Jokowi steps up fight against illegal levies

Jakarta Post – Wearing a worn-out shirt, a middle-aged man seemed agitated, pacing back and forth while repeatedly trying to call someone at the driver’s license office in Daan Mogot, West Jakarta, on Thursday.

The man, who only wanted to be called Mikan, said he was trying to reach an official involved with the driver’s license service who had promised to give him a new licence in one day, without the hassles of standing in long lines for registration or taking tests.

When he finally reached the official, who had offered a fast, but illegal way of obtaining a license for Rp 700,000 [US$54], he ended up being disappointed.

The official said he could not come out of the office and that “the service” would not be available for a while because of an inspection that had taken place at his office that day.

“Now I have to do it myself and have to wake up as early as 5 a.m. tomorrow to come early to this place to avoid long queues because I live far away from here,” the resident of Cempaka Putih, Central Jakarta, told The Jakarta Post.

The government has announced that it will combat illegal levies that plague the public service as part of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s legal reforms.

A task force has been formed to curb illegal levies under the lead of Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Wiranto and the National Police by conducting raids on civil servants at government offices.

After announcing the legal reform plan on Wednesday, Jokowi witnessed the arrest of three Transportation Ministry officials who were accused of collecting illegal levies related to licensing services.

But considering the failure of similar special forces formed to combat illegal levies during previous administrations, questions remain about whether Jokowi would succeed.

Anticorruption activist Adnan Topan Husodo of the Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) said the New Order once had a similar team and later there was also a Timtas Tipikor (Corruption Eradication Team) formed before the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). Both of them failed to root out the culture of civil servants collecting illegal levies.

Notoriously known as one of the most corrupt government institutions, the National Police, the main institution that will shoulder the gargantuan task, has also been accused of such practices.

Officials at the police’s vehicle document registration center (Samsat), like the one in Daan Mogot, allegedly offer faster ways of attaining licenses to applicants who are willing to pay higher, unauthorized fees.

Driver’s licenses attained through the normal process should only cost from Rp 100,000 to Rp 160,000, depending on the type of vehicle, but that process requires waiting in long queues and completing a series of tests. People like Mikan can apparently get a license more easily by paying more.

Criminal Investigation Department (Bareskrim) head Comr. Gen. Ari Dono Sukmanto said Jokowi would issue a presidential decree as the legal basis for the establishment of the task force.

“Officers involved in [collecting] illegal levies will face criminal charges. They will be severely punished,” Ari said.

National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian has instructed all regional police forces to set up special teams to eliminate illegal levies.

If the operations turn up civil servants suspected of collecting illegal levies those bureaucrats, like the three accused at the Transportation Ministry, would be charged under the Corruption Law.

Economist Ari Kuncoro of the University of Indonesia criticized Jokowi’s move to combat the small-time corruption.

He said the police alone would not be able to stop the practice as it was highly pervasive and mostly conducted by low-ranking officials.

Ari said the only way to curb such a culture was by establishing an online system that was easy for citizens to use.

“Establishing an online system, which is easy to operate, will encourage citizens to avoid using the services of middlemen. It is better for the police to focus on curbing the larger-scale corruption that has hampered development and the economy,” Ari said.

Haeril Halim and Margareth S. Aritonang