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Indonesian anti-corruption reforms “mere symbolism”

Keeping declarations of assets confidential is pointless

The announcement by President Suharto of Indonesia that his ministers will be required to declare their assets has been described as "meaningless" and "a lost opportunity" by the Berlin-based anti-corruption NGO, Transparency International.

"We whole-heartedly support declarations of assets and the monitoring of the financial affairs of senior officials in positions of trust," said its Chairman, Prof. Dr. Peter Eigen. "However, the course chosen by President Suharto constitutes a typical act of political symbolism", he said.

The move by President Suharto stands in sharp contrast to recent reform efforts undertaken in Thailand. Following changes under the new constitution adopted in October, the asset declarations of Thai cabinet ministers and their families are being published in the press. "The Thai initiative shows a way out of endemic corruption and should serve as a model to Indonesia," Eigen declared.

Under the Indonesian measure as explained by Information Minister Alwi Dahlan, confidential declarations only of pecuniary assets will be made by ministers and selected senior bureaucrats to the President personally, and only for "internal use". They will not be made public.

"The suggested procedure will have absolutely no impact," said Dr Eigen. "We believe that this is either a tragic lost opportunity or simply window-dressing and part of a wider campaign to persuade the international community that the government is at last facing up to the need to get its corruption under control."

International experience suggests that unless declarations are available to the media, or stringently monitored by an independent body which enjoys a high level of public trust, they become meaningless and ineffectual, he concluded.

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