A letter to the president-elect, former furniture salesman*

Jakarta Post_Fotor_Fotor

By Binziad Kadafi**

Dear Pak Jokowi, congratulations on your election. It is a glorious credit to democracy that a citizen from a family of carpenters can become president of the world’s fourth largest nation. It is about these different worlds, the big and the small, that we are writing to you about.

Now, being a president, you will live in a palace and fly in helicopters. US President Barack Obama will charm you with stories about nasi goreng (fried rice), and when you go on the umrah (minor pilgrimage), you will surely get a “Double Plus” package.

Everyone will be your friend, your best friend, bringing big words and big plans.

But actually, most people, many of whom voted for you, live in simple houses, become stuck in traffic and mostly rely on friends and family for help.

The contrasting worlds of the palace and of the streets also exist in law and corruption.

On the one hand there is the world of “big justice”, with big concepts and slogans such as “state of law”, “wipe out corruption”, big institutions and important people.

And then there is the world of small justice, common and petty corruption, acting as a constant burden on the everyday life of the Indonesian citizen.

Big justice matters. After all, the Constitutional Court affirmed the outcome of the elections. The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) and the corruption courts handle big cases.

These are important, because they represent aspirational values, they constitute moral benchmarks for all citizens and they punish bad behavior.

The Supreme Court and Judicial Commission help shape the future of justice. So, big justice is very important.

But how does all this translate into small justice for the Indonesian citizen? That is not so clear. Let us look at some examples.

Take the administrative courts, the most important courts perhaps for citizens to seek redress against the government.

The administrative courts are typical big justice: there are 28 courts, plus four appeal courts and 300 judges (plus 860 support staff and its own director general).

But actually, this big system delivers only 1,704 decisions every year, according to last year’s Supreme Court annual report.

That is the total number for the entire country. It is tiny. And this is the number of cases filed in a nation of over 250 million citizens. It is a lot of institutions, judges and staff and budget to handle this tiny number of cases.

Do you think this number is so small because Indonesians have no complaints against the bureaucracy? Is it because everything works well?

The same is going on with the labor courts. There are 33 labor courts in Indonesia. But how much justice do these actually to the citizens? Only 749 cases were filed last year; another minuscule figure. What might be the reason? Is it because Indonesian workers are all happy and satisfied, their salaries paid on time, and if they are dismissed, everything is in order, their severance pay properly paid?

As regards corruption cases, the KPK, the large police apparatus, the prosecutors and the corruption courts (all 33 of them) completed 1,162 cases last year. Many of these were large and important cases.

They are difficult, and it is great that the corruptors have been brought to justice.

But how about the thousands of small cases which affect citizens in their everyday lives? In what way do these big cases change the livelihood of the average citizen?

Perhaps the most telling figure on small justice is litigation that is truly voluntary, i.e. where Indonesians go to court totally of their own free choice to secure their individual rights (contractual default, tort, etc.). Only 17,529 contentious civil disputes were filed in 2008 for the whole of Indonesia, and 17,258 in 2013.

All 230 million Indonesians in 2008 filed about as many voluntary cases in the Indonesian courts as a single magistrate in another country would handle in a year. And this tiny trickle of voluntary cases was filed before the 331 (now 352) district courts.

No wonder a fair share of them report not getting any cases at all for the entire year — 20 courts in 2008, according to official figures.

What these figures show, Mr. President-elect, is when Indonesian citizens have a choice, a real choice, they do not go to the state to find justice.

We have a situation in which big justice gets a lot of attention, has many institutions, a lot of staff, a lot of money, a lot of donor attention, but it does not deliver small justice yet to the people.

Pak Jokowi, your new friends might say that the figures are normal, that Indonesians are a peace-loving people, that custom or adat helps a lot.

So they do not need justice, as it is inherent within them. That is all true; and also is so much nonsense. Indonesian society is mature, diverse, complex and assertive.

But surely, the large diverse cities of Jakarta and Surabaya, the industrial estates of Cibinong and Cikampek in West Java, filled with mixed migrant communities, generate their fair share of trouble and disagreements.

Are these not communities whose rights are violated every day? This is part of the supposedly articulate and assertive society that created reformasi, which overthrew military dictatorship and created the democratic republic. This is the society that chose a furniture salesman from Surakarta to become president. It is supposedly a gloriously vibrant, energetic and utterly modern society.

What is more, the figures suggest that actually Indonesians need far more justice than the institutions provide. Indonesians in the past actually brought more cases to court than nowadays — even though society was smaller, sometimes significantly so. The number of voluntary civil cases filed by Indonesians 20 years ago was significantly higher than it is now.

Even in the colonial period, Indonesians filed more than 30,000 voluntary civil cases in the colonial courts — twice the number filed now, even though there were only about 45 million Indonesians at the time.

The challenge going forward is to make the institutions of big justice deliver to common Indonesian citizens. The big institutions get the money, the staff and everything, but they have yet to provide what society needs.

The fact is, currently, regular Indonesian citizens cannot get their rights secured through the formal legal system. This applies in all domains: the administrative domain, labor, truly voluntary litigation and for the thousands of small corruption cases they are confronted with in their normal lives.

As far as the formal justice system goes, a contract cannot be enforced, an unpaid debt is forfeit, damage cannot be claimed, security cannot be realized, one’s investment is not recouped and small corruption goes uncorrected.

The reason is that the courts and law enforcement agencies remain unpredictable. And even when a court decision comes down, it cannot be enforced.

Enforcement of decision, which in many cases involve bailiffs, lawyers, and the police, is often ineffective, and the process is costly.

There is an enormous cost to this. Why do we have so many big courts and staff when there are so few cases? Might it not be better to have a smaller institutional apparatus with a bigger budget to provide proper service?

Another cost aspect is that the absence of small justice inflicts a huge cost on the country’s development. It increases unemployment, freezes the credit and securities/mortgage market, keeps businesses small, reduces investment and increases the cost of doing business.

This particularly affects micro- and medium-enterprises, which constitute the backbone of the Indonesian economy. Small entrepreneurs suffer the most when the institutions of big justice do not reach them. But then you must know this already, Mr. Jokowi, from your days as a businessman in Surakarta.

And finally, the danger of a situation in which big justice does not answer legitimate society’s needs is that society will drift away.

The number of court cases is very small, but even so, the trend over the years shows a further decline. There is a real danger that the state and its institutions are slowly losing credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of the public. Until in the end, there will be nothing left but hope.

You are that hope, Mr. President-elect. You and the other good people you need to engage. You were elected by common Indonesians in a search for justice.

So it is fine to listen to the big words and the big institutions. But what matters now are the voices on the street that ask for the little things and small justice and answer their hope by making justice serve the common citizen.

Big corruption is bad and should be fought, but it is the small corruption which affects Indonesians most and shapes their perceptions.

Big justice is important, but unless the institutions answer the needs of common people, there will be resentment, anger, frustration and low-level violence; all of which will hobble Indonesia from achieving growth to its fullest potential. The challenge going forward is to deliver justice to common Indonesians.

* This article was published in 2 (two) parts in The Jakarta Post, on September 15 & 16 of 2014. The article can also be accessed through http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2014/09/15/a-letter-president-elect-former-furniture-salesman-part-1-2.html and http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2014/09/16/a-letter-mr-president-elect-part-2-2.html

** The writer worked for the National Legal Reform Program (2008-2011) in Jakarta and formerly worked as legal researcher at the Indonesian Center for Law and Policy Studies (PSHK) and Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). The views expressed are his own.

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