Indonesia cracks down on taxmen’s ostentatious wealth displays amid assets scrutiny

Arie Firdaus and Tria Dianti
Indonesia cracks down on taxmen’s ostentatious wealth displays amid assets scrutiny Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati speaks at a virtual press conference in this screengrab of a video published on Feb. 24, 2023.
[Courtesy Instagram @smindrawati]

Indonesia has cracked down on tax officials’ ostentatious displays of wealth after a public outcry over a Jakarta taxman’s allegedly disproportionate wealth, which came to light following his high-living son’s involvement in an assault case.

Citizens need to trust public servants, Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said on Monday, following public anger over tax officials’ perceived excesses in a country where evasion is rampant and many live in poverty.

“Public trust must be built and regained by continuing to work diligently, competently, reliably and honestly,” Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said in an Instagram post on Monday.

On Sunday, she vowed to strengthen oversight and accountability in the tax directorate.

Indonesia has one of the lowest tax-to-GDP ratios in Southeast Asia, at about 10 percent in 2022. The government has been trying to increase tax revenue by expanding its taxpayer base and improving compliance.

Transparency International’s annual report last month showed that Indonesia fell 14 spots to rank 110th on the group’s 2022 Corruption Perception Index (CPI), which measures perceptions of public sector corruption.

Indonesians’ disaffection spread on social media following news about the college-going son of the Jakarta tax official, Rafael Alun Trisambodo.

Rafael’s son, Dandy Satriyo, who often flaunted luxury cars and motorcycles on social media, was expelled after he allegedly assaulted a high school student last week.

The video in which Dandy, 20, was shown allegedly beating and kicking a 17-year-old into a coma on Feb. 20, circulated widely online.

After widespread public condemnation, the government on Friday removed Rafael from his post – he had amassed 56 billion rupiah (U.S. $3.9 million) in declared assets despite his modest salary, initial scrutiny showed.

Also on Friday, Minister Sri Mulyani condemned the lavish lifestyle displayed by her subordinates, saying it could erode public trust in the tax office. By Sunday, she initiated action to clean up her ministry.

Sri Mulyani asked her director general of taxation, Suryo Utomo, to explain his assets listed in the official wealth declaration and instructed him to disband a luxury motorcycle club of tax officials called Belasting Rijder.

“Even if those motorcycles were obtained and purchased with lawful money and official salaries, riding and flaunting them by tax officials and finance ministry staff violates the principles of decency and propriety,” Sri Mulyani wrote on her Instagram account @smindrawati on Sunday.

The Indonesian tax office building is seen in Jakarta, April 3, 2018. [Willy Kurniawan/Reuters]

‘Investigate and disclose’

Meanwhile, a movement to stop paying taxes has again gained traction in the country.

At a rally last week, some protesters displayed signs that read “Stop paying taxes” outside the income tax directorate’s building. A hashtag with a similar message trended on social media.

Another movement emerged in 2010 after Gayus Tambunan, a low-ranked tax officer, was found to have assets valued at millions of dollars.

The Supreme Court sentenced Gayus to 12 years in prison after he was found guilty of colluding to reduce corporate tax obligations.

Gayus later faced other criminal charges for his misconduct such as giving false testimony, bribing judges, police officers and prison guards, and money laundering.  He was sentenced to 29 years in prison.

In December, the Supreme Court sentenced Angin Prayitno, a former tax official, to nine years in prison after he was found guilty of accepting 55 billion rupiah ($3.8 million) in bribes to manipulate tax calculations for several companies.

Fajry Akbar, a researcher at the Center for Indonesia Taxation Analysis, urged the government to make substantive improvements by investigating and disclosing tax employees’ sources of wealth.

The Finance Ministry, he said, must cooperate with other institutions such as the Corruption Eradication Commission and the Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Center.

“It should not be just a public relations exercise,” he told BenarNews.

“This case is not fully revealed yet. Where did [Rafael] get that much wealth from? It needs to be exposed to the public and it has to be fast.”


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