Fana Suparman, Jakarta – The national antigraft agency has named lawmaker I Nyoman Dhamantra of the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P, a suspect in a case of bribery involving a garlic import permit.
This is the latest in a string of corruption cases involving food import quotas at the Ministry of Trade.
The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) arrested Nyoman and five other suspects in a sting operation in Jakarta on Thursday, just after his return from the PDI-P congress in Bali. The agency confiscated $50,000 in cash and receipts for bank transfers worth Rp 2 billion ($141,000).
The money allegedly came from Chandry Suanda, also known as Afung, the owner of import firm Cahaya Sakti Agro, which Nyoman had helped to secure an import quota. The lawmaker allegedly received "commission" of between Rp 1,700 and Rp 1,800 per kilogram of garlic the company imported.
"This high-cost economic practice must not happen. People can buy food products at lower prices if there is no corruption," KPK chairman Agus Rahardjo said on Thursday.
Indonesia imposes import quotas on commodities such as garlic, salt, beef and soybeans, to protect local farmers and pursue President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's vision of national food self-sufficiency. The Ministry of Agriculture set a target two years ago for local farmers to meet all the country's garlic needs by 2021.
But critics have pointed out that the quota system is worse than tariffs, as it encourages rent-seeking behavior among importers and creates lucrative opportunities for politicians to engage in corruption. The quota system also results in such commodities costing more than in neighboring countries.
"This is not the first time we see bribery involving the importation of food and horticultural products," Agus said.
"The KPK is very disappointed and perturbed that corrupt practices like these still occur and that it involves the people's representatives in the national legislature," he added.
The case harks back to a scandal several years ago involving the country's beef import quota, which ensnared Luthfi Hasan Ishaaq, chairman of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) at the time, and Patrialis Akbar, who served as a Constitutional Court justice.
The KPK conducted a study on garlic as a strategic food commodity in 2017 and identified holes in the trade and agriculture ministries' policies, which could potentially result in abuse or corruption. The agency also found that the trade ministry did not have a benchmark price for garlic or supply-and-demand projection for the commodity.
"The KPK recommended at the time that the ministry obtain sales reports from distributors and audit distributors' stocks," Agus said.
Central Statistics Agency (BPS) data shows that Indonesia only produces about 21,000 metric tons of garlic annually, as its climate is not ideal for growing the crop.
According to UN Comtrade data, Indonesia imported 583,000 tons of garlic last year, up 4.8 percent from a year earlier, making it the world's largest importer of the commodity. This is more than double the combined garlic imports of the next four countries on the list: Thailand (75,000 tons), the Philippines (75,000 tons), Pakistan (38,000 tons) and the United Kingdom (28,000 tons).
Indonesia spent more than $497 million on garlic imports last year, mainly from China.