The Young Generation Must Aware the Problem of Conflict of Interest

Conflict of interest, although not a crime in and of itself, may tempt people to “trade in influence” and do corrupt acts. An issue lately involving special staffs to President Joko Widodo has given us an example that the problem of conflict of interest also occurs in the young generations. If the “millennials” as a beacon of “new hope” for Indonesia turn a blind eye to the ramifications from conflict of interest, Indonesia will continue to grapple with the inability to eradicate corruption.

In the 1960s, Police General Hoegeng was exemplary in avoiding potential conflict of interest during his tenure as the Directorate General of Immigration. He asked his wife to close her flower shop just because he did not want people who deal with immigration to buy flower from her. He believed it would not be fair for another florist and people who can not bribe him to find another way to get leverage by currying favor to people around him. This is not a story of a direct conflict of interest when a public official who works for the government is also running a business, but General Hoegeng seemed to have had an awareness of how to avoid even giving an impression of corrupt behavior and extended to his wife.

In 2020, we regrettably still come across several “millennials” working for the president who seem to have ignored perceived conflict of interest. They seem unabashed that their other positions in private companies could create a conflict of interest and lure them to “trade in influence” when they become special staffs to the President.

Under Indonesian law, those acts are likely not deemed corruption until another element such as bribery and/or an official act that is related to the bribery/gift is fulfilled. However, coming back to the story of General Hoegeng, those special staffs may have given the wrong message to the general public about setting an example to avoid corrupt behavior. In the future, corruption eradication is not only about arresting individuals but developing the self-awareness to prevent corruption. This takes a pivotal role in the fight against corruption because corruption commonly occurs in developing countries where people conflate their interests.

Developing self-awareness on anti-corruption has to start from avoiding conflict of interest because public officials who ignore conflict of interest may end up “trading in influence” and do corrupt acts. Romahurmuziy case is one example where a court established a guilt of corruption due to a conflict of interest and trading in influence. In Romahurmuziy, Romahurmuziy’s act as the Chairman of the United Development Party (PPP) in influencing the Minister of Religious Affair and receiving money is not a crime because the Indonesian Anti-Corruption Law does not characterize those acts as a crime.

Romahurmuziy exuded conflict of interest here because he is also a member of the People’s Representative Council who is not allowed to receive a payment “believed to have been given because of the power or authority related to his/her position or prize or promise which according to the contributor still has something to do with his/her position.” Although he is not guilty on account of his position as the Chairman of PPP, he is guilty as a member of the People’s Representative Council.

In legal theory, the conflict of interest that is conducted by special staffs to the President above is still not a corruption. But in society, what they did could be seen as corrupt behavior until the court has proven otherwise. The court should examine the transactions that are related to government projects and answer the question of whether their income from personal businesses that handled the government project is not categorized as bribery or corruption. Particularly for the one who sent a letter with the Cabinet Secretariat letterhead, it should be assessed whether his act is considered as “do[ing] something…because of his/her position in violation of his/her obligation.”

The definition of “do something…because of his/her position in violation of his/her obligation”/official act under the Indonesian Anti-Corruption Law is not clear-cut. As a comparison, however, the US defined “official act” under the federal bribery statute as a decision or action on any question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy, which might by law be brought before a public official, in such person’s official capacity; each issue was focused and concrete, and each involved formal exercise of governmental power that was similar in nature to lawsuit, administrative, determination, or hearing. In McDonnell v. U.S., 136 S.Ct. 2355 (2016), the Supreme Court held that setting up a meeting, talking to another official, or organizing an event or agreeing to do so, without more, does not fit the definition of “official act,” for purposes of the federal bribery statute.

Thus, Indonesian law enforcement should investigate or at least supervise their official acts related to government projects. Only law enforcement can clear their names from the perceived conflict of interest that may lead to corruption accusation. Also, we have to learn from this problem that public officials should not ignore the negative impact of conflict of interest if they want to develop the self-awareness on anti-corruption in Indonesia.


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