Public officials in Indonesia have been exposed by a furious social media reckoning as they are confronted by the masses for their seemingly lavish displays of wealth in a country infamous for its income inequality.
For weeks, social media users have led a tireless campaign to name and shame their country’s flamboyantly wealthy public servants in what local media has dubbed the “scandal of the filthy rich”. Twitter user @PartaiSocmed is leading the charge with a slew of posts featuring fast cars, designer bags and private jets touted by Indonesia’s elite.
Central to the witch-hunt are allegations of serious fraud.
Multiple officials have been stood down after residents insisted with fury that the price tags of their luxury lifestyles – which include fast cars, designer bags and private jets – far exceeded the posted salary of a civil servant.
Sudarman Harjasaputra, head of the East Jakarta National Land Agency, has been a major target of the movement after a Twitter thread documenting his wife Vidya Piscarista’s handbag collection, European holidays and travels on a private jet went viral.
Ms Piscarita documented an impressive jetsetting life, posing in front of designer stores, the Austrian alps and the Eiffel Tower in pictures posted to an Instagram account that has since vanished.
One of the bags worn by Ms Piscarita was reportedly a Hermes Birkin Sellier – a rare designer handbag that retails for between $A37,000 and $A40,000.
For those baulking at the price, it’s not unusual for a Birkin.
The coveted bags are only available for purchase by Hermes customers who have spent more than six figures with the fashion house in the past year. Their exclusive nature means they often sell second-hand for far more than the original purchase price.
“(The price of this bag) new can reach half a billion (Indonesian rupiahs)! Try to compare it with the price of your mortgage,” one local Twitter user wrote alongside a screenshot of the image. They also claimed to have identified the dress – an Elie Saab sequined gown worth $A18,000.
Ms Piscarita’s Instagram page disappeared after it was announced her husband would be dragged in front of Indonesia’s anti-corruption commission and quizzed on the source of his wealth.
While the reality of Indonesia’s wealth gap is disturbing, the filthy rich saga has been peppered with genuinely surreal moments – particularly involving government official SF Hariyanto, who publicly humiliated his wife by claiming her collection of luxury handbags was actually a collection of knock-offs.
Mr Hariyanto, who is the Regional Secretary of Riau Province, called a press conference this week purportedly to shed some light on his wife’s avid social media use, after Instagram posts surfaced of her flaunting a wardrobe that apparently far exceeded his means.
He appeared in front of media accompanied by a table literally covered in designer goods, all of which he claimed were counterfeit.
“I have cross-checked the allegations. For example, about the handbags that were said to cost hundreds of millions of rupiah. That’s not true. These are fake,” Mr Hariyanto insisted.
His wife’s European holidays, he said, were paid for by splitting the bill with friends and only using public transport while overseas.
The public servant was treading on thin ice. It is illegal to produce, sell or re-sell counterfeit goods in Indonesia, though it is not illegal to buy them. Instagram, where many of his wife’s luxury bags were flaunted, has a policy against posts that promote counterfeit products.
Mr Hariyanto showed receipts from his wife’s purchases of the supposed knock-offs, but social media users pointed out they weren’t even for the same products she had been spotted wearing.
“I’m sorry Mr Regional Secretary, the fake Gucci shoes are different from the ones flexed by your wife,” one user wrote.
“Those are Gucci Pearl Embellished Platform sneakers, you know. Maybe you were in a rush to buy ‘evidence’ for the press conference.”
His daughter, too, frequently posts images of herself with luxury fashion items – including a literal tiara and pricey handbags carried at an official industry event – prompting the same user to query: “Dear Dior, did you actually allow the use of counterfeit Dior products at your own event?
“This lady’s father claims that all the luxury items they purchased were counterfeit.”
Perhaps more concerning is that many of the public servants who have found themselves under the microscope work in the country’s finance ministry or tax office.
The witch-hunt began with two shocking court cases in February.
One involved Indonesia’s former internal affairs chief Fedry Sambo, who was sentenced to death for murdering his subordinate Nofriansyah Yosua Hutabarant. Yosua was planning to act as a whistleblower on government corruption and unveil the true source of his boss’s wealth, the court heard, as reported by the Jakarta Post.
The firestorm was only further ignited by another case that remains before the courts, involving the 20-year-old son of a senior Jakarta tax official who was arrested and charged with beating a teen boy into a coma.
Witnesses reported the accused, Mario Dandy Satrio, had arrived at the scene in a flashy Jeep Wrangler. Images later surfaced of him posing on the seat of a Harley Davidson. Both of the vehicles – presumably paid for by his father, Rafael Alun Trisambodo – cost many multiples of a typical Indonesian salary.
Many questioned how Mr Trisambodo had come to accumulate such staggering wealth.
He was removed from his position in the tax office, as Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati ordered a full investigation into allegations of tax evasion amounting to millions of dollars.
In the same statement, Ms Indrawati also ordered for the disbandment of the “big bike club”, a group of officials known for their love of large and expensive motorbikes, after it was revealed that the country’s Director-General of Taxation was a member.
Mr Trisambodo joins two more officials – Eko Darmanto and Esha Rahmansah Abrar – who have also been stood down from their roles.
Mr Darmanto was removed from his position in the customs office after being accused of flaunting his wealth on Instagram via a feed that was peppered with motorbikes, luxury cars and even a Cessna plane.
Mr Abrar, meanwhile, was suspended over photos that suggested he had showered his wife with a new car, luxury handbag and several 24-carat gold bars for their wedding anniversary.
In response to the uproar, the Indonesian government has ordered a crackdown on government officials who flaunt their wealth online, with President Joko Widodo calling the act “hedonistic”.
“I understand the public disappointment towards the government … it is reasonable for them to be disappointed,” Mr Widodo said in a speech at the presidential palace last Thursday, as per CNN Indonesia.
“[The people] believe the public service has been poor, and the government officials are behaving arrogantly, flexing their power and wealth, and are hedonistic.
“I want us and everyone below us to stress this, don’t show off your power. Don’t show off your wealth, especially by posting on Instagram and other social media platforms. For members of the bureaucracy, this is really inappropriate.”
Mr Widodo ordered that all government officials cease public displays of their wealth, according to government minister Abdullah Azwar Anas.
“It’s clear now from the President that public servants are not allowed to flaunt their wealth,” the Minister told local media.
Mr Anas insisted public servants were required to comply with an annual wealth report that documented their finances.
Though it is well-known that Indonesia struggles with staggering income inequality, studies consistently show that residents on both ends of the spectrum chronically underestimate just how vast their country’s wealth gap is.
Russel Toth, a senior lecturer at the University of Sydney who conducted one such study, said social media had likely provided a platform to reckon with the reality of wealth inequality in the Asian nation.
“We’ve found that providing information about the true extent of inequality in Indonesia-led residents to be less likely to support the current President, and more likely to change their beliefs about taxation and government welfare,” Dr Toth told news.com.au.
“Social media has pierced the bubble for many residents who weren’t aware of the reality of their poverty. Many Indonesians are aware of high levels of corruption in their country, but seeing tangible photographic evidence makes it that much more visceral.”