Even as late as a week ago, the nationalistic card was being played against international investors and the springboard for the jingoists was the Commission for Business Competition Supervisory Council (KPPU).
Each time they found a foreign investor guilty was, to these jingoists, proof that the foreign investors were haughty, that they were sneaky and sought to exploit Indonesian businesses and that they showed no respect for Indonesian laws.
The foreign investors would protest that they had adhered to the prevailing laws, that they had sought for and received the appropriate permissions and permits and that they had nothing wrong.
But Indonesia’s jingoist would not hear about it. They beat their breasts leveled all sorts of criticisms and dominated the conversation. And, like Yeat’s Second coming where “the worst was full of righteous piety; the best lacked all conviction” everyone else kept silent, looked the other way or, even worse, believed in the improbable and outrageous decisions of the KPPU. Even the courts blindly upheld these KPPU decisions, as we saw in the Temasek case.
Now, with the arrest of KPPU member Mohamed Iqbal who was caught red-handed taking money from Billy Sindoro, the president director of Lippo Group-owned First Media, the truth is out. Iqbal was on the take to fix the KPPU’s decisions.
Which decisions did he fix? We may not know the truth for a long time but two cases come to mind because they were so bizarre. The first is the Temasek case. Temasek-affiliated companies’ acquisition of Telkomsel and Indosat were not an issue for many years. Then all of a sudden it became an issue when a Russian telco player was reportedly interested in acquiring Telkomsel.
The BUMN workers union were encouraged to file a report to the KPPU. The Union then later withdrew the report but the KPPU was steadfast in pursuing the case. Why? And after it took up the case it bent the rules and manufactured their own interpretations of existing laws to make sure that Temasek was guilty of cross-ownership. What was intriguing was how could the other members of the KPPU be manipulated by Iqbal to such a degree. Or was he not the only KPPU member on the take?
Then there is the Barclay’s Premier League. The KPPU said that there was no evidence of any customer loss but nonetheless said that an Astro subsidiary and ESPN Star Sports were guilty of violating the Anti-Monopoly Law. But what’s really out there together with Frank Zappa was its decision to order Astro to maintain supplying PT Direct Vision with their boadcast signals until Astro had resolved their ownership dispute with Lippo Group. What’s a Business Competition Supervisory Council doing in mediating between parties in a commercial dispute? What ask]pect of business competition were they supervising when they made the decision? Iqbal, was one of the council members forming the panel reviewing the KPPU investigation into the BPL case. Did he take money from Billy to keep Astro supplying Direct Vision with programs becaue Astro was about to cut the supply of them after Sept 30?
We do not know. Yet. But the fact that Iqbal is almost certain of taking bribes to fic the KPPU’s decisions means that all these questions must be answered. And after they have been answered, someone must tell the jingoists here that they are wrong. There is a huge chance many of the foreign businesses who have been judged by the KPPU to have violated Anti-Monopoly Laws were innocent and the victims of the corruption that is endemic in this society.
How could unscrupulous individuals hijack the KPPU and the news agenda of a nation to turn perception against foreign investors? This and other questions must be asked. What happened to the Press, the venerble Fourth Estate that was supposed to be a check and balance against precisely such rapacious and unprincipled individuals? What happened to the good guys who would speak up without fear or favor regardless whether the business players were local or foreign? What happens to all that talk about national interests and disrespect for local laws now?
It would be interesting to see whether these questions will be answered in the forthcoming days or whether Indonesia will sink back into the cocoon of amnesia, righteous piety and jingoism that has characterized the rhetoric so far. They a say a nation that does not remember its history is condemned to repeat its mistakes.
(Disclosure: one of more parties or their affiliates mentioned in this posting may be Unspun‘s clients. But this posting is done indepently without consultation with, or suggestion from, them. In other words, its Unspun‘s opinion and Unspun did not receive a black bag, not knowing that it contained Rp500 million inside, to incentivize Unspun into doing others’ bidding).