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2005 Magsaysay Awardee Inspired To Go On Fighting Corruption

  • Bangladesh
  • August 31 2005
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Teten Masduki, winner of the 2005 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service, says the award is a symbol of Indonesians´ fight against corruption and motivates him to continue his struggle for change.

Masduki, 42, was cited for "challenging Indonesians to expose corruption and claim their right to clean government."

He spoke with UCA News in Jakarta before leaving for the Philippines to receive his award with five other award winners on Aug. 31 in Manila.

Born into a farming family in Garut district of West Java province, Masduki heads Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW) and also is a national ombudsman. The Muslim anti-corruption activist, the 17th Indonesian to receive a Magsaysay award, says he has been involved in working for human rights since he joined a 1985 demonstration of local farmers whose land was stolen.

He shares the 2005 Award for Public Service with V. Shanta from India. The four other Magsaysay winners this year are: Senator Jon Ungphakorn from Thailand, for Government Service; Hye-ran Yoon from Korea, for Emergent Leadership; Matiur Rahman from Bangladesh, for Journalism, Literature, and Creative Communication Arts; and Sombath Somphone from Laos, for Community Leadership.

The UCA News interview with Masduki follows:

UCA NEWS: What is the impact of your receiving the award?

TETEN MASDUKI: This award is the symbol of the fight against corruption by the Indonesian people. Although (fighting corruption) is an incredible challenge, I realize I am part of the Indonesian people. Maybe the award committee knows about our efforts to encourage society to bring about change, although what we have accomplished is not quite enough yet. The government is paying serious attention to corruption, which has become a practice that involves many people. The award serves as motivation, and also protection, in our struggle to combat corruption.

This award gives me new energy to remain consistent and keep working hard, because I´m sure those who give me this recognition also know what I´m doing is right. My goal is community change, and I see fighting corruption as a bridge to reach economic and social changes.

How difficult is this struggle?

It is difficult and full of risks because of the lack of support from the bureaucratic system, legal authorities, political parties and parliament. Corruption has existed since previous governments. Seeing the many corruption cases, we realize that what we are doing is like running into a wall. Nonetheless we must start somewhere.

I think the biggest enemy in fighting corruption is intimidation, threats, and mass pressure. That makes us feel tired and frustrated. Despite the fact that the anti-corruption movement is growing in society and has become a model social movement, sometimes we think our efforts are fruitless and we feel frustrated because the response from the bureaucracy is very slight. Many times I felt tempted to leave this job because I thought it was useless. But people around me, my family and friends keep encouraging me, and I feel strengthened to continue the struggle despite the difficulties.

What moved you to form ICW? What has it done?

I formed ICW in 1998 because I saw that corruption had become a big problem for the country. Corruption has impoverished people and destroyed the environment. It has created legal uncertainty and worsened public service. It has hampered the process of change.

Without radical political change, I believe that the effort to fight corruption will not be easy and will take a long time. So we need to form an institution, to institutionalize this movement. We want to make it not a voluntary and sporadic movement, but a long-term institution. We need to develop a methodology with a clear and sustainable perspective, and to prepare cadres.

ICW has provided the public with information about corruption, collusion and nepotism. In 2004, ICW revealed 432 corruption cases that caused losses to the nation of about US$580 million.

I think for Indonesia, an anti-corruption movement such as ICW is important. ICW now has offices in various cities throughout the country, and its work has gained it much trust from the public. I think the work of the movement will gradually bear fruit for the country. With ICW established, I am also encouraging other institutions to spread the movement.

In the future Indonesia should not rely on foreign loans but on its own natural resources and taxes for its budget. The people who pay taxes will not want their money to end in corruption. The anti-corruption movement will remind the government to create and implement efficient budgeting.

How did corruption take root in Indonesia?

Corruption has been a practice in Indonesia for long time, but I do not agree that corruption is part of the culture. I think corruption came along with power. I see corruption as a historical problem, not a cultural problem.

Historically there were three periods that saw a significant spread of corrupt practices. The first was the period after the nationalization of Dutch-owned companies in 1957 by the State. Since then the State has dominated the economy.

Secondly, the period after the July 5, 1959, presidential decree (issued by then-president Soekarno) on returning to the 1945 State Constitution. This period saw the intervention of executive power in the judiciary.

Thirdly, the period of President Soeharto´s rule, during which all checks and balances became paralyzed. There was political control on businesses, which created corruption among government officials, politicians and businessmen, and gave birth to conglomeration.

These three periods destroyed all systems. It has affected people´s mentality so much. According to the International Transparency Institution, in the last five years Indonesia has become one of five most corrupt countries in the world.

That is why we need to have a long-term, institutionalized anti-corruption movement, not a sporadic one.

Is the present government taking measures to stop corruption?

Since the economic crisis in the late 1990s and after Soeharto´s fall from power in 1998, the new government began to raise the issue of corruption as a national problem that needs serious attention. But corruption did not automatically decrease.

During the presidency of Megawati Soekarnoputri, some policies were formed to deal with corruption, but they remain just words. For example, the establishment of an anti-corruption commission and national ombudsmen, and the revision of the law on corruption to make punishments heavier. These policies were not effectively implemented.

Only in (the current) presidency of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono do we begin to see progress, with several big corruption cases being brought to court.

What do you plan to do with the prize money?

I will use some of it to develop this movement. Personally this award is special, because, to be honest, the economic benefit I got from my work so far is small. Practically I use almost all my time for the movement, but not with the aim of earning money.

Aside from the award (citation), I will receive US$56,000. This helps me work more freely, because I can have some savings for my children´s studies. I´m not extravagant but a simple man. The prize is a big support for my struggle to bring social change.

END

(Accompanying photos available at here)

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