ad info




Asiaweek
 home
 intelligence
 web features
 magazine archive
 technology
 newsmap
 customer service
 subscribe
 TIMEASIA.COM
 CNN.COM
  east asia
  southeast asia
  south asia
  central asia
  australasia
 BUSINESS
 SPORTS
 SHOWBIZ
 ASIA WEATHER
 ASIA TRAVEL


Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

AsiaweekTimeAsia NowAsiaweek story

FEBRUARY 11, 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 5

Ordeal in Immigration
Until Gus Dur reforms it, battle the Indonesian system
By DEWI LOVEARD


photo
Dewi Loveard is an Asiaweek correspondent in Jakarta.
photo: Asiaweek Pictures

Of all the crowds at the Jakarta immigration offices, I most recall the woman with two children from a foreign father. She looked totally confused by the system, which would probably strip her of many millions of rupiah before she was through. My children also have a foreign father and extending their residence permits is an annual hassle. There is one easy way to deal with the process: Pay a broker. It is assumed that a part of the fee will go to speed passage for your application through the system.

    ALSO IN ASIAWEEK
Cover: Change Is in the Air
The Internet education of Raymond Kwok
Extended online interview
Why property mogul Raymond Kwok is eyeing the Internet
Spreading the Risk
It's either bricks to clicks or the deep six

Selling with Style
How Japan's Egoist fashion outlets popped to the top in the retailing business

Viewpoint
Until Gus Dur reforms immigration, battle the Indonesian system

  RELATED STORIES
ASIAWEEK
Viewpoint: Two Rounds to Go
The Crisis countries have just begun needed reforms
by Iwasaki Yoshihiro

Viewpoint: Goodbye Rupiah?
Indonesia should consider the case for dollarization
by Ross H. McLeod

Viewpoint: Kim Dae Jung's Dilemma
Angry voters are forcing his coalition to slow reforms
by Jin-kyu Joung

Viewpoint: The China Challenge
What the WTO entry means for Southeast Asia
by Sarasin Viraphol


Call it corruption. This is what President Abdurrahman Wahid - Gus Dur to everyone in Indonesia - is trying to stamp out, although everyone knows it's not a problem you deal with overnight. If my experience at immigration is anything to go by, everybody is part of the game. Appreciating the fact is much easier than having to deal with it. As an old friend is the ranking officer in immigration's public relations department, the path should be relatively simple, since the other well-tried Indonesian means of influence is a letter from someone powerful. "The problem of Indonesia," as one friend says, "is that licenses have become commodities." Everybody knows that Indonesia works through the transfer of illicit fees.

Somehow, perhaps because belts have tightened with the expatriate population so reduced, this year's sojourn in a variety of offices was more grueling than usual. Hands were being held out all along the way and it quickly became obvious that the threat was looming of my children failing to meet a deadline. In that event they would be legally deported before being allowed back in again - to start the process all over again.

The story gets worse, though I'm reluctant to tell it for fear that next year when I have to repeat the process there will be those who'll seek revenge and make life even more difficult. Let's keep it simple. My husband holds both British and Australian passports and at various times has worked under both. By some trick of fate, we have ended up registering our son as an Australian and our daughter as British. All cause for further hurdles to be erected.

In the wake of recent Indonesian-Australian tension over East Timor, Australian citizenship helped not at all. Holding two passports appeared highly problematic. At one stage, I half expected my husband to be banished to some gulag as a suspected spy. Reporters, fortunately, develop human skills so I invited myself to meet the director of intelligence. He said he knew he'd seen me before, and it turned out we used to be neighbors. As we chatted away, he quickly agreed that there was absolutely no problem with my children's registration, nothing that should hold up the process.

The word went down to the first official I had met. In an interesting comment on the mood in immigration, he continued to make trouble. Phone calls passed and my former neighbor introduced me to the director, the top man in immigration. The matter was quickly settled. Political heat and an unwillingness to pay 10 million rupiah [$1,360] to register my children had made it necessary to go to the very top. Another Indonesian reality, family and neighborhood structures, had helped as much as anything.

The easy way is to pay. Everybody also knows that officials often cannot live on their official salaries and many choose to take more than they absolutely need. Yet I cannot forget the confused look on the face of that mother with two children. She didn't look as if she had 10 million rupiah to hand over just like that. Perhaps in these situations, a compromise is struck.

Gus Dur is faced with having to make more compromises than he would no doubt like as he walks a tough political tightrope. It is at least to his credit that he seems to be forcing tough ones. Graft and corruption at every level of official society is so embedded that before long he may have the energy to deal with only highly publicized attacks on major cases. He has a strong track record when it comes to compromise. For 15 years leader of Nahdlatul Ulama - the world's largest Muslim organization with more than 30 million adherents - he held off attacks launched by senior figures in government.

He was much criticized along the way and even his allies accept that he is ultimately pragmatic. His critics often derided what they said was double-dealing, especially his political romance with Suharto daughter Tutut. His supreme confidence in himself also won him enemies. Perennially consistent in his support for more democracy, Wahid is embroiled in a battle to form a different Indonesia. Some, it seems, are reluctant to let it change too much.

Down at immigration, the situation is not likely to change much. For me, the next time should be easy. A courtesy call on the director and the whole process will run very smoothly. A few over-stressed, under-paid officials may grumble, but the hurdles will be very low. No change is likely for the other woman with her two foreign-fathered children. Officialdom is likely to have little sympathy and she'll have to battle on. Gus Dur, essentially well meaning, is likely to find little time for what he would like to do: improve conditions for all Indonesians, including the little people like her.

This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek home

AsiaNow


Quick Scroll: More stories and related stories
Asiaweek Newsmap: Get the week's leading news stories, by region, from Newsmap


   LATEST HEADLINES:

WASHINGTON
U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

MANILA
Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

ALLAHABAD
Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

COLOMBO
Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

TOKYO
Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

BANGKOK
Thai party announces first coalition partner



TIME:

COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state



ASIAWEEK:

COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness


Launch CNN's Desktop Ticker and get the latest news, delivered right on your desktop!

Today on CNN
 Search

Back to the top   © 2000 Asiaweek. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.