Anti-Corruption Education versus Pro-Corruption Culture

For Indonesia, the eradication of systemic corruption is one of the country’s biggest challenges. A central part of Indonesia’s anticorruption strategy has been strengthening the country’s anticorruption institutions, most notably through the establishment of the Indonesian Corruption Commission (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi/, or  ”KPK”) in 2002. The KPK has been quite successful over the past decade, yet Indonesia is still perceived as corrupt. One reason for this may be Indonesia’s own pro-corruption culture. Public officials are not ashamed to ask for bribes, and the public and investors are not reluctant to pay them. Indeed, some Indonesian public servants do not even recognize their corrupt acts as illegal or wrongful. For example, when Indonesia’s Minister of Religion Suryadharma Ali was named as a suspect for embezzling money from the Hajj fund, he testified before the KPK that he did not know that his action was corrupt. The same line of argument was advanced by Jero Wacik, another minister named as a suspect in a corruption case by the KPK. These claims may seem absurd, but a person who lived in Indonesia can easily say that a lot of Indonesian people may indeed not know that certain wrongful behavior is (illegal) corruption. For example, giving petty cash to a public official as “gratitude” for expediting the issuance of a national identification card would not be considered as corrupt behavior by many Indonesians.

That a culture of corruption is embedded in Indonesia is not surprising. After all, it was only recently, under the reign of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, that the government began to take significant steps to eradicate corruption. If Indonesia’s pro-corruption culture is part of the problem, as it seems to be, more steps have to be taken beyond “mere” legal reform, institutional reform, and more aggressive law enforcement. Indonesia needs to establish a new strategy and approach in eradicating the endemic corruption, one that takes culture into consideration and implements anticorruption education programs to change this culture. What kind of anticorruption education might effectively change Indonesia’s pro-corruption culture in the long run? Here are three proposals the Indonesian government might consider:

  • First, the government should require all public officials to receive anticorruption education. Recently, the KPK has developed an anticorruption education app for government officials, but the app’s coverage is limited and there is no requirement that state officials use it, so it is not likely to be a sufficient anticorruption education tool. To ensure a high-level knowledge and embed a sense of responsibility in saying no to corruption, the Indonesian government should require all of its state institutions to hold series of anticorruption classes or seminars for their employees. The government also needs to compel the relevant state institutions to conduct a test at the end of education program (on a pass/fail basis) for their employees. If there is an official who fails, then he or she should be be given only one more chance to retake the test, and should be dismissed after a second failure. The government must issue a rigid regulation as a legal basis for compelling the state institutions to establish this program.
  • Second, the Indonesian government, through the KPK, must continue to educate the general Indonesian public. Some promising initiatives are already underway. In October 2014, in Yogyakarta (a city renowned as a center of education in Indonesia), the KPK introduced an “anticorruption bus” that functions as a mobile anticorruption learning center, where people can access anticorruption videos, games, books, and other information. The Indonesian government must take steps to evaluate, and ensure the consistent implementation of, this promising initiative. The Indonesian government should conduct research, perhaps an annual survey, to find out whether this program can really be an effective anticorruption education method. If the answer is yes, the government should expand the program, adding fleets of buses to reach all areas in Indonesia, including the remote islands. If it turns out to be ineffective, Indonesia must move on to another method, for example, by requiring TV stations, radios and websites in Indonesia to provide slots for anticorruption ads and movies during prime time.
  • Third, Indonesia should require elementary, junior high, and high schools to have an anticorruption curriculum. At the elementary school level, anticorruption education can be made very “child friendly”, and help younger students be able to identify which daily activities that can be constituted as corruption. At the higher the levels of schooling, the anticorruption curriculum can be more complex; high school students, for example, can learn about the content of Indonesia’s anticorruption laws and learn about past corruption cases. The main objective of these curricula is to establish a mindset of hating corruption. This is important if Indonesia wants to demolish the existing pro-corruption culture. Thus, the program should be mandatory. And, before the curriculum is implemented, the Indonesian government should provide compulsory anticorruption education for schoolteachers to prepare them to implement the curricula.

