24 September 2008

Perception and Reality

It seems that the recent survey by the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy Ltd (PERC) that ranked Indonesia as the worst of the 12 Asian countries surveyed has raised an interesting debate about the reality of perception and the perception of reality.

The survey per se is not all that controversial as it asks those surveyed for their opinions based on their perceptions. However, what the survey has done is to highlight how perception and reality can diverge. The survey has also highlighted why perhaps some of those Indonesian institutions who have embarked on comprehensive programs of reform might want to also consider getting some public relations help in order to highlight these reforms in the public domain.

Arsil, a researcher from Lembaga Independensi Peradilan (Institute for an Independent Judiciary / LeIP), which focuses exclusively on judicial reform in Indonesia holds a similar opinion. Arsil feels that the results of the survey highlight the disgraceful reputation that the judiciary and the judicial system have in Indonesia. Nevertheless, Arsil was quick to note that the survey was more about perception than anything else and perception is a reflection of the ability of the courts to management their public communications. The simple philosophy here is that it the courts better manage the flow of information about itself then the public will have access to better and more accurate information on which to base any future judgments or perception.

The courts have been subject to significant judicial reform and this process of reform is ongoing. However, Arsil sees a critical mistake and that is how the Supreme Court manages the reform process internally and then projects this information to the broader public. The reality is that the public can only form their perceptions based on the information that they have at their perusal.

Not all of these reforms have a direct impact on the public and an example of this is a Decision by the Chief Justice contained in Decision No. 144 of 2007. This Decision was the first of its kind for an Indonesian institution and required a greater level of transparency in court processes. Even though the focus of the Decision was internal transparency within the courts it would have nonetheless been good public relations for the court. However, it was decided that because the Decision had no direct impact on the public then it was not necessary to promote this reform publicly.

Clearly the party most responsible for changing the image and consequently the perception of the Supreme Court is the Supreme Court itself. Unfortunately, to date the Supreme Court has been what can best be described as passive. In contrast the police have been active in publicly promoting police reforms. However, the lag time between publicly promoting reform and a change in perception is considerable.

The reality is that there is a distinct connection between the perception of the institution and the public’s trust in that institution. Poor perception means a low level of trust. This in turn leads to a credibility problem in that the public does not see the institution as being credible with regard to its primary function. In the case of the Supreme Court this means that the negative perception results in a belief that the Court is not a credible law enforcement agency.

Mas Achmad Santosa, a highly regarded legal practitioner active on law reform matters, stated that he can see the survey itself from two perspectives. First, he sees it from the perspective that any law or judicial reform efforts undertaken by the Supreme Court are yet to yield any concrete results with respect to public perception. Second, poor public communication in terms of self-promotion of the initiatives undertaken and the successes achieved.

To overcome this it is clear that the Supreme Court needs to do two things according to Mas Achmad Santosa. Firstly, an internal evaluation of the reforms undertaken to date and a catalogue of successes created. Secondly, there needs to be a communication strategy developed so that the Supreme Court can better promote the reforms undertaken. It is thought that the best means of developing a successful communication strategy would be to work with the Department of Communication and Information or perhaps even the Indonesian Capital Investment Coordination Board (Badan Koordinasi Penanaman Modal / BKPM).

The BKPM might seem like a strange choice. However, as Mas Achmad Santosa points out, part of the BKPM’s role is to provide a source of information to current and potential capital investors in Indonesia about the legal framework, the degree of legal certainty, and the legal system in general. It is well within reason that the BKPM as part of this information strategy also publicize court reforms, particularly if there is an impact on business.

In a purely business sense the failure of the courts generally and the Supreme Court specifically to successfully communicate reforms means that the impact of surveys such as this one can be far-reaching. Investors will think twice before investing in Indonesia if they take the results of this survey at face value. An under-performing and corrupt legal and judicial system is most likely to be seen as a hindrance to good business. To overcome this potential problem the court must ensure that reforms remain on track and a communication strategy must be developed as a matter of urgency.

To this end Mas Achmad Santosa provided an example of where the Head of the Religious Court had been sanctioned for an indiscretion. The sanction itself highlights that the Supreme Court is more serious than it has been in the past to clean up its image. However, the fact that the sanction was never communicated to the public meant that the public knows nothing of the sanction. The question is then, “how can the perceptions of the public towards the courts change if the reforms and sanctions are never communicated?”

Mas Achmad Santosa is still hopeful that the Supreme Court can develop this communication strategy and better inform the public of the progress being made.

Interestingly, not all people agree that there is a difference between the reality and the perception when it comes to the performance of the courts. Emerson Yuntho from Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW) was unequivocal in stating that the results of the survey not only reflect the perception but are close to the truth. In Emerson’s view the idea of controversial verdicts and corruption in the court system or the judiciary is not a perception but a fact and consequently the perception and the reality are the same. One of the key problems that Emerson sees is that the courts themselves are not taking these matters seriously and cites the fact that judges who accept bribes and are guilty of other misconduct are, at best, subject to administrative sanctions. Therefore, when people see judges getting away with merely administrative sanctions then public confidence in the judiciary is eroded even further.

