Panama Papers - Absence of Reason from the Indonesian Press

I’ve made many complaints before against the Indonesian mainstream media. My grievances are too numerous to list but the case with the Indonesian reporting of the so-called PanamaPapers is worth mentioning.

Like in many other countries, reports of the massive Mossack Fonseca document leaks occupied the news cycle here for a few days. No less than the President himself called for an investigation into the names and companies mentioned in the documents. The Financial and Transaction Reports and Analysis Center (PPATK) also announced they will track the list against their records of suspicious transactions. The Minister of Finance went on to answer to lawmakers in Senayan and explained that the Ministry matched 79% of the names in the PanamaPapers to their list of foreign account holders acquired from G20 forum. Curiously, Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro also said, “Money laundering is not my focus. I look at who already paid taxes or not.”

Additionally, the local news televisions went into high gear in a race to explain to their audience the intricacies and subtleties of “tax havens” and “shell companies” with various names being thrown around. Mind you, corruption is everywhere in this young republic and the public was already primed for speculation. This one online publication has one such list from April 6. Almost every media outlet there have their own version of the list — presumably mentioned and/or listed somehow in this notorious set of Panama Papers. (A lot of them got confused, but that’s a story for a different day)

A few of the names mentioned, mostly successful businessmen from Jakarta only made customary remarks about the relative common of using offshore entities in international transaction.

Now, my question and confusion here is quite singular, Where is the list? Tempo magazine is listed as the only Indonesian partner of the ICIJ — presumably the only journos with access to the documents — but despite all these various responses from the Government, the magazine publishes only scant little details and minimum reporting.

The online version of the magazine maintains a section prominently featuring PanamaPapers but at the moment the available content feels more like linkbaits rather than investigative reporting. To climax this euphoria, Tempo ran a cover story with uber Minister Luhut on the cover. Mr. Luhut B. Panjaitan is the most prominent member of President Jokowi’s cabinet and reportedly maintained extensive dealings via Mossack Fonseca. What dealing exactly, the report didn’t say.

Strangely enough for such direct reporting (Tempo included pictures of share certificates and stuff), it details very little about what — if any transactions — were happening in these offshore entities. The magazine also fails to point out that Herr Minister is also the Head of the National Anti Money Laundering Committee.

Another name from the Mossack Fonseca files is the Head of the Indonesian State Audit Body. Unlike Mr. Panjaitan, Harry Azhar Azis (previously chair of the parliament budget committee) went most immediately to the tax office and got himself ‘cleared’ of suspicions of wrongdoing.

Throughout this moon cycle, it remains ambiguous if any of these people in the Government actually had better access to the Mossack Fonseca documents (which ICIJ denied publicly) — than the journalists and reporters, the esteemed members of the press. Minister Brodjonegoro reported to the parliament that the Ministry had ‘an investigation’ but he wasn’t clear that he actually had the base data to start with. Fuck it, nobody really bothered to ask.

Does it really help bringing transparency and accountability to this country? Quite obviously, not.

Both Mr. Panjaitan and Mr. Azis are firmly planted in their seats and not looking like they’re going anywhere. Mr. Panjaitan is actually the driving force behind the Tax Amnesty initiative, so much so now that when the Bill is seemingly halted in the DPR, it was heard in his quarters that the President will just make it an executive order of sort. One must wonder if this unbridled enthusiasm is not somehow conflicted with own interests. But really, in Indonesia, no one. For his part, Pak Luhut blatantly denied that he had any off shore dealings. He said the address listed in Panama was the wrong one two doors down.

It was a whole lot of nothing.

Like many things in Indonesian flavours, the members of the press often play fast and loose with facts and truth. Many were simply trained in the Pavlovian manner of amplifying noise in the absence of reason.

In an almost seemingly natural manner, the news cycle carries from Panama Papers this unprecedented campaign for a proposed Tax Amnesty Bill. Unprecedented because I can’t think of almost no other time when Indonesian press are so obsessed with tax reforms. The whole country must be pretty fucking stoned at this point but nobody seemed to care.

At some point, someone, somewhere, must start working at the math of doing these things and realize how much it is costing the nation. As for the Mossack Fonseca documents, at least for those directly tied to high ranking public officials, the whole entire documents must be made available so that the rest of the public apply their own scrutiny and make their own informed decisions instead of relying on an arbitrary group to do it for them.

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