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Jakarta Post

[Read Directly on TheJakartaPost.com]

by Jennie M. Xue

Most people in the world celebrate the wealthy and brave. A combination of these would result in something spectacular. Honesty, however, is often placed in the backseat.

We often pray that our children grow up to be honest and kind, yet it is common knowledge that accepting gratuities in Indonesia is considered a “way of life”, especially among government officials. Reading news about honest and brave officials, thus, is a breath of fresh air.

In a corruption-laden country such as Indonesia, everyone professes that they dislike corruption, but only a few actually walk the talk.

In his US presidential campaign, Donald Trump is an example of “celebration of the wealthy”. In Indonesia, there are three administration officials in its capital city, namely Jakarta Public Housing and Government Building Agency head Ika Lestari Adji, Jakarta Water Management Agency head Teguh Hendarwan and Jakarta Development Planning Board (Bappeda) head Tuty Kusumawati, who embody the rare breed of “honest” Indonesian civil servants.

Corruption itself is actually a symptom of a wider problem of poor governance and citizens are a crucial part of the betterment process.

Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama has praised Ika, Teguh and Tuty for reporting gratuities worth a total of Rp 10 billion (US$714,000) to the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). What’s so amazing about that?

Believe it or not, it was the first time ever that city government officials reported such incident of offered gratuity. Special recognition for such an act of honesty and bravery was not necessary, said Ahok, as it would be difficult to classify it. Well understood.

In fact, the recent emergence of anticorruption and antigratuity leaders is the result of people’s increasing intolerance toward being extorted for bribes by predatory officials. All over the world, citizens have shown disgust toward such acts.

The Partnership for Transparency Fund published a report from the Front Line titled Citizens Against Corruption (2013) that highlighted several citizen-led anticorruption movements, which might as well inspire Indonesians to follow suit. It would require, however, some internal changes within ourselves as citizens and a society.

First things first, we need to share the same mindset.

A hierarchical society such as Indonesia still adheres to the archaic notion of higher and lower classes, in which those belonging to the lower classes should succumb to those with higher statuses. Indonesia’s sectarian trait should be diminished gradually with a mindset revolution.

The “feeling that people can’t do anything” is what professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania Martin Seligman would call “learned helplessness” or “learned incompetence.” To reduce and, eventually, eliminate it, we must be aware whenever we are in such a situation or think in such a framework. By being aware that we are reinforcing “learned helplessness,” we are more ready to reframe it, like Ika, Teguh and Tuty did when they reported their gratuities. Reframe the notion that “I don’t have any power to change anything” with “I can cause a tipping point by reporting this.”

Second, corruption itself is actually a symptom of a wider problem of poor governance and citizens are a crucial part of the betterment process. It can be better eradicated when citizens incessantly urge government officials to be accountable and to fully respect the law without any reservations.

When Ahok was the regent of East Belitung in Sumatra, he was known to have supervised the development of roads in person.

The Concerned Citizens of Abra, a citizens group against corruption in the north of the Philippines, monitored the construction of a highway being built in their area. It was common knowledge at that time and in the area that most contractors would have reduced the usage of crucial materials to save costs, resulting in substandard works.

The citizens were able to prove that the contractor had used 26 bags of cement instead of the promised 36 bags and reported the incident to the local department of public works and highways.

Third, the “tipping point” is closer than you think. The term “tipping point” was popularized by The New Yorker columnist Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (2000). The term refers to “the point at which a series of small changes or incidents becomes significant enough to cause a larger, more important change.” Just like drops of water can cause an indentation that will eventually break a rock, every one of us is that “drop of water”.

Another push through the chaotic landscape of corruption and gratuity is what we need to tip over this ugly rock. May there be more leaders and citizens following in the footsteps of Ika, Teguh and Tuty.[]

The Jakarta Post, January 17, 2016

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