Armando Siahaan: Scot-Free Singapore

By webadmin on 06:37 pm Apr 11, 2010
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Armando Siahaan

Singapore will always be our one-hour away escape from the hustle and bustle of Jakarta. From the gleaming shopping centers that line Orchard Road to the wide spectrum of budget eateries such as the prata bread and chicken rice stands at the River Valley Road, the island city-state is a breath of fresh air.

Moreover, the recently opened thrill-blitzing Universal Studios Singapore gives us an alternative theme park experience to the Ferris wheel at Ancol’s Dunia Fantasi. And then there are the casinos. Indonesians no longer have to lose their money playing baccarat in underground gambling dens, where the adrenaline fixation comes not only from the next card dealt, but also from the possibility of a police raid.

But just like a true best friend, Singapore is not only there for Indonesians when we’re having a good time. When we’re in trouble with the law, well, we can always rely on Singapore. A number of Indonesian bad guys, usually linked to money-related crimes, have reportedly taken sanctuary there.

And here’s why: Indonesia does not have an extradition treaty with Singapore, which means that our authorities are prohibited from carrying out arrests in the tiny nation.

Isn’t this ironic? Our police can’t put handcuffs on our despicable corruptors in a country where its citizens can be slapped with a heavy fine for spitting gum on the sidewalk.

Apparently, both governments have been trying to work out an extradition deal since 1979, but have never been able to see eye-to-eye.

In 2007, both governments agreed to the extradition pact. However, the agreement in effect collapsed when our House of Representatives (DPR) refused to ratify it.

As a condition for granting the extradition request, Singapore’s government bundled it with another pact, the Defense Cooperation Agreement, trying to make it a two-for-one deal. Lawmakers had reservations over some points raised in the defense agreement, and subsequently refused to ratify it and the extradition pact.

One point of contention was the requirement for Indonesia to provide areas within the country for Singapore’s armed forces to conduct training exercises. Yes, our beloved neighbor wanted to use our land to play around with their missile-launching toys.

The request, however, is understandable from Singapore’s point of view. It would probably take Singapore’s jet fighters about five seconds after take-off before they enter Malaysian or Indonesian air space. Their military definitely needs a training ground outside the country. But is it justifiable?

In my opinion, Singapore’s demand is a little over the top. They suck in money from Indonesian tourists and in return they get to bomb our territory for training purposes? Does the term “national sovereignty” mean anything?

A view shared among experts is that Singapore intentionally included such a ridiculous clause, one that the Indonesian government would be unlikely to accept, because the city-state actually wants Indonesian fugitives in residence.

Here’s a hypothetical scenario: Markus, a tax broker, helps a businessman evade his obligations to the state and receives $1 million in return. By the time our law-enforcement agencies smell something fishy, Markus is already two steps ahead. He buys a first-class ticket to Singapore, and 1.5 hours later he’s home-free.

Uncertain what to do with his ill-gotten wealth, he decides to invest by opening a hawker stall that sells the magical Indomie instant noodle. The Singapore government taxes him, he’s protected and everyone’s happy. Well, except for us Indonesians.

While our two governments fail to see eye-to-eye on the extradition, Markus is grinning while enjoying his bowl of Singaporean laksa (spicy noodle soup).

Here’s my big question. With the recent criminal diaspora to Singapore, why isn’t the Indonesian government boisterously barking to reopen the talks on an extradition treaty?

While waiting for that to happen, I’ll probably go to Singapore over the weekend to try the Battlestar Galactica dueling roller coaster at Universal Studios. Even better, maybe I’ll steal a chocolate from the warung in front of my house and flee to Singapore before the police catch me.

Armando Siahaan is a reporter with the Jakarta Globe. E-mail: