Night after night in Singapore, Bahasa Indonesian-speaking tourists descend on the glittering designer mall and vast casino at Marina Bay, a glitzy harbor front playground for wealthy Southeast Asians. Most visitors from Indonesia are business people, shopping, dining, gambling, getting medical checkups. But some are politicians, spending money their official incomes would suggest they do not have.
Singapore is the destination of choice for Indonesian officials who go “on the lam,” as the Economist explains here. But there are going to be fewer batik shirts—the clothing of choice for high-ranking government workers—spotted there between now and New Year’s Eve. Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has banned ministers from going abroad for the rest of the year. And he has made several strong statements about suspected embezzlers who skip the country.
Indonesia has long had an issue with governmental graft. Right now the issue is particularly big. In a situation that has created a lengthy crisis of confidence in Yudhoyono’s government, not least because the president won office on an anti-graft ticket, several senior ministers face serious accusations about their conduct. The president might be putting safeguards in place to stop ministers who are being investigated for corruption offenses potentially running amok.
In a speech, Yodhoyono called on foreign nations not to provide protection to Indonesian “fugitives” who flee with embezzled funds:
In practice, if Indonesia yells out that our fugitives are living in a certain country and it’s almost certain that they brought along hundreds of billions of rupiah, then there shouldn’t be any barrier to take back Indonesia’s stolen assets.
The Jakarta Post, Indonesia’s English-language paper of record, also quoted a presidential aide: “The president will definitely take firm action should ministers be proven to have misappropriated state budget.”
Yodhoyono also said Tuesday that corruption in his country’s government and bureaucracy was “rampant” and vowed to keep fighting it.
A survey last month found corruption was the main reason for the ruling Democratic Party’s declining popularity.
One person who may have sparked the president’s caution about travel is Muhammad Nazaruddin, the former democratic party treasurer. Nazaruddin was sentenced to almost five years in jail after being convicted of taking bribes to rig tenders for jobs related to the Southeast Asian Games, held by Indonesia in 2011. Before he was convicted he fled to Singapore, then on to Colombia, from where he was eventually sent home.