Emerson was far more skeptical when questioned about Supreme Court reform. When asked about this Emerson answered the question with a question, “what has the Supreme Court done?” In his opinion the only reforms of note have been with regard to ‘openness’ of information and that this reform has only occurred because of donor pressure. Emerson was certain that when donors stopped funding reforms and pressuring the court to undertake reforms that these ‘reform’ programs would cease automatically.

This suggests that there is no real intent to reform within the court or judicial system, but rather talking reform is all about getting money through aid programs directed at law reform.


the converted said...

I am so impressed by your blog today. Allow me to pop in here - it seemed a nice topic for an AIW type such as I.

I am troubled by your liberal view that it is better for terrorists to rot in jail rather than be hung or whatever. (your earlier posts)

How do you respond to the point that "rot in jail" is not what prision reform types would have in mind when they oppose the death penalty. True? And in the west it may cost up to 600 bucks a day for this rotting that you describe. Would you not agree this money could save a lot of poor from dying?? Would not a rope be a better option?


Rob Baiton said...


Liberal view? Nice way to start the day!

I guess your questions fit generally into the idea of perception and reality. So, here is my response.

"Rot in jail" because I do not think that terrorists in general have remorse or show it nor can they be rehabilitated ("in general" being the key here).

The point for me, albeit in a perfect world and perhaps this is not, that jail is punishment for your crimes and during that punishment you are rehabilitated and then integrated back into the community.

This is an overly simplistic version of how I see it working. A more detailed submission would be made if I was writing for consideration by a parliamentary committee or something similar.

I think the overly simplistic point above answers your question about the prison reform types. Although, I am assuming (sometimes assumptions are way off base) that what you mean by prison reform types are those who see prison rehabilitating the criminal in preparation for a return to society on the outside.

The economic rationalist argument that a bullet is cheaper than 600 bucks a day. How does one argue with that? Quite simply the bullet is cheaper. The rope might be even cheaper still as it is generally reusable.

Yes, the money saved may in fact save a lot of lives by feeding the poor. This assumes though that any "savings" made in correctional facilities management would then be directed to feeding (and educating) those in need.

Those on death row make up a small percentage of the total prison population. I think a more empirical crunching of the numbers is needed to determine the "total cost savings" we are talking about (maybe you have these numbers or can point me to some research on this?).

My final point would be that if we are costing justice where do we draw the line in terms of maximum prison time?

For example, if you receive a sentence of say 50 years and you are a 30-year-old man should we just say the likelihood is that you will die in jail and waiting for you to die is going to cost too much, so we are going to execute you instead.

the converted said...

Thank you. very very comprehensive. and well written.

Sorry about the matter being so unrelated to your topic. I will read your last few posts and maybe add something later.

I guess my main point was only to see if you really meant "rot in jail"

Also, you correctly read my poor shorthand (prison reform types)

Your full response has got me thinking. Perhaps others might respond on the matter of punishment for terrorists. But hardly appropriate at this place I guess: perception and reality...

Rob Baiton said...


I am serious when I say, "feel free to comment and question as you see fit".

It is both challenging and fun to have to answer questions and to justify my opinions (even in a blog).

Polar Bear said...

There exists a third option, that of neutralizing the terrorist.
A Ludovico technique type of conditioning that would leave the terrorist wetting his trousers at the thought of stepping outdoors. Crying in fear at the sight of a holy book.

This is the means they use – they frighten people by association, until they get their way. Use their means on them.

We have the ability to do this, we lack the willpower. Sooner or later we will find the fortitude.

Rob Baiton said...


My take would be that the declared "War on Terror" is the embodiment of the third option that you talk about.

I would argue that this allows for the neutralizing of terrorists and over actions that might achieve the ends that you suggest.

However, I would also argue that to a reasonable degree that the war on terror has to date been a little bit piecemeal in its approach.

I remember being taught as a kid that, "if you're gonna go then go hard!" I think those engaged in the war on terror against the terrorist have failed to heed this advice.

You will never achieve the level of fear to scare the terrorists back into the proverbial box if you are fighting with one hand tied behind your back! The terrorists are not playing by the rules of war, are they?

I am not suggesting that we should forego the rules all around. I am merely pointing out the difficulties of an unlevel playing field.

Polar Bear said...


Upon reflection you are right. The War on Terror is being implemented as the third way.

Imprisoning people for the slightest interest in terrorism (eg possession of material about terrorism) is intended to scare people into not getting involved.

Hammad Munshi was recently convicted of making a record of information likely to be useful in terrorism, was sentenced on Friday to two years in a young offenders' institution in the UK.

His crimes included storing Al Qaeda propaganda on his computer and keeping notes on martyrdom under his bed.

Its getting close to thought crime.

But it may just deter other young men from even reading the propaganda.

Rob Baiton said...


I guess the rationale is that you have got to start somewhere.

I still think the approach is piecemeal and as such somewhat ineffective. Yet, I wonder how many people would accept a truly Draconian system of laws if there was a guarantee that such a system would defeat terror?