Making honesty a policy in Indonesia cafes

During a break at a high school here one recent morning, Selica Erlindi, 15, a 10th grader who wants to be a pediatrician, picked a drink and a bag of spicy cassava chips from the local honesty cafe’s shelves. Then, in keeping with the cafe’s goal of nurturing probity among its customers and society at large, she deposited, on the honour system, the equivalent of 60 cents inside a clear plastic box.

“This motivates us to be honest,” Selica said. “Especially since there is a lot of cheating in class, at least we’re learning to be honest with money. I think it’s also important for society because corruption is a big problem in Indonesia.”

As part of a national campaign led by the attorney general’s office, the provincial government here on the eastern shore of the island of Borneo opened a dozen honesty cafes last month alone in schools and government offices. By 2010, the provincial government here plans to have more than 1,000 such cafes in operation, including in private establishments.

The attorney general’s office says the honesty cafes will nip in the bud corrupt tendencies among the young and straighten out those known for indulging in corrupt practices, starting with civil servants. By shifting the responsibility of paying correctly to the patrons themselves, the cafes are meant to force people to think constantly about whether they are being honest and, presumably, make them feel guilty if they are not.

“We know there are many factors behind corruption, like the environment and economic needs, and honesty is just one factor,” said Syakhrony, an official at the attorney general’s office in Samarinda, East Kalimantan. “But as law enforcement, we have repressive and preventive measures. These honesty cafes are a preventive measure in our fight against corruption.”

The honesty cafes are just a part of the government’s larger campaign begun in late 2007 to tackle endemic corruption in Indonesia, a country that ranked 126th out of 180 nations last year in a corruption perception list compiled by Transparency International, a private organisation that monitors corruption across the globe. The widely praised anticorruption campaign has removed Indonesia from the lowest rungs of the annual index and contributed to the popularity of Indonesia’s president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Yet another shameful incident
Recently, though, the campaign suffered a blow after the head of the Corruption Eradication Commission was arrested on suspicion of involvement in the murder of a prominent businessman over a love triangle involving a golf caddie. Indonesia’s House of Representatives, which Transparency International calls the most corrupt institution in the country, tried unsuccessfully to use the arrest to stop any further commission inquiries into lawmakers.

Since the attorney general’s office started the campaign, some 7,456 honesty cafes have opened in 23 provinces in Indonesia, according to the National Youth Group, which is working with the office. The group expects 10,000 honesty cafes to be operating in 26 provinces by the end of the year before eventually reaching all 33 provinces.
So far, the cafes have been running successfully, said the group’s chairman, Dody Susanto. But he said about five per cent had run into difficulties because of “poor management or dishonest behaviour.”

Zairin Zain, a spokesman for the East Kalimantan government, said officials would evaluate the honesty cafes’ performance after six months. So far, he said, they seem to be working well in schools but have met some ‘resistance’ in government offices, like his own.

Despite a large banner proclaiming the start of the anticorruption campaign, one of the provincial government’s honesty cafes did not appear to live up to its name, as more than one customer mentioned during one recent lunch hour. Most patrons paid at a cash register, and an employee sat at a table with two plastic cash boxes for those opting to pay on the honour system.

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