Today I met a hero. Not a pumped up blond guy who spends his time saving kittens from burning trees; no. A real hero. I mean, the real deal: a clean bureaucrat.
Believe me, those are a rare breed in Indonesia - almost as rare that flashes of genius briskly crossing George W.'s brain. Our beautiful country is plagued by widespread corruption, and routinely drags to the bottom of the list for clean-handed societies.
But what was surprising in meeting Agung Kuswandono was that I realized (poor Westerner) that all corrupt people are not nasty villains who are eager to drink the latest drop of blood off of their poor countrymen. Some are, sure; the country pays a heavy price in terms of missed opportunities because of this hord of rapacious bureaucrats and businessmen (foreigners are not all that clean either). But with Mas Agung's example I realized that there is usually a huge price to pay to not being corrupt.
Mas Agung is a customs officer. In Indonesian, that could translate as one of the worst breed of greed, roughly equal to policemen, judges and tax officials. But for him at least, there is only one thing that is important: to be honest in his job. So, when he was in charge of the customs office in Jakarta's airport he once impounded a load of helicopters that were to be imported into the country without the proper documentation - and, you'd have guessed, without paying the proper taxes. Most of Agung's colleagues would have requested a proportion of the taxes due for themselves and then laugh all the way to the mall with their pocket full of money. Not him. And it did not even matter that the owner of the illegal helicopters was the brother of the vice president himself.
After this episode Mas Agung won a kind of national fame, but he had to pay the price for it: not only he did not get rich doing a job that should have transformed him into a billionnaire (in rupiahs); he was harrassed at home and at the office, was threatened by mafia-like tough guys, and several of his employees were beaten up so bad they ended up in the hospital in critical position.
Luckily, the present government in committed to fight against corruption, and Mas Agung, despite his relatively young age, has progressed quickly through the ranks of the administration (this is rare, as if you're a corrupt boss you don't want to promote a young clean guy, because he will disturb your little traffic. Another reason for not being clean). He was in charge of reforming the customs department of the port of Jakarta, Tanjung Priok. Today there are still people hanging around there with thick wads of 1000 rupiahs bills: they are here to make the change for 100 000 roupiahs (around 10 dollars) so that you can spread around a bill here, a bill there to speed up the process of importing your merchandise. But thanks to people like Mas Agung, the big corruption has ebbed away.
Long live the Agungs!
Corruption is one of the main problems in the country, and also something people are very aware of, as seen on this T-Shirt that says "my money does not come from corruption, but from my hard work".