Government officers at Mataram‚Äôs immigration office are systematically skimming hundreds of millions of rupiah every week in tips, or uang terima kasih (thank you money), from issuing passports to Indonesians travelling to work overseas.
The long established and firmly entrenched practice is enabling immigration staff to live lifestyles and purchase assets that even a lifetime of salaries could never pay for on official Indonesian government salaries.
It is so blatant and the lifestyle of Mataram immigration staff so good, that it is impossible that senior employee‚Äôs of the Departemen of Hukam dan Hak Asasi Manusia (Department of Law and Human Rights) and the Department’s of Labour and Manpower which are both involved in the operation of regional Indonesian immigration offices, can not be unaware of, if not direct beneficiaries of.
At the Mataram immigration office in Lombok, NTB, the unofficial fees amount to around $US1 million per year. If applied to the plethora of class I and II immigration offices throughout Indonesia this figure could easily multiply to tens of millions of dollars a year from passport applications alone.
Its long been a vexing question for many people as to how an Indonesian government employee on an income of less than Rp1.5 million per month can afford to pay cash for motor vehicles in the Rp100 ‚Äì 300 million price range, houses in the tens of billions of rupiah category, or fund children studying at overseas universities.
It‚Äôs not a question though that seems to overly disturb Indonesian government ministers, or three successive Indonesian presidents since the era of corruption, cronyism and nepotism (KKK) associated with the Sohartoe regime supposedly came to an end in 1995.
In fact, it is likely the practice of payments on top of officially prescribed fees is somewhat condoned, as it enables the Indonesian government to maintain a public service on what can only be described as minimal salaries.
A quick look in the parking lot of any Indonesian immigration office will see no shortage of expensive, gleaming motor vehicles owned by immigration staff, while very few immigration staff of ‚Äúgold‚Äù ranking live in squalor.
One Indonesian immigration employee who previously worked at Jakarta‚Äôs Soekarno Hatta International Airport and now works in Lombok recently purchased a top of the line Australian made Hyundai RV for more than Rp330 million (about $US30,000) and proudly boasted that he paid cash, despite having an official salary of less than Rp1.5 million ($US150.00) per month
The passport scam by Indonesian immigration officials comes on top of one exposed last year by Media Indonesia alleging trillions of rupiah a year are being pilfered by immigration staff at Jakarta‚Äôs Soekarno Hatta International Airport who collect the Rp1 million (about $US100) fiscal payment Indonesian and Kitas (working visa‚Äôs held by foreign citizens) holders have to pay prior to leaving Indonesia.
Media Indonesia put the amount pilfered by Indonesian immigration staff in Jakarta alone at over Rp1 trillion (about $US10 million) per annum.
The Media Indonesia expose resulted in a swift response by Indonesian President Susillo Bambam Yudohyono (SBY), who ordered an immediate investigation into what was quickly dubbed the ‚ÄúImmigration fiscal mafia‚Äù.
The Media Indonesia expos√© though is only the tip of the iceberg, as it focused solely on Jakarta and failed to look at other area‚Äôs where immigration staff have the opportunity of skimming, or charging in excess of officially prescribed fees.
These include the collection of payments by tourists who overstay their allocated 30 day visitors permits, the renewal of monthly social and business visa‚Äôs, and the authorisation and issuing of Kitas’s and retirement visa‚Äôs to foreigners.
It also ignored the practices at international airports and immigration offices at Surabaya, Bali and Mataram to name a few, as well as major sea departure points such as Batan in Indonesia‚Äôs north-western province of Sumatra, Tanjung Priok in Jakarta and Tanjung Perak in Surabaya.
It‚Äôs a well known fact that almost anyone can obtain an Indonesian Kitas if they want. The sponsoring company for the working visa might bare no relationship to the work the holder performs, however once the Kitas is issued very few, if any, questions are asked.
In Bali a new Kitas will cost a foreigner between Rp4 million and Rp6 million, while in Lombok a Kitas can cost up to Rp13 million depending on which agent is used. This is despite the official fee being set at less than Rp2 million.
