There oughta be a law…
Manado, North Sulawesi, Indonesia
A quick look at the headlines in a Jakarta daily suggests a disconcerting trend in Indonesian politics. In just one day in a single paper, two of the headlines open stories concerning the proposed introduction of sweeping and questionable legislation. The first is a proposal that legislation be introduced to restrict the number of credit cards individuals should be allowed to have. The second proposal is that stricter controls on polls and poll-taking be introduced, as the result of complaints from political parties that the results published are biased in favour of the parties who commissioned them.
As Indonesia is a country that has been governed by a series of more or less draconian dictatorships for its entire history until just 1997, the propensity for the introduction of new laws, particularly intrusive or restrictive ones, is somewhat disconcerting. One would have thought that the natural response the people of a country would have to the shucking of political shackles would be an inclination to libertarianism; one would have expected the people of Indonesia, after the fall of Soeharto, to embrace a form of self government that eschews anything but the most patently necessary and indispensible laws. From the 1600s, when Indonesia was governed by a corporation, The Dutch East India Company, through the Japanese occupation of World War II, to the era of CIA supported, home-grown puppet-dictators, there has never been a lack of laws, rules, regulations, and fiats in the world’s largest archipelago. Is the inclination to legislate everything a matter of habit?
It isn’t easy to take Indonesia’s parliament or its members very seriously. Poll after poll shows that institution to be among the least trusted and the most corrupt in this, one of the world’s most corrupt countries; when they take a paternalistic attitude or pretend to the moral high ground, it is positively cringe-worthy.
While it is certainly true that credit card abuse can bring untold woes upon the cardholder, for this particular group of profligate kleptocrats to propose to protect their constituents from their own lack of fiscal sophistication is stomach turning. It ranks as sheer hypocrisy right up there with the Indonesian government censoring films about Indonesia’s history in an effort “not to confuse” the citizens. The patronising view that the people are not to be trusted with their own finances leads one to question whether those people ought to have been trusted with a vote that elected this parliament. Perhaps rather than expending energy on dreaming up legislation that does little more than cement the rigid class distinctions in this country by declaring common people unfit to handle credit, unlike their wealthier betters, parliament ought to consider legislation restricting the out of control banking industry at the root of the problem here in Indonesia.
|At least the terms should be clear|
In Indonesia, it seems that anyone with access to a few million dollars and a desire to cleanse that lucre opens a bank. Those banks soon close, owing depositors a ton of money and the principals are nowhere to be found. While they are still open,the banks collect on consumer credit debts by employing thugs who, with impunity and the full knowledge of even the reputable banks, beat up those who are alleged to owe money. Collection tactics range from physical intimidation, to death threats, home invasions, and assaults. It is impossible even to get an accurate accounting of what is claimed by the banks, and all too often, the only choice a customer has is to pay the thugs – who have been known to follow the customer’s children to school as an intimidation technique – whatever they demand.
Surely these practices are far more worthy of the attention of our legislators than attempts to limit the accessibility of credit to an emerging middle class. Perhaps parliament might consider looking into the establishment of a genuine and reliable consumer credit bureau; this would have a far more salubrious effecton the credit climate in this country than all their draconian, knee-jerk proposed legislation to control the middle class. It is typically and evidentlya case of a few who have managed to breach the walls and bury their snouts in the public trough they found there and are now determined to pull up the drawbridge behind them to maintain exclusivity for their privilege.
|Shooting the messenger|
Just how much energy should one expend on pointing out the silliness of the legislators’ pique at poll results they don’t find sufficiently flattering? Pointing out the obvious, that this is a painfully obvious case of shooting the messenger should be sufficient, but let’s do the exercise anyway.
Published poll resultsare as valuable as the reputation of the pollsters. Just because somebody says “90% of Indonesians prefer a dictatorship (or communism, or Megawati, or pistachio ice cream)” doesn’t make it so. It doesn’t mean a damn thing, unless the statement is backed by a reputation. If one is to place one’s reliance on a poll, it is wise to check details like the wording of the question, the number of respondents, the demographics of the respondents, etc. etc. A short cut is to rely on a polling company whose reputation for honesty, objectivity and thoroughness has already been established. In Indonesia this can be tricky.
|Warning to consumers|
During the last Indonesian national election I worked with an international watchdog agency that monitored the election for fairness and adherence to international standards of democracy. This agency commissioned several polls in several cities prior to the elections. I personally sat in a cafe and watched while hired pollsters, rather than actually going out and presenting the questionnaire to the public, filled them in themselves over tea. It was too hot, I was told, actually to go from door to door; in any case I was assured they knew what the people would say, actually asking them would be redundant. All the laws that parliament will ever pass won’t change that attitude.
On the other hand,there are companies like Nielson and Gallup that are reliable; they publish their methodologies, sample sizes, wording of questions, demographics, and other parameters. If one takes the trouble to check these out, the polls will have a higher utility.
The flip side of the equation is that, of course, phony polls are commissioned. Of course phony results are published. It’s called lying. And lying is what campaigning politicians do. Lying can’t be stopped, and in any case, it’s a matter of freedom of expression. And the last thing Indonesia (or any other country) needs is yet another restriction on freedom of expression. As George Orwell wrote, “If liberty means anything at all, it means theright to tell people what they don’t want to hear”. Let the people decide if they buy the poll results. Let the honest and professional pollsters rise to the top.
While the philosophy of radical libertarianism is incoherent, there needs to be a far stronger reason for impeding the rights of the people than simple paternalistic inclinations or to protect the privileged from hearing what displeases them.