Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Indonesia: Smoke and Corruption

Indonesia: Smoke and Corruption

Source: Copyright 2006, Jakarta Post
Date: November 7, 2006
Original URL

Indonesia must certainly approach this yearly problem with a high degree of seriousness. In fact, Indonesia should ratify the ASEAN transboundary haze agreement. But Indonesia also has something to tell to its neighbors -- in particular those who harbor members of the corrupt elite, who move around like smoke.

The smoke from Indonesian forest fires has created havoc not only in various parts of Indonesia, but in Malaysia and Singapore too. The Malaysians, acting to protect their interests, have made an open demand to the Indonesian government to stop the fires. They have even brought the issue to ASEAN. Singapore, while reacting less aggressively, is also unhappy with the way Indonesia has dealt with the smoke.

In an article written by Todung Mulya Lubis called Singapore Paradox (Kompas, Nov. 2), the nation-state is accused of abetting Indonesia's corruption problem. Singaporeans have argued corruption is rampant here because Indonesia has not made a serious effort to fight it. But Singapore itself is a safe haven for corrupt Indonesians. Thus, the paradox is that while Singapore claims to be one of the "cleanest" countries in the world, it provides a den for its dishonest neighbors.

Smoke and corruption have a common thread. Indonesia can argue that it does not intend for the fires on its territory to send smoke to neighboring countries. Smoke is spread by the wind, which is not under the control of Indonesian government.

By the same token, Singapore can argue it does not intend to spread corruption, since it has very strict laws in that matter. They might point out that corrupt people, from Indonesia or anywhere, can come and go to Singapore, as do other people from ASEAN countries. But the problem is, in Singapore they are not considered practitioners of corruption, but investors.

So, will the next ASEAN conference focus on smoke? If it does, Indonesia should raise the "Singapore paradox."

The problem of smoke is usually not discussed in terms of sovereignty. Since smoke is no respecter of borders, every country can demand that the country in question fix the problem. That makes sense.

Diplomats tend to view corruption, however, from the standpoint of state sovereignty. If Indonesia raises the issue of corruption in Singapore, it can be accused of interfering in Singapore's affairs and violating Singapore's sovereignty. It is the right of the Singaporean government to decide who can and cannot enter its sovereign territory.

The problem of smoke and corruption should be instead be understood from the perspective of "global public good." In her book bearing that term as its title, Inge Kaul argues that as globalization becomes intensive and extensive, the public good cannot be viewed simply in terms of one's country or region. What affects one country or region can affect countries around the globe. Pollution, for example, including global climate change and the greenhouse effect, are global concerns. So is oil policy. Global public good should overcome the constraints of sovereignty.

If clean air is a global public good, what about a "clean neighborhood"? The problem of corrupt people who move from one country to another should be tackled within that framework. "Good governance" refers to the fight against corruption at the national level, and a "clean neighborhood" policy would entail a similar effort at the regional and global level.

No country can argue that corruption is strictly a national problem. We are living in the era of globalization. Bad operators fly around the world and can move their money around the world with the click of a mouse. If one country wants to eliminate corruption, other countries must join its efforts, just as in the case of preventing global warming.

A "clean neighborhood" should be considered one of the "global public goods." It is high time to have a treaty to establish a clean neighborhood.

ASEAN may become a pioneer as the first international organization to tackle this issue. If it can force Indonesia to deal with the smoke, it should be able to put Singapore under similar pressure to cleanse its territory of both domestic and global corruption. That would create a truly clean neighborhood.

The writer is a lecturer on globalization at the Postgraduate School of Political Science, University of Indonesia.