Most foreigners living in Lombok and Bali use an agent to process their visa extensions. It‚Äôs no secret that a Rp50,000 to Rp100,000 ‚Äútip‚Äù is expected by Indonesian immigration staff in Mataram on top of the official processing fee of Rp200,000 per month.
Corruption in Indonesia involving the issue of Kitas’s is such that in Mataram, as well in other locations, it is often a side-line business of senior Indonesian immigration staff, or seniot staff at the local office of Manpower who are the sponsors.
More than one foreigner has been caught out with submitting monthly applications late and been subjected to greatly inflated fee‚Äôs if they want their visa‚Äôs extended.
While stories amongst the Lombok expatriate community of exorbitant penalties being levied are numerous, none who claim to have paid these fees are able to produce receipts for the payments, because they say receipts are never issued.
The passport scam by immigration staff in Lombok is a fairly simple and crude one and because it involves only a dozen or so people, is one that is easily controlled and concealed.
One of Indonesia‚Äôs largest exports is its people. It‚Äôs burgeoning, under-educated, unskilled population is a steady and ready source of cheap labor for nearby Malaysia‚Äôs palm oil plantations, construction and illicit sex industries.
Lured by the promise of salaries up to four times what they can earn at home, thousands of Indonesians each day are taken by immigration agents and employment brokers to line up at immigration offices around Indonesia and apply for passports.
At the Mataram immigration office in Lombok no fewer than a dozen employment brokers and immigration agents, as well as their staff. set up shop to facilitate the processing of their clients.
The relationship between the brokers and immigration staff is so incestuous that the immigration office even provides the agents, brokers and their staff with an area in which to work.
For many Indonesians the income and lifestyle in nearby Malaysia is so good that they don‚Äôt want to return home when their 12 month working visa‚Äôs have expired.
During an amnesty ahead of stringent new punishment laws for illegal aliens in 2004, more than 120,000 Indonesians flocked to the Indonesian embassy in Kuala Lumpur seeking travel documents to return home.
The number of illegal Indonesians fearful of prison terms and caning was so great that the Indonesian government was forced to twice ask Malaysia to extend the deadline of the amnesty, while the number of people returning wanting to return home was such that the Indonesian navy needed to be deployed.
At Mataram‚Äôs immigration office staff regularly process between 300 and 500 passport applications a day.
During periods of peak demand this figure can easily swell to almost 800, with the majority of applications made by people brought from rural villages to the immigration office by employment brokers and immigration agents.
The official fee set by the Indonesian Government for a passport is Rp120,000 (about $US12.00), however, employment brokers and immigration agents in Mataram say they pay an additional Rp65,000 per passport as a ‚Äútip‚Äù for ensuring applications are processed promptly.
At between 300 and 500 passports per day this equates to a ‚Äútip‚Äù to the tune of between Rp507 million to Rp845 million (around $US52,000 ‚Äì $US86,666) per month or over Rp10 billion (US1 million) per year at just the Mataram immigration office.
With a staff of only 44, the Mataram immigration office is typical of others around Indonesia.
With one international airport to service and up to 500 passport applications a day to process on top of visa extensions and new visa applications, it‚Äôs human and technological resources are stretched to the limit.
It‚Äôs not uncommon for staff to report for work at 8.00am in the morning and still be processing passport applications at 8.00pm at night.
More senior officials, or those working in other sections, regularly go home at 4.00pm and return at 8.00pm and work untill the early hours of the morning approving applications and issuing passports.
It‚Äôs also not unusual for billions of rupiah in cash to be removed from the office late at night or on Sunday‚Äôs when the office is technically closed. Equally common is the practice of labour brokers and immigration agents collecting passports and submitting passport applications late at night.
At Rp65,000 bonus per passport, the unofficial overtime rates, especially for more senior staff, is well worth the extra hours. For junior staff the tips are not so good as they claim they only receive an additional Rp200,000 per month on top of their official salaries.
Just prior to the office closing for the main midday Friday prayers, a staff member will walk around the office and drop a Rp50,000 note on each workers desk.
The shortage of staff also means that applications are not thoroughly examined prior to being approved. On more than one occasion a single individual was seen to put his fingerprints on up to 20 sets of fingerprint cards, which were then¬†placed in the passport applications for 20 different people.
