Tuesday 23 October 2012

When cops are just like robbers

Public anger is growing over policemen who line their pockets and bribe their way up the ranks. Indonesia Correspondents Zakir Hussain and Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja report
The Straits Times, 21 Oct 2012

It is an open secret that to become a policeman in Indonesia, you have to pay a bribe.

The going rate to secure admission to police training school, says Mr Neta S. Pane of the non-governmental organisation Indonesia Police Watch, is as high as 250 million rupiah (S$32,500) in Jakarta and 100 million rupiah elsewhere.

Little wonder, then, that once they graduate and hit the streets, these cops are eager to recoup their investment. Practically any violation can be scratched out for a price - whether it is 50,000 rupiah to ignore an illegal U-turn or 500,000 rupiah for a driver's licence. How else can they afford to repay their debt?

Other bureaucrats are also notorious for engaging in this practice, known as pungli, short for pungutan liar or off-budget collections. But policemen are the most visible offenders, resulting in a situation where the very officers who are meant to uphold the law blatantly flout it.

"Public perception of the police has soured so much, it is almost irreparable," Mr Neta told The Sunday Times.

This helps explain public anger against the police.

While junior officers harass motorists for bribes, senior officers are known to mark up official purchases to siphon off funds on the side.

When the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) recently tried to take over a case in which the police had manipulated tenders for driving simulators, used to help those learning how to drive, police resistance drew a public outcry.

When the KPK interrogated former traffic division chief Djoko Susilo this month for graft related to that purchase, some officers tried to stall the probe by reopening a case against a KPK investigator where one of his officers allegedly shot a suspect eight years ago.

Hundreds of KPK supporters gathered outside the agency's premises in protest - a stand-off that lasted till the wee hours of the morning. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono eventually intervened to calm things down.

In recent years, the 400,000-strong police force has consistently ranked as the most corrupt - and least trusted - institution in public perception surveys.

Policemen acknowledge they have an image problem. But police spokesman Boy Rafli Amar downplayed the culture of bribes, telling The Sunday Times: "Any officer responsible for such a practice could be expelled. Please report them to us."

The public is less certain, with a detik.com reader, Ms Dinanti, noting on the website: "They say salaries are minimal… How is it they have grand houses, new cars?"

It is rare for cops to be hauled up for fraud and convicted, and many get away with their misdeeds. Investigative journalists have also exposed senior police generals with suspiciously bloated bank accounts, but few have been taken to task.

Recently, the anti-graft organisation Transparency International noted that according to the Global Corruption Barometer for 2010 to 2011, 52 per cent of Indonesians perceived the police as being extremely corrupt. Some 11 per cent of those who had contact with the police reported paying bribes in 2009.

Observers say the main problem is that salaries are barely enough for police officers to survive on.

The entry pay of a junior policeman is 1.4 million rupiah a month before allowances; a fresh inspector gets 2.2 million rupiah. A police general with 32 years on the job earns a base pay of less than 5 million rupiah, slightly more than civil servants of similar rank.

Wages have risen slightly every year, but not by enough - hence the reliance on illegal sources of income.

In cities nationwide, "quasi-police stations" have sprouted. According to a mid-ranking officer, these are houses rented by rogue officers for backroom negotiations with suspected drug offenders.

While big drug dealers are taken directly to a police station, many smaller players are interrogated at these houses, where deals are struck for the suspects or their families to pay a bribe and secure their freedom - leaving no record or paperwork.

The practice is so institutionalised that some of the bribes are apparently channelled to police cooperatives that help officers injured on duty, for instance.

About the only effective police unit is the counter-terrorism division Detachment 88, where the pay is significantly higher. Officers in this unit are selected from the best-performing and fittest cops.

People feel that for many cops, padding their income by, say, stopping motorists to look for out-of-date licences takes precedence over safeguarding public safety.

An International Crisis Group report this year on Indonesia's police - titled "The deadly cost of poor policing" - noted how internal corruption was also rife. At most stages of the job, cops pay other cops to get promotions as well as plum postings and assignments.

Said the report: "In such an environment, decisions about work tend to be made on the basis of financial gain rather than commitment to duty."

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