Zubaidah Nazeer, Indonesia Bureau Chief, In Jakarta

Drug fight: Indonesia must clean its house first

As Indonesia prepares to execute a group of convicted drug traffickers, many of them foreigners, much of the domestic and international attention is focused on the issue of capital punishment.

But there is a rising voice from within the country that says it is not enough for Indonesia to stand firm on carrying out the death penalty on drug dealers to deliver a strong message against drug use.

Yes, Indonesia may have its sovereign right to impose the death penalty, but tackling the drug problem requires actions on many fronts, say human rights activists, lawyers and political analysts. And this means not just deterring would-be drug traffickers from abroad with heavy sentences including capital punishment, but also enforcing the law to contain and reduce the use of illicit drugs as well as rehabilitating drug offenders.

There are also those who want proof that the drug problem in Indonesia is dire.

"Talk about a drugs emergency is cheap - can we see actual proof of this? The authorities need to justify data they keep repeating," said Mr Haris Azhar, coordinator for human rights group Kontras, referring to what some analysts say are faulty statistics on drug use in Indonesia. "We also see cases of law enforcement officers tainted with drug cases, throwing up the question of integrity in our legal process. That means we have to clean our own house first and cannot just rely on harsh sentences to fight drugs."

Indeed, it would seem Indonesia has some way to go before it can deal effectively with its drug problem, given that the law enforcers themselves are part of the problem:

  • In late 2013, anti-graft officers investigating former Constitutional Court judge Akil Mochtar stumbled upon four sticks of ganja or cannabis - one of them used - and a purple methamphetamine pill in his office drawer during a raid.
  • In November 2012, Achmad Yamanie became the first Supreme Court judge to resign after an ethics board found him guilty of tampering with court documents to lighten the sentence of a drug lord charged with running an ecstasy lab.
  • In January, a former policeman - serving time for money laundering connected with drug sales - was jailed for life, for distributing 2.1 kg of methamphetamine and 14,000 ecstasy pills from within the prison, in the city of Medan in North Sumatra province.
  • Just last month, three men in the air force were caught for possession of synthetic drugs totalling 245.6g. They are being investigated for links to a wider syndicate.

Ms Poengky Indarti of human rights watchdog Imparsial said: "The police and military have been accused of having roles in drug rings and we need to see an urgent reform of these institutions to restore people's faith in them, especially the police."

The National Narcotics Agency (BNN) is well aware of the problem. After a drug bust in April 2013 involving two policemen and a soldier in Central Java, BNN deputy chief inspector Benny Mamoto told reporters: "We are tracking other parties of these syndicates. They are a mix (of civilians and law enforcers)."

Appallingly, three prison inmates have been found to be running drug distribution rings from within their cells using mobile phones which had been smuggled in to them. They were helped in their enterprise by prison wardens on the take.

Indeed, BNN admits that the majority of drug distribution is coordinated from within prison.

Clearly, there is a dire need to clean up not just drug use within the law enforcement system, but also the serious corruption that is rendering BNN's efforts ineffective. Moreover, by its own admission, BNN does not have enough manpower and equipment to deal with the drug problem.

Given Indonesia's sprawling archipelago with porous borders, there is also a pressing need for stronger and more consistent inter-agency cooperation, between the coast guard, ground border patrol and Customs, among others.

Some critics have suggested that the execution of drug dealers by firing squad is a way of distracting the public from these domestic weaknesses, by creating the image of a tough president staving off international pressure.

But after the reports of the firing squad's guns have died down, President Joko Widodo will still have to face the deep-seated problems in his law enforcement agencies - both the corruption and the deficiencies. Only when he can fix these can he really address the expectations of his people: that he fix the problem he calls a "drugs emergency".

zubaidah@sph.com.sg