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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
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From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
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From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
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AsiaweekTimeAsia NowAsiaweek story

FEBRUARY 11, 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 5

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

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.

Cover: Change Is in the Air
The Internet education of Raymond Kwok
Extended online interview
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Spreading the Risk
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Selling with Style
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Until Gus Dur reforms immigration, battle the Indonesian system

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.

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