MAJALENGKA (West Java) - The thought of what Indonesia could have done with the trillions of rupiah suspected to have been pocketed by corrupt government officials over the years is heartbreaking for Mr Prabowo Subianto.
These purported losses in the state budget, which by certain estimates may amount to 2,000 trillion rupiah (S$190 billion) annually, according to Mr Prabowo, could have funded development programmes, created jobs and help Indonesians prosper.
That is why the presidential hopeful will prioritise fighting graft if he is elected at the April 17 polls, he told The Straits Times and two other Japanese media during an interview while travelling in a private jet over West Java.
Mr Prabowo, 67, is contesting the upcoming election for the second time against incumbent President Joko Widodo, 57, himself a pro-reformist leader who has always promoted a strong anti-graft agenda since he entered politics in 2005.
While Mr Prabowo accepts that the war on graft cannot be won overnight and will take time, he believes he can do more than Mr Joko to eradicate what he calls a disease, and he is sure that ending widespread corruption in Indonesia will have a major impact on the progress of his country.
"The most important thing is we must prove to the people that there is hope, prove to them there is a clean government, a government that will not allow its officials to steal and lie," said Mr Prabowo.
The Gerindra party leader has promised to start by ensuring his government sets a good example, if he becomes president.
"I will have to prove I'm in politics to give good governance to my people," he said, adding that many Indonesians are angry at the levels of corruption that exist today.
The 2,000 trilion rupiah figure cited by Mr Prabowo had raised eyebrows, especially since it amounted to almost all of Indonesia's 2019 annual state budget of 2,461 trilion rupiah.
He had said his figure was derived from data released by Indonesia's Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) on April 1.
A senior aide to Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan, a key member of Mr Joko's inner circle, yesterday said Mr Prabowo had misunderstood the KPK estimates, saying the agency was merely referring to the potential losses incurred by the government in unpaid taxes.
Indonesia has long suffered from a low tax participation rate, with some experts saying that only about a tenth of Indonesians are registered taxpayers, while its tax to GDP ratio for 2018 was also just 11.5 per cent.
A key plank of Mr Prabowo's anti-graft plan is to raise the salaries of Indonesian civil servants, said to be one of the most depressed in the world. For this, he cites the success of Singapore in keeping corruption relatively in-check.
Singapore's founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew did not tolerate corruption, and with a ministerial wage regime that sees its top government officials being among the most well-paid in the world, managed to successfully stave off a graft pandemic, said Mr Prabowo.
"If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys," he added, citing the popular saying. "So pay well, but demand honest work, competence, capability, that's the key."
When asked about his motivation in politics, Mr Prabowo said that Indonesians deserve better than to live in a country stricken rife with graft for so long.
He added that he is already part of the richest one per cent in Indonesia, and hence is not in politics for the money, or personal ambition, but rather to serve, especially since he believes that the current government is "not doing the right thing".
But he also admitted that the widespread corruption in the country cannot be resolved overnight.
"It cannot be completely eliminated, but we can decrease it fast," Mr Prabowo said, adding that there must be "a real political will from the top" and leaders must lead by example to create a clean government.
"The top must be very committed," he said.