his two empty baskets he could only smile.

        Karyamin did not have any idea why he was going home. There wasn’t anything there that was going to stop the gurgling in his stomach. There was also no point his wife worrying. Oh yes, Karyamin remembered. His wife was a good reason to go home. Last night his wife hadn’t been able to sleep because of a boil right on the top of her backside.

        “So what’s wrong if I go home to look after my sick wife,” he thought.

        Karyamin tried to walk a little faster although from time to time he suddenly felt a dizziness and a sea of stars swam before his eyes. As soon as he reached the other side of the bamboo bridge he noticed a crisp ripe water guava. He was about to pick it from the tree but changed his mind when he noticed bat bite marks. He also saw snakeskin fruit scattered on the ground below a snakeskin fruit tree. He picked one from the tree, took a bite, then threw it as far as he could. The dry-bitter sourness of the unripe snakeskin fruit tasted like poison on his tongue. Karyamin continued. His ears rang as he ascended a small slope but he didn’t worry; this was the hill leading up to his house.

        Before he reached the crest of the slope he suddenly came to a stop. Two bicycles were parked at the front of his house. The ringing in his ears seemed to be growing louder; he seemed to be feeling dizzier. So he stopped, completely still, and stared. He thought of his sick wife having to deal with the two debt collectors from the bank. He knew she didn’t have the money to make today’s payments, or tomorrow’s, or the next day’s, or whenever’s; just as he had no idea when the rock trader who a month ago had taken their rock would show up again.

        Stars still swam in front of his face. Karyamin started to wonder whether coming home was such a good idea. He knew there was nothing he would be able to do; nothing he could do to help his wife deal with the two debt collectors. He turned round slowly ready to head back down the hill but Karyamin noticed a man coming up behind him wearing a long-sleeved batik shirt. The worn out reddish fez on the man’s head convinced Karyamin that this was the Village secretary.

        “Now I’ve finally caught you, Min. I’ve been calling in all morning looking for you but you’ve been out. Then I looked at the river but you weren’t there. You’re not trying to avoid me now, are you?”

        “Avoid you?”

        “Yes, you are being very difficult, Min. In this area you’re the only person who hasn’t made a contribution yet. You’re the only one who hasn’t put anything into the African Relief Fund to help starving people in Africa. Now, today is the last day and I won’t put up with any more silly business.”

        Karyamin could hear the sound of his own breathing, quietly, and also the rhythmic throb of his own heartbeat, but he couldn’t see the smile that began to spread over his lips. He smiled widely, deeply aware of his own condition and the situation that was now staring him in the face. Sadly, however, the Village secretary took Karyamin’s smile the wrong way and started to grow angry.

        “Are you laughing at me, Min?”

        “No, sir. Definitely not.”

        “Then what’s that smirk all about? Come on, hurry up and hand over your contribution to the fund.”

        But this time Karyamin didn’t just smile; he began to laugh out loud. He laughed so hard in fact that it reignited the beehive hum roaring in his ears and the world slowly dissolved into a sea of swirling stars in front of him and his stomach began to heave throwing him off balance.

        Seeing Karyamin stumble and start to tumble down the embankment back towards the valley, the Village secretary tried to catch Karyamin. Unfortunately, he failed.


(1) Senyum Karyamin was published in Kompas daily in July 1987.