Monday 18 Feb 2019 | 04:30 | SYDNEY
Monday 18 Feb 2019 | 04:30 | SYDNEY

This week in Jakarta: Panama Papers, protests and traffic jockeys



8 April 2016 12:30

Jakarta this week joined the rest of the world in bracing for the impact of the 'Panama Papers' which were revealed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The names of around 800 Indonesian businesspeople and politicians were uncovered among the clients of Panamanian firm Mossack Fonseca, including some well-known billionaires.

Tempo, the only Indonesian publication involved in the international investigation, produced its own in-depth report. The first of the names mentioned by Tempo include corruption case fugitive Djoko Soegiarto Tjandra, 'gasoline godfather' Muhammad Reza Chalid — who last made an appearance in a corruption scandal involving Freeport Indonesia — and a prospective candidate for governor of Jakarta, Sandiaga Uno. A follow-up report by Tempo also named Lippo Group owner James Riady and Indofood Director, Franciscus Welirang, as having connections to Mossack Fonseca. 

As with most of the ICIJ's long list of names from around the world, there's no evidence yet of any wrongdoing by the business leaders exposed by the leaks. It's not illegal to hold offshore accounts, and considering the trauma of the Asian Financial Crisis, business leaders in the region may have very good reasons for holding assets abroad. Nonetheless, the exposure by ICIJ has brought these assets to public and government scrutiny, with investigations now underway by the tax office, Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) and other financial analysts.

Among the general public, the leaks have not had the same level of impact as in other parts of the world – like Iceland for example. Perhaps there is an element of fatigue among Indonesians used to hearing about corruption scandals in the media on a daily basis. It could also be that aside from Tempo, local media have been relatively careful in reporting the leaks in case of revelations regarding their respective moguls.

As for the government, the response has been mixed. Vice President Jusuf Kalla called for calm, saying that a tax amnesty may apply for any problematic cases. Finance Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro diverted attention to the 'billions of dollars' in back taxes he says Indonesia is owed by Google, Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo. President Jokowi promised that his government would thoroughly investigate the papers before releasing the results and the full list of names to the public.

Protests outside the KPK office this week were not focused on the Panama Papers, but on corruption allegations made against Jakarta Governor Ahok.

Members of the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) blocked a major road on Monday outside the anti-corruption body's office, calling for the governor's arrest. The FPI has long been the loudest voice of opposition against the Christian Chinese-Indonesian Governor, previously on the basis of his minority religion and ethnicity. This time, FPI accused Ahok of corruption in a handful of land use cases. With no evidence yet produced on these cases, Ahok remains the popular frontrunner for next year's gubernatorial election.

Ahok faced greater controversy this week with a decision to suspend the three-in-one traffic regulation on Jakarta's main roads. The rule required cars to have at least three passengers onboard to use the main roads during peak hour. It had been reasonably effective at reducing the number of cars on the road, and was well-enforced by traffic police performing regular raids. However, in line with Jakarta's entrepreneurial spirit (and deep social inequality), the rule also spawned an informal workforce of low-paid 'jockeys' willing to fill seats to make the quota. Every morning and afternoon, hundreds of jockeys would line the feeder streets to the main roads, offering the inexpensive service of riding in a car to the end of the three-in-one zone. 

Traffic police tended to turn a blind eye to the jockey industry, while the Public Order Agency conducted occasional sweeps, detaining as many jockeys as they could catch. Many of the jockeys were teenagers or women with babies – a baby counts as a head in the car. The child labour issue of the jockey industry has been a long-standing concern, but the suspension was finally triggered by allegations that some of the babies and young children brought along by jockeys were being sedated to keep them still in the car. The move also follows a recent crackdown on syndicates forcing children to beg and busk on Jakarta's streets.

While these measures were taken with the best interests of children at heart, it's yet unclear what will happen to this workforce of hundreds, including children, now suddenly out of work.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Indigo Skies Photography.

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