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Anies' zero downpayment plan ends in corruption: Jakarta Post editorial

Straits Times - March 18, 2021

Jakarta – The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Politicians, bureaucrats and elected officials always come up with policies, programmes and initiatives designed to help the people they serve. During a crisis, these types of programmes, be they cash handouts, fuel subsidies or food assistance surely feel like a godsend.

But more often than not, these policies also become the means by which officials engage in corrupt practices. The social assistance aid (Bansos) funds scandal is another proof that even the noblest intention, helping the poor cope with Covid-19-induced economic hardship, can be turned into a cash cow for corrupt government officials.

For Jakartans who know how difficult it is to own a home in this crowded metropolis, the zero down-payment housing programme feels like a lifeline. It certainly makes little business sense, but the government surely has the authority to find a workaround allowing people not to pay down-payments when buying a home.

As a campaign slogan, it certainly was a catchy one, something that could easily be communicated and struck a chord with thousands who cast their votes for then gubernatorial candidate Anies Baswedan. It is safe to say that coupled with certain religious fervour that motivated Jakarta voters back in 2017, the zero down-payment housing programme was one factor contributing to Anies' election as governor.

Four years later, we know that this programme, just like so many procurement projects involving government officials, is a haven for corruption. The arrest of an executive from city-owned real estate company PT Pembangunan Sarana Jaya by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) is again a reminder that corruption remains the core problem of our bureaucracy with a modus operandi that is all too familiar.

Sarana Jaya, the developer of the zero down-payment housing project, had the task of first procuring plots of land for the project and following the well-worn pattern, officials in charge of buying the land inflated the price of the plots, one of them in East Jakarta. The state is estimated to have lost Rp 100 billion (S$9.3 million) from this scandal. Both Anies and his deputy Ahmad Riza Patria deny any prior knowledge about the scandal and the governor has acted swiftly to dismiss Sarana Jaya director Yoory Corneles Pinontoan from his position.

From evidence provided by the KPK, it appears that unscrupulous bureaucrats took advantage of an executive decision taken by Anies, whose sole intention was to provide cheap housing for the poor.

Yet, this was Governor Anies' campaign promise and he should take ownership of the programme, even when it runs into trouble. He must show more commitment to bring this scandal to its proper conclusion and punish everyone in City Hall responsible for the graft.

The governor must take this scandal seriously or it could become a political football and before he knows it his plans for higher political office in the future could run into trouble.

– The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network

Source: https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/anies-zero-downpayment-plan-ends-in-corruption-jakarta-post-editoria