It seems that every time I turn on the news, another case about corruption emerges. And lately, I’m just wondering about ethics, or lack of thereof.
I live in Indonesia. And while I do love my country, it often leaves me with perplexing feelings, and questions… that I find no answers to.
Indeed, it’s difficult to stay pure and uncorrupted when you are surrounded by corrupt individuals, and that the only obvious way to “survive” is to also engage in such misconduct.
I realize that in such environment, it’s easy to engage in neutralization techniques, by claiming that there are other companies / people out there that are worst than you.
When I talked to a few people about this issue, one fleeting suggestion that often appears is just, “Well, if you don’t like it, then you just have to go and live in countries like Singapore or something.” But what does this solve? If every “good” and “pure” person moves away, then wouldn’t this place be even more rotten?
Not that I’m saying I’m completely blameless in this regards or anything.
True, I’ve never engaged in any high profile corruption cases or whatever. But the depressing reality is that corruption is not simply stories or news on the media between high-ranking government officials and big corporations.
Instead, it’s so embedded into daily life, that bribes are common practice between low-ranking officers and common members of the society. Some time ago for instance, an immigration officer at the Jakarta airport forced me to give him “coffee money”, because I brought a pack of various Indonesian foods into Singapore. He claimed that he suspected me of going to sell the food without permit (even though in reality I did not even pack that much food), and threatened that he would have to bring me to investigation if I don’t pay “coffee money”.
As my flight was leaving soon, and I did not want to get into an argument with him, I had little choice but to simply pay up the bribe. In all honesty, I was more amused than surprised or incensed of this whole incident, because it was such a common occurrence, and that I was simply unlucky because he “picked” me as his target.
Upon reflection, I realized that the dangerous thing is that I did not feel any guilt doing it. Furthermore, when I told this incident to my other Indonesian friends, they only laughed at it, saying, “As expected”. Nobody makes a big deal over it, because we have unconsciously accepted the fact that it’s simply the way things are done.
And even until now, I’m not even sure, if what I did is considered as something truly wrong. Perhaps, I’m just over thinking it. But perhaps, I’m not.
What is considered as wrong anyway? Is friendship gift that is commonly used to smoothen things up in this kind of environment acceptable? Or is it not? What if the officials don’t really give us the choice of saying no? The lines of morality has becomes so blurred… that I’m not entirely sure what does ethics, truly means.
More importantly, this reflects our apathy as students or recent graduates, who despite knowing good ethical and moral standards, still unconsciously concede with the common practices of a corrupt environment.
Everyone can proclaim loudly that they detest corruption. But in minor cases like this, only a small number of people would ever think of protesting out loud. Now, if this is the mindset of educated students and future business leaders, then this certainly paint a bleak picture for Indonesia’s future.
Through this simple incident, I’m able to understand first hand about what Kilroe & Marsh meant by, “Corporate crime is not committed by mentally deranged misfits who are not responsible for their actions, but rather by executives who are indifferent to their actions”.
After all, if we are not able to strive for justice and have the correct attitude in little things, then how could we be able to stay faithful when we are entrusted with greater responsibilities in the corporate world?
Lastly, I also want to ask on how exactly can we deter corruption?
In Indonesia, a separate government agency known as Corruption Eradication Commission (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi “KPK” was established to fight corruption.
However, the irony of the situation is that, the more corruption cases that KPK managed to reveal, the more sensationalized and normalized such cases becomes. (And now, it seems that things are not going smoothly for this agency as well). Therefore, such broadcasting of news actually makes it easier for lower-ranking officers to demand “small” bribes while practicing normalization and social weighting, as they are able to believe that there are so many other people who are worst than them.
Therefore, if even KPK’s activity could inadvertently motivate people to be corrupt, then is there any hope left for countries like Indonesia? Are we really in a downward spiral with no ending in sight?
Sometimes, I want to refuse thinking about it through this angle, and instead, try to keep hopeful eyes on things.
But reality is bleak… especially if we remain indifferent about things.