Smoke and corruption

Smoke and corruption

7 November 2006

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Indonesia — The smoke from Indonesian forest fires has created havocnot only in various parts of Indonesia, but in Malaysia and Singapore too. TheMalaysians, acting to protect their interests, have made an open demand to theIndonesian government to stop the fires. They have even brought the issue toASEAN. Singapore, while reacting less aggressively, is also unhappy with the wayIndonesia has dealt with the smoke.

Indonesia must certainly approach this yearly problem with a high degree ofseriousness. In fact, Indonesia should ratify the ASEAN transboundary hazeagreement. But Indonesia also has something to tell to its neighbors — inparticular those who harbor members of the corrupt elite, who move around likesmoke.

In an article written by Todung Mulya Lubis called Singapore Paradox (Kompas,Nov. 2), the nation-state is accused of abetting Indonesia’s corruption problem.Singaporeans have argued corruption is rampant here because Indonesia has notmade a serious effort to fight it. But Singapore itself is a safe haven forcorrupt Indonesians. Thus, the paradox is that while Singapore claims to be oneof the “cleanest” countries in the world, it provides a den for itsdishonest neighbors.

Smoke and corruption have a common thread. Indonesia can argue that it does notintend for the fires on its territory to send smoke to neighboring countries.Smoke is spread by the wind, which is not under the control of Indonesiangovernment.

By the same token, Singapore can argue it does not intend to spread corruption,since it has very strict laws in that matter. They might point out that corruptpeople, from Indonesia or anywhere, can come and go to Singapore, as do otherpeople from ASEAN countries. But the problem is, in Singapore they are notconsidered practitioners of corruption, but investors.

So, will the next ASEAN conference focus on smoke? If it does, Indonesia shouldraise the “Singapore paradox.”

The problem of smoke is usually not discussed in terms of sovereignty. Sincesmoke is no respecter of borders, every country can demand that the country inquestion fix the problem. That makes sense.

Diplomats tend to view corruption, however, from the standpoint of statesovereignty. If Indonesia raises the issue of corruption in Singapore, it can beaccused of interfering in Singapore’s affairs and violating Singapore’ssovereignty. It is the right of the Singaporean government to decide who can andcannot enter its sovereign territory.

The problem of smoke and corruption should be instead be understood from theperspective of “global public good.” In her book bearing that term asits title, Inge Kaul argues that as globalization becomes intensive andextensive, the public good cannot be viewed simply in terms of one’s country orregion. What affects one country or region can affect countries around the globe.Pollution, for example, including global climate change and the greenhouseeffect, are global concerns. So is oil policy. Global public good shouldovercome the constraints of sovereignty.

If clean air is a global public good, what about a “clean neighborhood”?The problem of corrupt people who move from one country to another should betackled within that framework. “Good governance” refers to the fightagainst corruption at the national level, and a “clean neighborhood”policy would entail a similar effort at the regional and global level.

No country can argue that corruption is strictly a national problem. We areliving in the era of globalization. Bad operators fly around the world and canmove their money around the world with the click of a mouse. If one countrywants to eliminate corruption, other countries must join its efforts, just as inthe case of preventing global warming.

A “clean neighborhood” should be considered one of the “globalpublic goods.” It is high time to have a treaty to establish a cleanneighborhood.

ASEAN may become a pioneer as the first international organization to tacklethis issue. If it can force Indonesia to deal with the smoke, it should be ableto put Singapore under similar pressure to cleanse its territory of bothdomestic and global corruption. That would create a truly clean neighborhood.

The writer is a lecturer on globalization at the Postgraduate School ofPolitical Science, University of Indonesia.

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