To ensure the effectiveness of the above anticorruption education programs, it is necessary to designate an agency with full responsibility and authority for developing and implement these programs. The most natural candidate is the KPK’s Directorate of Education and Community Service. Clearly designating a single responsible agency is important given Indonesia’s long history of conflicting authority among its institutions. However, the government also needs to ensure good cooperation between the KPK and all relevant ministries and state agencies in Indonesia. Therefore, President Joko Widodo needs to issue a presidential decree requiring all concerned ministries and government agencies to cooperate with the KPK in establishing and implementing the anticorruption education programs. In the decree, the President should instruct the KPK, the Ministry of Education and Culture, and the Ministry of Law and Human Rights to jointly draft a legal basis to implement the programs in Indonesia.

Of course, the ambitious program outlined above will require substantial time, effort, and expense. And even if the entire package of proposed reforms were implemented immediately, one would not see instant results. However, in the absence of effective and widespread anticorruption education, Indonesia’s pro-corruption will persist. The longer this culture remains, the more difficult it will be to combat it. Therefore, the Indonesian government and KPK must make anticorruption education Indonesia’s main pre-emptive program in combating endemic corruption.

3 thoughts on “Anti-Corruption Education versus Pro-Corruption Culture

  1. Shinta, this is really interesting. I wonder if you see the primary problem as moral ignorance or legal ignorance. In other words, is the problem that people don’t realize they could (realistically) get caught and punished for certain types of acts, or is it that they see nothing wrong with the acts themselves? Or is it possible that people hate the idea of ‘corruption’ in the abstract and support cracking down on it, but do not understand how specific, common acts that they perpetrate are corruption?

    Depending on the answer, the emphasis of the anti-corruption education might be different. If it’s simply a matter of people not thinking that they will get caught, I think the issue would become as much about the facts (how many people KPK is arresting and getting convicted), and the education campaign would be much simpler. It’s harder to show people why what they are doing is wrong if they don’t already perceive it that way, but if it can be achieved, then education alone, apart from greater enforcement, could have a larger effect.

    • This is a great point Sarah. I had a similar response when reading this post, namely that it was entirely possible that the success of these efforts might hinge on either (1) successfully demonstrating that corruption is bad or undesirable; or (2) broadening people’s conception or understanding of the definition of corruption to encompass actions that are currently viewed as common practice rather than corrupt acts. While I think your intuition is right that the program that we might design to address either of these issues might differ, my hunch is that it’s likely that a successful anticorruption effort in Indonesia will likely have to combat both problems (though Shinta you obviously know much more about this than I do).

      On a similar note, I wonder if anticorruption programs that focus on the first factor (emphasizing the undesirability/immorality of corruption) might also end up taking different forms depending upon the target audience. For example, it seems to me that the narrative that you would use to describe why corruption is problematic will likely differ (not only in complexity but also in emphasis) based upon whether or not you are teaching this concept to schoolchildren/the general public or public officials.

  2. Fantastic proposals, especially (1) and (3). I think there is a way to package those two proposals together as an important model for combating this “culture” of corruption in both the short- and long-run.

    It is a bit hard to believe that anticorruption and ethics training is not already mandatory for government officials the world over. Major companies, and elements of federal, state, and local governments, have already learned the importance of using anticorruption training on the back-end to make sure that officials are aware of their ethical obligations. The problem with this effort, though, is that it may not really change the mindset or cultural context in which these employees work; it may instead simply alter their incentive structure by warning them that they are being watched. But this is where expanding educational curricula comes in: you try to alter the culture of corruption by instilling anticorruption values in the next generation of officials while they’re still young. The important thing seems to be the combination of the two efforts: use workplace training to both deter corrupt behaviors among the current body of officials (who grew up thinking corruption was okay or that certain corrupt behaviors were not wrong) and as a refresher course for future officials who began to learn to “hate” corruption at an early age while in school.

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