AP, Armando Siahaan & Camelia Pasandaran
Jakarta. Gayus Tambunan’s get-out-of-jail scandal has touched a raw nerve like few others in a nation where corruption scandals are daily fare.
That’s because more than a decade after the collapse of former President Suharto’s 32-year dictatorship, many believe the greatest threat is not terrorism, a weak education system, poor infrastructure or even poverty.
“It’s graft,” said Agung Kumoroyekti, a 32-year-old computer salesman who wants the worst corruptors to be put to death.
“Otherwise nothing will change in this country,” he said. “If you’re rich or powerful, you’ll always be able to do what you want.”
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has made fighting graft a top priority.
But the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) itself has been beset by scandals of its own, some allegedly fabricated by tainted officials.
On Tuesday, Yudhoyono acknowledged that Indonesians were “not satisfied” with the embarrassing law enforcement system, but said he could not intervene in individual cases, despite the rising complaints.
“Though I could not and would not intervene in the legal process … as a head of state I should care about the concerns of our people,” he said.
The president did not say what steps he would take to improve the justice system.
“I have received text messages from people who are not satisfied with law enforcement,” Yudhoyono said.
He said the messages began when he was attending last week’s G-20 Summit in South Korea, shortly after Gayus was found to be bribing his way to a Bali vacation during his trial on corruption charges.
In some ways, Gayus, who is charged with pocketing at least $2.7 million from dozens of big companies while he was a mid-level tax collector, is a dream case for a frustrated public and corruption watchdogs.
Each new allegation at his trial, now in its fifth month, has cast a wider shadow on top government officials, police and the judiciary in a country where most people earn less than $300 a month.
On Monday, Gayus broke into tears when he admitted in a hearing at the South Jakarta District Court that he was the wigged man captured by a Jakarta Globe photographer at an international tennis match in Bali on Nov. 5.
“I simply wanted to see my family,” said Gayus, who was surrounded by relatives at the match. “I wanted a vacation.”
National Police spokesman Maj. Gen. Iskandar Hasan said nine police guards have been arrested and face charges of accepting up to $40,000 from Gayus, who allegedly left the jail at least 60 times since his detention in April.
That has raised new questions about whether Gayus still has access to any of his alleged ill-gotten gains.
Pamuji, a 22-year-old street vendor, said the events of the last week have made her more pessimistic about the state of justice in Indonesia.
“If you’re poor and get caught pick-pocketing, you’ll be chased down by a mob and badly beaten,” she said. “I guess if you steal enough money, like him, you can do what you want!”
Emerson Yuntho, from Indonesian Corruption Watch, said that Gayus’s Bali jaunt exposed deep flaws in the legal system.
“The Gayus case reveals two types of problems, taxation and a judicial mafia,” he said, referring to Gayus’s alleged illicit practices in the tax office and bribery of officials to avoid conviction on graft charges in 2009.
“And none of those implicated in the cases have been brought to justice,” Emerson said.
The Gayus Bali getaway also demonstrates to a weary public that even in detention the wealthy evade real punishment, such as the case of Artalyta Suryani, who is serving time on graft charges but was found to be enjoying a luxury cell in a women’s prison earlier this year.
So far none of the institutions in charge of Gayus’s detention — the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, the Attorney General’s Office and the National Police — have accepted responsibility for his stroll on the beach. Instead they have pointed fingers at one another.
“The whole blame game is expected,” Emerson said. “At one point or another, all these institutions have been implicated in the Gayus scandal.”