Tenggara Strategics, Jakarta – Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati has been coming under attack with allegations of massive corruption or fraud, not by her but by staffers in her ministry. These charges are not only hurting her personal reputation, but they also undermine the credibility and the public trust of the Finance Ministry, which oversees the Taxation Directorate General.
At least Sri Mulyani has overcome the most serious allegation, first broached to the public by Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD about Rp 300 trillion (US$20 billion) in "suspicious transactions" at the Finance Ministry.
Sri Mulyani quickly went on the offensive to challenge Mahfud and the Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Center (PPATK), which had fed the information, demanding them to explain, give details and a breakdown of how they have come up with such a fantastic figure. She said the sum never appeared in any of the PPATK reports that she received each year detailing its findings of transactions requiring further investigation by her ministry.
Mahfud and PPTAK have since backtracked on their statements. Mahfud said these were "money laundering" rather than corruption. The PPATK said the figure was the sum of unexplained transactions from its reports between 2009 and 2023 sent to the ministry. Where they differ is that while Sri Mulyani said she had resolved most of these issues, the PPATK said many of them had remained unanswered.
In a joint press conference after their meeting on March 13, Sri Mulyani said she would follow up on the PPATK reports and asked Mahfud to help her in cleaning up the ministry.
The Rp 300 trillion figure is now widely circulating on social media as well as the allegations of corruption within the Finance Ministry, with Sri Mulyani as the central figure in this scandal. Few doubt her integrity given her impeccable record as a tough and disciplined finance minister, but many say she may have lost control over her staff's behavior.
The claim of large-scale suspicious transactions quickly caught on the public attention as it came amid growing public scrutiny of the extravagant lifestyles of the family of several officers of the Taxation Directorate General and the Customs Directorate General both overseen by Sri Mulyani.
Netizens exposed their lifestyles by posting data and photos that they had gathered from the social media pages of top officers and their spouses and children flaunting their wealth. These posts went viral, triggering the Finance Ministry to launch investigations against dozens of officials at the two agencies about the true size of their wealth and the source.
The ministry and the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) are now verifying the assets that these officials had listed in their mandatory wealth reports to the KPK. There are suspicions of under-reporting, judging by the wealth they or their families flaunt on social media that give the impression they are living beyond their government salaries, even for employees of tax and customs officials, the two highest paid jobs in the civil service.
The head of the customs agency in Makassar, South Sulawesi, Andhi Pramono, was summoned to the KPK building this week to explain his wealth, about a mansion in Cibubur, East Jakarta, his daughter's designer clothes and many other items that are on clear display on their social media.
Eko Darmanto, formerly Yogyakarta Customs and Excise Office head, has been summoned to the Finance Ministry's Inspectorate General because his wealth report also did not match the profile of the lifestyle that he and his family lead.
The first to come under investigation was Rafael Alun Trisambodo, a senior tax officer, after netizens exposed his wealth, including his collection of big motorbikes and cars, which they found on the social media pages of his family. This followed the report that his 20-year-old son Mario Dandy Satriyo had brutally beaten a teenager after a quarrel over a girlfriend. A video of the beating went viral, prompting massive public outrage and an investigation into his background on social media. Rafael has since been fired from his job as he undergoes further investigations into the origins of his wealth.
Netizens have also posted a photo of Suryo Utomo, the taxation director general, with his staffers riding big motorbikes. Apparently, there is a big bike club exclusively for tax officials. Sri Mulyani ordered the club be dissolved.
Responding to the controversy, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo last week told civil servants to stop flaunting their wealth on social media, and this week he said the public was disappointed by the hedonistic lifestyle of civil servants.
This is the month when people will be submitting their 2022 tax returns, and already there are calls for boycotting the tax, pending the cleaning up of the tax office.
For Sri Mulyani, 59, this is a personal slap in the face. As finance minister under then-president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2005-2010, she reformed the tax and customs agencies then notorious for corruption. She hiked their salaries, making them top earners in the civil service and justified it by saying that this would tempt them away from corruption.
She returned to her old job in 2016 under President Jokowi, but she was not as combative as before, at least not with her staff. The extravagant lifestyles of these officials and their families are well displayed online and offline for everyone to see, but she turned a blind eye. The PPATK reports of suspicions transactions have also not been thoroughly investigated.
Sri Mulyani will likely survive this scandal but, with all the global recognition she has won over the years, including Finance Minister of the Year from the Banker magazine in 2019, this will have taken some of the shine off her reputation as a tough and effective minister.
What we've heard
The scandal involving tax officer Rafael Alun Trisambodo has snowballed. The case has prompted Finance Ministry to open a list of employees suspected to be problematic. A ministry official said that Rafael had actually been under surveillance since 2019.
The source said that at the time, the ministry detected a discrepancy between the employees' reported income and wealth profiles. The ministry team shortlisted them and grouped them in the red category. "Nearly 20 people have extraordinary assets," said the high-ranking ministry official.
The ministry also detected employees whose assets were unaccounted for, therefore they fall into the yellow category. In 2019, the list saw 33 people, but in 2020, the number grew to 36. According to sources at the ministry, those on the list were mostly tax and customs officials. Meanwhile, in an official statement, the Finance Ministry said 69 employees were in the high-risk category.
An official at the Inspectorate General of the Finance Ministry said the internal affairs unit was in the middle of solving the problem. The source said an investigative audit is now underway, targeting employees with unusual wealth. For tax officials, the Inspectorate has ordered the Director General of Taxation to examine the compliance of taxpayers affiliated with tax officers on the red list. "We involve PPATK and law enforcement agencies in the investigation," the source said.
[This content is provided by Tenggara Strategics in collaboration with The Jakarta Post to serve the latest comprehensive and reliable analysis on Indonesia's political and business landscape.]