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World Bank: Corruption Threatens Democratic Reforms in Indonesia - 2003-10-20

The World Bank has released a report saying that Indonesia's deep and abiding corruption threatens the country's progress towards democracy.

Indonesia is one of the world's most corrupt societies, a legacy of the years of misrule by the disgraced dictator President Suharto, who ensured loyalty by carefully doling out graft money to his subordinates.

A World Bank report released Monday says Indonesia has made progress, with its now free media exposing corruption and its government tightening regulation and oversight.

But the report also says Indonesia needs to pursue corruption aggressively if it wants to consolidate the democratic reforms of the past five years. However, Sarwar Lateef, one of the report's authors, is not hopeful about the pace of reform.

"This is not a time when you can push a very comprehensive program of reform," he said. "Neither is the capacity of government to do it, the political will is often weak in such circumstances, and so it is unrealistic to expect comprehensive approaches."

The World Bank report says many high-ranking people from the Suharto era are still operating with impunity. A possible candidate for next year's presidential elections is a convicted thief. Last month, the international watchdog Transparency International ranked Indonesia near the bottom of its corruption scale, saying it was number 122 out of 133 nations worldwide. Indonesia fared better than Burma but worse than Sierra Leone.

The government's radical de-centralization program, which aims to devolve decision-making power down to regions, has in the short-term increased the potential for corruption.

But the World Bank says decentralization offers a huge opportunity to combat corruption by giving power to those who have suffered most from graft.

Corruption features high in any survey of ordinary Indonesians. With general and presidential elections scheduled for next year, Indonesians have a chance to use the ballot box against the politicians who have been stealing the country's money for years.