Southeast Asia Studies Seminar Program
The MacMillan Center at Yale University
Dec 12 , 2012

"'Making the books look good'" or how anti-corruption efforts enable corruption in Kupang, Eastern Indonesia"
Sylvia Tidey, Department of Anthropology, Universiteit van Amsterdam

The construction sector is generally categorized as the most corrupt one, particularly when concerning government funded construction projects. In the last decade, Indonesia has taken serious steps to curb corruption in its construction sector. In spite of this, ethnographic research has shown that "corrupt practices" persist. This discrepancy between plans designed to implement change and the on-the-ground practices is central to my paper. However, I don't want to ask the question of why anti-corruption strategies have failed. Rather I ask: if these recent structural changes did not reduce corruption, what effects did they have? By exploring how the manifold anti-corruption strategies affected a tender held in 2008 at the Department of Public Works in Kupang, Eastern Indonesia, I argue that procedures to reduce corruption in the construction sector have actually enabled new opportunities for corruption. To make this argument I will show that in order to avoid suspicions of "corrupt behavior" contractors and officials display a tremendous preoccupation with maintaining adherence to the form of the new rules and regulations. This becomes particularly clear in the various documents that circulated during the tender. I therefore argue that documents form a significant ethnographic point of departure from which to study the unintended effects of anti-corruption programs, especially when they perform the ambiguous effect of both strengthening the anti-corruption discourse and subverting it.

Sylvia Tidey is a cultural anthropologist and Postdoctoral Fellow at the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (University of Amsterdam). She received her Ph.D at the University of Amsterdam in 2012, her MA at Leiden University in 2006, and her BA at Leiden University in 2005. Sylvia is currently working on a book project based on the Ph.D research she conducted between 2007-2009 in government offices in Eastern Indonesia, tentatively titled Performing the State: Corruption and Reciprocal Obligations in Eastern Indonesian Bureaucracy. She is also working on her postdoctoral research project Happiness in Times


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