Planning a wedding can be stressful enough without petty bribery becoming part of the wedding vows. For one couple in Indonesia, the decision they had to make was whether their wedding day should be a time to pursue a simple act of defiance in the face of everyday corruption.
The first step in marriage
In Indonesia, couples preparing to marry have two choices: make an appointment to marry at the Office of Religious Affairs (KUA) or hold a private ceremony.
For couples who choose to marry at KUA, the proceedings are free, but for those who prefer a private event, there is an administrative cost. In addition to other possible expenses, private weddings cost approximately US$42 (600,000 Indonesian Rupiah) for a government minister to officiate.
Couples who choose a private wedding may pay this fee through a direct deposit into the state-owned bank. However, no matter which option they choose, couples are first required to register at the KUA before their wedding day.
Opting for a private ceremony
With these two options in mind, Alex* and his fiancé decided on a private ceremony and planned to hold their wedding at the bride’s family home.
After dutifully registering their marriage at the sub district office of the KUA and paying the required fee, the government assigned Alex and his fiancé a minister to conduct the ceremony.
Corrupt government ministers
It’s normal for couples to meet the minister in advance of their wedding, and to discuss the way the ceremony will be conducted. What isn’t normal, or at least shouldn’t be, is for the minister to request additional payments for doing his job. Alex and his fiancé were shocked to find that their minister did just that.
The minister claimed that the couple needed to cover his transportation costs to and from the wedding, as well as the costs for his accommodation.
While at first glance these costs seem reasonable, at closer look of existing regulations, ministers actually receive funds from the government to cover office allowances, performance allowances, meals, honorariums and transport.
The minister was asking for a bribe.
When Alex and his fiancé refused to pay and requested that the local KUA appoint a new minister, they experienced a similar situation. The new minister was equally uncooperative and insisted on receiving an additional payment for performing the couple’s marriage ceremony.
While in theory, the administrative fee that Alex and his fiancé already paid should cover at least some of these costs, in practice, this is often not the case.
In Indonesia, as in many countries around the world, corruption is common even at the highest levels of government, with top officials siphoning off funds from the public. As corruption makes its way down the food chain, and other officials take their own cut along the way, the people at the bottom end up with little to nothing.
It’s no wonder that low-level officials, like marriage ministers, who are chronically underpaid and overworked, try to better their lives by extracting small bribes from the people they’re supposed to serve.
A national and global problem
When everyone tries to skim a little extra off the top of each government interaction, ordinary citizens and public taxpayers end up suffering the most.
While it would be easy to point a finger at the marriage ministers as the corrupt culprits in this case, the bigger picture shows that they’re just a small cog in a larger wheel of corruption.
But organisations like Transparency International Indonesia (TI-I) are working to try and change this. When Alex and his fiancé first shared their story with TI-I, they hoped that by telling it, they would be doing their small part to end corruption. And they hoped their story might help other couples do the same.
In the end, Alex’s wedding went off without a hitch. The minister did his job and married the couple and Alex and his wife refused to pay any bribes.
But Alex’s story highlights how pervasive corruption is in Indonesia, where even weddings are not immune to bribery.
Unfortunately, many Indonesian citizens face similar challenges that force them to decide whether to pay a bribe or miss out on opportunities, or even essential services.
Sometimes, however, refusal isn’t so easy. This is especially true when the consequences are life threatening and a powerful perpetrator is insistent, threatening or intimidating. It doesn’t take much for the corrupt to use their power to harm people’s life chances by denying them opportunities. The consequences can even be life threatening
Every day, ordinary citizens face countless experiences of corruption when accessing essential services in hospitals, schools, police departments, and even in offices that handle marriage contracts.
While standing up to corruption is hard, especially when standing at the altar, it’s also the only way to prevent corruption from becoming the norm in every day life.
This blog is part of a 25th anniversary series showcasing anti-corruption efforts from chapters around the Transparency International movement.
*Alex is not his real name.
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