A Tsunami Brings Opportunities to Indonesia
tsunami that slammed into Indonesia's Aceh province on Dec. 26
brought the Indonesian military its most daunting challenge ever --
and with it, unparalleled opportunity.
As the center and coordinator of Indonesia's relief effort, its
military, also known as the TNI, will find itself in the
international media spotlight as never before. This affords the
opportunity for the TNI to demonstrate that democratic reform ha s
transformed it from a state-sponsored mafia into a professional
military dedicated to the security of Indonesia.
Today, the reforms are incomplete and the military still depends on
funds from corruption. The TNI will have wide leeway in how it
distribute s the hundreds of millions of dollars of international
aid headed its way. Will the temptation prove too much? Will the
world's television screens show scenes of arrogant soldiers or
police misusing or stealing relief supplies or funds? Or will the
milita ry seize this opportunity to show its professionalism and
its commitment to cleaning up its act?
The answers to these questions will depend in large part on the
strength of the leadership of newly elected President Susilo
Bambang Yudhoyono. He promised duri ng his campaign to eradicate
corruption from the government and military, and already some
reforms are in place. But the reputation of his country, and
especially its military, rests on his ability to quickly implement
measures that will reduce the TNI's temptation to steal aid meant
for tsunami victims.
The TNI has been moving toward becoming more professional since the
fall of President Suharto in 1998. In 2000, the police were
formally separated from the military. Last Sept. 1, TNI's courts
were placed u nder the authority of Indonesia's Supreme Court and
on Sept. 30, the military's appointed members to the legislature
stepped down. Now any officer who wants to serve in the government
must first resign or retire from the military.
Yet, institutional flaws continue to invite corruption and
human-rights abuses. In particular, in order to fully
professionalize the police and military, President Yudhoyono must
address three specific areas:
civilian control of the police and military. Indonesia does have a
civilian-led Ministry of Defense, but the minister does not outrank
the military chiefs and has limited budgetary and policy powers.
Each military-service chief reports directly to the
Apply civil law to
the military. Although the mili tary's tribunal now functions as
part of the Supreme Court, members of the TNI are still not subject
to civil law and can be tried only in military courts, and the TNI
does little to discipline its ranks. Security forces continue to be
criticized for a va riety of abuses, including extrajudicial
killings, arbitrary arrest, torture and rape.
Reports have already emerged that Indonesian soldiers are
terrorizing tsunami refugees in Aceh, especially those believed to
be associated with the terrorist Free Aceh Mo vement. Placing the
military under civil law provides no guarantee soldiers will be
held accountable, but it would create a check on their behavior
that does not exist now.
Properly fund the
military and pay its soldiers. Only 30% of the TNI's budget com es
from the Indonesian government. The rest comes from unaccountable
off-budget sources, such as illegal logging, poaching, drug
smuggling and protection rackets. Police officers openly accept and
even solicit donations, but they are not required to accou nt for
those extrabudget funds. Not only does pursuit of off-budget
funding distract soldiers and police from the relief effort and rob
aid from refugees, it destroys the very basis of social trust and
contributes to the breakdown of the rule of law.
It would be impossible for President Yudhoyono to resolve 60 years
of TNI corruption during the course of disaster-relief operations
in Aceh. For now, he should provide bonus salary for those who
participate in relief operations to prevent them from moonlightin g
to feed their families. He should also appoint a civilian leader --
one with the political stature and administrative capability to
inspire trust -- and place this person above all military units
that participate in the relief efforts.
And finally, since even these measures probably won't end
corruption in the TNI, the president should appoint a special
prosecutor with authority to pursue incidents of corruption related
to the tsunami relief effort, including those involving members of
What happened in Indonesia on Dec. 26 was a great tragedy. What
follows -- if proper leadership is provided -- could be a great
moment in Indonesia's history.
Dillon is a senior policy analyst in the Asian
Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in The Asian Wall Street Journal