Indonesia envoys lie low to hide bad grasp of English

The Age

Saturday February 20, 2010


SOME Indonesian diplomatic attaches have such a poor command of English they "freak out" and regularly cancel appointments, according to the secretary-general of the country's foreign affairs department.And while some panic-stricken envoys are calling in sick to avoid meetings, others have been lining their pockets by rorting the department's travel budget, part of a widespread scam exposed this month.Addressing an Indonesian parliamentary committee this week, Imron Cotan said there were problems with English fluency among attaches sent to the country's overseas missions from areas such as defence, manpower, trade and finance."Every time their counterparts from the home government want to meet them, they freak out and seek ways to avoid the meeting," he said.Taking sick leave was the favoured method to avoid potentially embarrassing encounters, he added.The complaints with the work of attaches at Indonesia's 119 overseas missions don't end with their inadequate English, the language of international diplomacy. According to one politician on parliament's foreign affairs commission, they frequently plagiarise material in their annual reports to Jakarta."The contents are awful," Tri Tamtomo told The Jakarta Post."Much of the information in these reports is taken from newspapers or the internet, which anyone could do."While Mr Cotan a former ambassador to Canberra was letting fly at some embassy staff this week, he was also battling allegations that he had personally benefited from widespread rorting of the foreign affairs travel budget.Former foreign minister Hassan Wirajuda was also named by Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW), which exposed the scam, as a beneficiary. Mr Wirajuda and Mr Cotan denied the claims and have been exonerated by an internal investigation.The information from the anti-corruption group was largely verified and led to the demotion of three officials at the foreign affairs department.The scam involved diplomats conspiring with travel agencies affiliated with the department to get fake receipts for their plane tickets. The receipts quoted the fares as being vastly in excess of the amount that was paid.The diplomats would benefit when the higher amount was reimbursed, and kickbacks would then be paid to other officials within the department.The practice was widespread and co-ordinated through the department's finance and budget arms, costing $3.5 million last year alone.The officials disciplined were the heads of the department's finance bureau, travel bureau and budget allocation office.While these officials named Mr Wirajuda and Mr Cotan as accomplices, Indonesia's Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said their names were used to cover up the crimes of the lower-ranking officials and were not backed by any hard evidence.But Indonesia Corruption Watch said the sanctions against the three officers were light, describing them as administrative punishments only."The measures taken by Marty Natalegawa will not provide a deterrent effect," said Agus Sunaryanto, the investigation co-ordinator at ICW.

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