My Uncle the Police Chief and Other Lies

Imagine you’re choosing a career. Would you cough up Rp300 million (US$25,400) for a job with a starting salary of just Rp1.56 million (US$113) per month, rising to Rp5.6 million (US$407) if you eventually reach the top? Of course not. You’d have to work for about ten years just to get your money back.

Yet those are the minimum and maximum salaries for Indonesian police officers. There are official fringe benefits, such as 18 kilograms of rice per month and an additional 10 kilograms for a wife and each child. But still, the numbers don’t add up.

Consider the starting salaries for police in other countries. In Australia, it’s about A$50,000 (Rp530 million) a year, in England £20,000 (Rp386 million), in the US, US$26,000 (Rp358 million). In neighbouring Singapore it’s S$33,000 (Rp345 million) and in Malaysia RM12,000 (Rp42 million).

In Indonesia, for a new police officer, it’s only Rp18.78 million (US$1,366) per year. So why do some people (or their parents) pay vast sums for entry to the police academy? Anti-corruption groups say law enforcers have opportunities for self-enrichment. Transparency International Indonesia last year named the police as the country’s fifth-most corrupt institution, prompting the national police to promise to improve its performance.

Officially, it doesn’t cost anything to be recruited as a police officer in Indonesia. Applicants simply have to undergo tests, submit paperwork and meet administrative requirements. The state covers all tuition costs and even provides financial allowance. Unofficially, there are claims of having to pay hundreds of millions of rupiah to join the police, and then having to pay even more for promotions.

This culture of paying for public service positions is a boon to scammers. Titin Hendiko (43), a woman originally from South Sumatra, in late 2016 began posing as a niece of National Police Chief General Tito Karnavian. She also claimed that her brothers were police officers and another uncle was head of the National Agency for Combating Terrorism.

In October 2016, she befriended an actual police officer, Andri, and his wife Suriwani. She told them she could provide jobs with the police and the Taxation Directorate General for people willing to pay a bribe of Rp180 million. Andri and Suriwani deemed her fee too cheap, saying entry to the police force or tax office should cost Rp370 million.

The three agreed to work together. Titin would receive Rp180 million per person scammed. Any remainder would go to Andri and Suriwani, who helped her to locate potential victims, especially people who had previously failed in their attempts to join the police force.

Using the alias Triyas Tyindira, Titin traveled between Jakarta and Central Java, claiming she was looking for a husband. She gave her age as 32. Once she had befriended people, she would mention her powerful police connections and her ability to facilitate entry to the force. From October 2016 to October 2017, she collected a total of Rp1.91 billion (US$139,000) from the parents of at least seven young adults.

In early 2017, Titin moved to Purbalingga in Central Java, staying at the house of one of her boyfriends, Teguh (35). Police said Teguh and his family had no idea Titin was a scammer, as she even managed to convince Tuguh’s brother to pay Rp140 million to join the police.

Most of her victims came from the Purbalingga area. When they began asking for updates, Titin said their children had passed entrance exams to join the National Police’s corps for public order and security. She said they would undergo further training, but first she needed additional funds to buy uniforms for them. In October 2017, she took four of the victims to a rented room at a boarding house called Sweet Home Residence in Semarang city, then she ordered them to change their telephone numbers and not to contact anyone except her. She told them to wait for the arrival of police education officers. Then she left. After ten days in the boarding house, the four victims received a visit from the police, who informed them they had been scammed.

Police set a trap for Titin by arranging a meeting with a potential victim in Banyumas regency, but she became suspicious and cancelled the appointment. She started driving to Jakarta but was caught by police on October 29. Police seized her car, a rented Toyota Harrier, as well as Rp29 million in cash, some bank transfer slips and gold jewellery. Police said she had spent nearly all of her ill-gotten money on a rented apartment in West Bekasi, cars and motorbikes, and shopping sprees for branded designer goods.

In January 2018, she went on trial for fraud at Purbalingga District Court. The trial was postponed for a week in February because Titin gave birth. In March, prosecutors recommended she be jailed for four years. Her two accomplices are on trial separately and facing three-year sentences.

Courting corruption
Some fraudsters sell positions in the nation’s courts. Eko Setyo Pribadi (41), a resident of Tukangkayu village in Banyuwangi, East Java province, promised he could arrange employment at Banyuwangi Religious Court, which generally handles divorces and Islamic inheritance cases.

Claiming to have relatives working at the court, Eko charged from Rp20 million to Rp175 million for clerical jobs that never eventuated. He started the scam in 2014 and within four years collected at least Rp1.2 billion, buying himself houses, cars and motorbikes with some of the proceeds. Police said he scammed at least 13 people, only four of whom had reported the matter to police by mid-March. Local media reported Eko’s only relative at the court was his wife, who allegedly has a low-level position and was not involved in the scam.

The fact that people pay big money for low-paying jobs in courts lends credence to allegations of judicial corruption. Every week there are reports of scammers selling civil service jobs. Rather than detaining only the scammers, authorities should also arrest those who pay the bribes, as well as anyone else who tries to sell legitimate positions and promotions. Otherwise, civil service job scams will never cease.

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Kenneth Yeung is a Jakarta-based editor.