Jakarta – The gap between reality and the lavish promises made by the government widens as time passes.
When President Joko Widodo and the politicians supporting him in the cabinet, together with the House of Representatives (DPR), tempted the people with the promise of major leaps in prosperity through the omnibus law known as the Job Creation Law, the facts on the ground spoke for themselves. The commitment to deregulation that the government made such a big deal of was nothing more than an empty bluff because corruption and red tape were allowed to continue flourishing.
Since the beginning, this magazine has warned the government that the Job Creation Law is a policy born out of a misdiagnosis of the fundamental problems in the management of our economy. The depressed state of the Indonesian economy is not simply a result of overlapping and excessive regulation, but also because of arbitrary law enforcement. The root of the problem is the culture of corruption that is ingrained in our political system and government bureaucracy. A clean sweep regulation such as the omnibus law will not be able to resolve this problem.
The alleged bribery related to the issuing of recommendations for the import of horticultural products at the ministry of agriculture and to documents approving imports from the ministry of trade is a case in point. Although a ministerial regulation lays down the conditions for imports and the procedure for issuing permits, the implementation on the ground can be completely different. An import application from one company can be rejected without explanation or left in limbo for months, while the permit for another company can be issued very quickly. The stench of bribery and collusion are strong in the non-transparent process of granting permits.
A two-month investigation by Tempo uncovered the involvement of key officials in the two ministries in the fixing of permits for importing horticultural products. They cooperate with politicians from the National Democrat Party and Golkar Party who allegedly asked a commission for every kilogram of imports that is allowed in a permit. Half of the total bribes must be paid upfront. As a result of this, only a small number of businesses have their permits issued on time. The remainder only obtains import permits after the harvest season in the countries of origin of the products has passed. Moreover, this was only granted after the Indonesian Fresh Food and Vegetables Exporter-importer Association threatened a lawsuit at the State Administrative Court.
There is nothing new about this type of corruption. Since the era of Agriculture Minister Suswono during the administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, politicians have played games with import quotas. At that time, Justice and Prosperity Party (PKS) politician Luthfi Hasan Ishaaq was detained by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) after promising quotas for the import of beef in exchange for Rp1.3 billion in cash. Unfortunately, the KPK no longer has the power to uncover similar types of corruption that continue to occur in the same ministry.
This type of bribery continues because the government retains the import quota policy for a number of commodities. This is despite the fact that the result is rent-seeking politics that benefits the political parties in control of the relevant ministries. The government chooses to give concessions to politicians rather than bringing about a healthy market and sustainable food security for the people. Although prices continue to fluctuate and farmers do not make a profit, the import quota policy continues to be applied.
According to data from the Central Statistics Agency, the number of poor people in Indonesia in March was 26.42 million, or 9.78 percent of the total population. It is believed that this number has risen sharply as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is time the government paid more attention to their needs rather than the needs of political party funds. The uncontrolled rise in prices of groceries as a result of these import games has a huge effect on the ability of poor people to sustain themselves.
Moreover, our farmers do not gain much from the protectionist policy through these import quotas. On the contrary, history shows that our farmers have problems if the government intervenes with half-hearted policies. The bitter experience of the New Order regime when the government regulated the trade-in oranges and the market in cloves must not happen again. Let the market mechanism work so that farmers can choose for themselves which products make them the most profits. All the government has to do is ensure that farmers obtain what they need in order to prosper.
The Job Creation Law may have removed hundreds of regulations that slow down Indonesia's economic growth, but without law enforcement that is honest and authoritative, dirty politicians, mafia-like businesspeople and crooked bureaucrats will continue to undermine this nation.
Read the Complete Story in Tempo English Magazine: https://magz.tempo.co/read/37197/import-permits-for-sale