SAMARINDA, Indonesia — A country not known for its transparent practices in business, politics and many other areas, Indonesia is pressing ahead in its long-running anticorruption drive by opening up cashier-free “honesty cafes” across the archipelago.
During a break at a high school here one recent morning, Selica Erlindi, 15, a 10th grader who wants to be a pediatrician, picked a drink and a bag of spicy cassava chips from the local honesty cafe’s shelves. Then, in keeping with the cafe’s goal of nurturing probity among its customers and society at large, she deposited, on the honor system, the equivalent of 60 cents inside a clear plastic box.
“This motivates us to be honest,” Selica said. “Especially since there is a lot of cheating in class, at least we’re learning to be honest with money. I think it’s also important for society because corruption is a big problem in Indonesia.”
As part of a national campaign led by the attorney general’s office, the provincial government here on the eastern shore of the island of Borneo opened a dozen honesty cafes last month alone in schools and government offices. By 2010, the provincial government here plans to have more than 1,000 such cafes in operation, including in private establishments.
The attorney general’s office says the honesty cafes will nip in the bud corrupt tendencies among the young and straighten out those known for indulging in corrupt practices, starting with civil servants. By shifting the responsibility of paying correctly to the patrons themselves, the cafes are meant to force people to think constantly about whether they are being honest and, presumably, make them feel guilty if they are not.
“We know there are many factors behind corruption, like the environment and economic needs, and honesty is just one factor,” said Syakhrony, an official at the attorney general’s office in Samarinda, the provincial capital of East Kalimantan, who, like many Indonesians, uses only one name. “But as law enforcement, we have repressive and preventive measures. These honesty cafes are a preventive measure in our fight against corruption.”
The honesty cafes are just a part of the government’s larger campaign begun in late 2007 to tackle endemic corruption in Indonesia, a country that ranked 126th best of 180 nations last year in a corruption perception list compiled by Transparency International, a private organization that monitors corruption across the globe. The widely praised anticorruption campaign has removed Indonesia from the lowest rungs of the annual index and contributed to the popularity of Indonesia’s president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Recently, though, the campaign suffered a blow after the head of the Corruption Eradication Commission was arrested on suspicion of involvement in the murder of a prominent businessman over a love triangle involving a golf caddie. Indonesia’s House of Representatives, which Transparency International calls the most corrupt institution in the country, tried unsuccessfully to use the arrest to stop any further commission inquiries into lawmakers.
Since the attorney general’s office started the campaign, some 7,456 honesty cafes have opened in 23 provinces in Indonesia, according to the National Youth Group, which is working with the office. The group expects 10,000 honesty cafes to be operating in 26 provinces by the end of the year before eventually reaching all 33 provinces.
So far, the cafes have been running successfully, said the group’s chairman, Dody Susanto. But he said about 5 percent had run into difficulties because of “poor management or dishonest behavior.”
In Samarinda in East Kalimantan, a province as rich in natural resources as in potential graft, officials pushed ahead despite recent problems in Jakarta. High School No. 1 spearheaded the local campaign by opening its honesty cafe last October, offering snacks and drinks for the school’s 1,050 students.
Eni Purwanti, an English teacher who heads the cooperative responsible for the cafe, said the plastic cash box was left unguarded, though large bills were removed regularly “so as not to tempt the students.”
One time, after a week’s investigation, officials found that a school administrator had been taking snacks without paying. “She said she didn’t know how to pay for the items,” Ms. Purwanti said.
No students have been caught cheating, she said, adding that the cafe’s monthly receipts showed a healthy profit.
“What’s important is that it’s had a positive effect on the students,” said Suardi, the principal. “Judging from the reports I’ve received from the teachers, cheating in class has decreased.”
Some students, though, were not so sure the system was working.
“Some of my friends don’t pay the right amount,” said Okirin Derkaranto, 16.
Okirin agreed that corruption was widespread in Indonesia, saying that some of his friends routinely bribed their way out of traffic violations by slipping police officers money.
Zairin Zain, a spokesman for the East Kalimantan government, said officials would evaluate the honesty cafes’ performance after six months. So far, he said, they seem to be working well in schools but have met some “resistance” in government offices, like his own.
Despite a large banner proclaiming the start of the anticorruption campaign, one of the provincial government’s honesty cafes did not appear to live up to its name, as more than one customer mentioned during one recent lunch hour. Most patrons paid at a cash register, and an employee sat at a table with two plastic cash boxes for those opting to pay on the honor system.
“Corruption is a big problem, but I don’t want to comment,” Eko Antarikso, 62, the cafe’s manager, said with a laugh that perhaps explained why she had yet to transform her establishment into a full-fledged honesty barometer.
One customer, Lukman, a government worker specializing in purchasing, sounded skeptical about the honesty cafes.
“The real problem in Indonesia is that there are flaws in the system, the procurement process, for example, that give people the chance to steal,” Mr. Lukman said, mentioning obscure procurement lists with padded prices.
Companies bidding on contracts routinely deploy thugs to harass procurement officials like himself to win bids, he said. He added that he and his colleagues holed up at a hotel when the time came to award bids so as to avoid the “stress” of having bidders visit them at the office.
“I guess the honesty cafes are O.K.,” he said. “But, you know, this is Indonesia.”