Dealing with Singapore

The Jakarta Post (Editorial)
26 Apr 07

Following the signing of the landmark extradition treaty with Singapore on Friday, the government will lose a favorite scapegoat, one that has long saved it from public anger. That scapegoat is, of course, Singapore.

The city state has often been used as justification for the government’s inability, and refusal, to investigate major corruption cases and bring to justice those who have stolen state money, often aided by generous officials.

For Singapore itself, the treaty is a big relief. Since the 1980s, Indonesian politicians and law enforcers have pointed their fingers at the wealthy state as the only thing keeping corruption rampant in Indonesia, as though Indonesia would join the graft-free club the instant Singapore agreed to sign the treaty.

Many Indonesians tend to forget it is very easy to find corrupt big fish here, who remain untouchable despite the government’s anti-corruption rhetoric. Even when taken to court, many of them are acquitted due to inadequate evidence. There is a tremendous amount of distrust in the legal world among the public, which means the government cannot blame outsiders for this incompetence.

Last month, Vice President Jusuf Kalla accused Singapore of being reluctant to sign the treaty because he believed it did not want to lose the billions of dollars allegedly brought in by dubious tycoons during the 1997-1998 Asian economic crisis.

In February, Indonesia unilaterally banned the export of sand to Singapore on the pretext of environmental concern. It was very clear, however, that Jakarta wanted to push Singapore into signing the treaty.

When they meet in Bali on Friday, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong can tell President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono: “We will see how it will work.”

In the presence of the two leaders, Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda and his Singaporean counterpart George Yeo, are expected to sign the long-awaited treaties on extradition and defense. After years of negotiation and public outcry, especially from the Indonesian side, the two countries will eventually resolve one of their most sensitive disputes.

While the defense treaty is also important, the extradition issue is more so for Indonesia. With this treaty, Indonesia is entitled to ask Singapore to repatriate Indonesian citizens who are accused of committing serious crimes at home. However, as Singapore’s legal system is based on British law while Indonesia uses the continental system, the legal procedures will be often complicated.

The treaty is only a piece of paper. It does not have a magic power to stamp out corruption in the country. The problem rests with Indonesia rather than Singapore.

Even if it is true that many Indonesians have escaped to Singapore along with their ill-gotten money, and Singapore agrees to extradite them to Indonesia, are we able, and willing, to bring them to court and uphold the law? Will they be jailed for the crimes they commit, or will they be made into cash cows by the people trusted to enforce justice?

Many believe a lot of wanted individuals can easily enter and leave Indonesia as frequently as they want, often by using original and authentic immigration documents.

Despite all the skepticism, however, an extradition treaty signed by the two countries will contribute to the creation of a corruption-free Indonesia, no matter how unrealistic it is for the time being.

Only time will tell whether we can make full use of the treaty to root out corruption.

Treaty to open ‘new chapter’ in Singapore-Indonesia ties
26 Apr 07

Indonesia has long waited for the treaty

A landmark extradition treaty between Singapore and Indonesia to be signed tomorrow will “open a new chapter” in sometimes testy bilateral ties but should not be seen as the only solution in Jakarta’s anti-corruption drive, analysts say.

Indonesia has long waited for the treaty, and its Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda said he hoped the accord would enable the return of suspects wanted for corruption from the time of former dictator Suharto. But more than aiding the fight against corruption, the accord is expected to bolster diplomatic links, analysts said.

A defence cooperation pact negotiated in tandem with the extradition treaty will also be signed tomorrow on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, witnessed by the city-state’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

“This would open up a new chapter in terms of bilateral relations,” said Bahtiar Effendy, a senior fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

With the extradition pact sealed, “one major stumbling block standing in between Singapore-Indonesia ties is gone”, he told AFP.

Some analysts believe Singapore could have been pressured by Indonesia’s abrupt decision in January to ban sand exports.

Stricter checks by the Indonesian authorities on potential sand smugglers also affected granite exports to Singapore a move that hurt contractors who rely on the two key ingredients for the city-state’s booming construction sector.

“The sand ban was almost certainly a factor,” said Michael Backman, an author and political commentator on Asian affairs. “The fact that Singapore could agree now to the treaty in the face of commercial pressure implies that it could have agreed just as easily before and so seems to bear out Indonesia’s claim that Singapore was being deliberately slow.”

Negotiations for the extradition treaty started in 2005.

Backman said: “A consensus does seem to have emerged in the region that Singapore is high-handed and arrogant, a view that Singapore really needs to reverse.”

One of Singapore’s top criminal defence lawyers, Subhas Anandan, said the treaty would help Indonesia pursue suspected crooks. “It should not be difficult, provided they will provide sufficient reason for them to bring a person back,” he told AFP.

Unlike in a criminal trial, the parties under extradition proceedings “don’t have to prove beyond reasonable doubt” that a person is guilty. That proof lies in a trial after the suspect is extradited.

But Effendy cautioned the treaty will not be a panacea in Indonesia’s fight against corruption. “I don’t think that the fight against corruption should be placed solely on this extradition treaty,” he said.

“The Indonesian government must rely on their own resources to combat corruption and uphold the law.”

Indonesia had accused Singapore of delaying the treaty on fears Indonesian suspects will withdraw their money and shake up the wealthy island-nation’s financial system and property sector.

Singapore says it has sufficient safeguards against laundered money, and former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew said he was not worried over a possible withdrawal of Indonesian funds.

“Please remember the financial sector was not built up on Indonesian money,” Lee was quoted as saying in Wednesday’s The Straits Times. “Indonesian money is no more than two to three per cent.”

Regional economist Song Seng Wun of CIMB-GK brokerage said he does not foresee “a queue of Indonesians lining up in the local and foreign banks taking their money out”.

Other analysts said the effectiveness of the treaty will depend on its provisions.

“Who knows? The list of exemptions can be longer than the first page of the agreement. Lawyers can always make a very simple case really complicated,” a Singapore-based economist told AFP, asking not to be named

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