Photo‚Äôs that accompany passport applications are easily interchangeable between applications and its not uncommon for the same person to apply for multiple passports in different names.
Employment brokers candidly acknowledge that many of the people applying for passports on a daily basis will never leave the country, while others will leave Indonesia with two or three passports in different names.
Each passport application also requires a medical certificate, though the brokers claim many of the checks are not as thorough as they could be and more than a few medically unfit people manage to obtain passports and overseas employment as a result.
Until the beginning of 2006 the minimum salary for Indonesia‚Äôs public service staff (PNS) was a paltry Rp700,000 per month, rising to a little over Rp1,000,000 ($US 71.00 ‚Äì $US102.00) per month for a mid level officer with perhaps 12-years service and less than Rp2 million a month for all but the most senior of public servants.
Due to a spiraling inflation rate of more than 10 per cent per annum (15.65 per cent in October 206) which has seen the price of benzine (gasoline) alone increase by more than 220 per cent in the last 10 months, minimum PNS salaries were increased by 42 per cent to Rp1 million per month at the start of 2006.
On a salary of Rp1 million per month, a 12-hour day, five and a half days per week equates to an hourly rate of Rp3,788 (about $US0.38) or less.¬†A junior level immigration officer would therefore need to work more than 1.5 hours to buy a 12 stick packet of Indonesian cigarettes, or more than 6.5 hours to pay for a Big Mac, medium serve of french fries and a medium coke.
In comparison, the average salary for an Indonesian travelling to work in Malaysia is Rp900,000 (about $US91.00) per month. In addition they receive their meals and accommodation.
For many of those heading to Malaysia this is many times what they could ever expect to earn in Indonesia and many think that after a year or two of overseas work they will return home set for life.
For the employment brokers the thank you money is just another business cost and most accept the requirement to pay a little extra in return for speedy processing of their applications.
The brokers and agents themselves work in one of two ways. Some charge their clients a flat Rp1 million for all of the documents and processing of their passports and receive a commission of up to a further Rp1 million for each worker they send overseas, while the second method sees the local Indonesian agent pay for the medical examination (between Rp32,500 and Rp160,000), photocopying of necessary documents (Rp5,000), the passport (Rp185,000 including tip) and the fiscal fee on departure (Rp1 million). They then receive up to Rp1 million commission from the foreign employer once the worker commences employment.
A few Mataram employment agents spoken to while researching this story candidly admitted that like everything else in Indonesia, the fiscal payment was somewhat negotiable.¬†More than one agent or broker admitted that only about 50 to 60 per cent of the payments were receipted and in exchange for non-receipting the payments were cut from Rp1 million per person to between Rp600,000 and Rp700,000.
In either case the additional Rp65,000 demanded by immigration officials to provide a fast service is small change compared to the profits derived from sending 20 or 30 people a day to Malaysia.
While most Indonesian‚Äôs, including Mataram immigration office staff dislike the word korupsi (corruption) and prefer to use words such uang persenen (tip), oleh‚Äìoleh (gift or present) or uang terima kasih (thank you money) for money received outside of official channels or in excess of prescribed fee‚Äôs,¬†when the tip becomes obligatory and not discretionary then the line between gratefulness and corruption would appear to have been well and truly crossed.
If Indonesian President SBY is serious about cleaning house, the immigration department as a whole and the office in Mataram in particular would be a good place to start.
As too would be a requirement for all PNS staff and their spouses to compulsorily provide an annual statement of assets and there values.
One can‚Äôt help to think though that even SBY, with all of his talk of corruption busting, is not prepared to tackle the powerful Department of Immigration, or the PNS as a whole in this matter.
¬© John Le Fevre, 2007
Related: Gili Trawangan‚Ä¶ a paradise lost
Related: Foreigners caned most in Malaysia
Corruption ‚Ä¢ Indonesian Immigration ‚Ä¢ Lombok immigration ‚Ä¢ Mataram Immigration ‚Ä¢ Indonesian corruption ‚Ä¢ Indonesian workers ‚Ä¢ Nusa Tenggara Barat
Indonesian corruption – immigration officials skimming millions,
He is currently deputy editor and Thailand / GMS region editor for The Establishment Post
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