I had to renew my passport, so i asked a fellow reporter where to go if she wants to renew hers. She gave me a number of an official at one of the immigration offices in Jakarta and said that the man was "assigned" by the Justice and Human Rights Ministry to take care of passports for reporters.
"Interesting," I thought. I wasn't aware that reporters have a special window at Indonesian immigration offices.
The next day i called this person and told him that I need to renew my passport, he then told me to go to another person, Bobby (not his real name), because turned out that he had been recently transferred to an island outside Java.
I told him that I am a reporter and the previous immigration guy told me to see him. Bobby nodded, told me to fill in some forms, ordered me to give him copies of my IDs, including my press card.
Afterwards he told me to come back an hour later to get my photo taken and pay for administration.
One hour passed, I came back and Bobby gave me a piece of paper that shows me how much I have to pay. What struck me is this handwriting (presumably Bobby's) on that piece of paper: "Press, please help".
At that point I felt something nudging my conscience. The last time I heard the phrase "Please help" was during the hearing of Southeast Asian Games graft scandal. Witnesses from local government testified that the Secretary of the Sports and Youth Ministry, who has already been convicted, told them, "Please help this company." Referring to a certain private contractor.
I seek console to the fact that even with the supposedly "powerful phrase" I still have to wait for several hours before my passport interview and photograph. Sitting in the waiting room I thought to myself, "Hey I'm just like anybody else here."
When that's done I asked the official who took my photo when my passport would be ready.
He said, "Oh, that you have to ask the person who helped you. There must be a person downstairs that assisted you, right?"
So I went to see Bobby again and he told me to come back a couple of days later.
To me, this whole "help" and "assistance" thing could only lead to one logical response, that I have to "give back".
So I frantically asked a number of reporters from different media. From the most distinguished one I got the reply: "We do give gifts to the officials who helped us. Not money, mind you. Gifts, like toys for his kid, or cakes."
I also recently knew that this distinguished media also bribe officials in order to get their hands on certain "classified" documents :D
Anyways, on the supposed day that my passport is ready, I decided to get Bobby (and his friends) some "gifts". So I went to a supermarket near my house and bought two bottles of sweet syrup and a big tin of assorted crackers coz hey, it was almost Lebaran. A glass of sweet drink and crackers for Lebaran is a perfect companion!
Once again I went through the doors that said "Staff Only" and found Bobby. He told another officer to get my passport from a stash of others belonging to fellow reporters, police officers and of course, Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) officials.
After I signed a proof of receipt and Bobby handed me my passport, I gestured him to the plastic bag I've been carrying around. The one filled with sweet stuffs for lebaran.
What I didn't expect was his response:
"Hey, you know that we're not allowed to receive anything."In just that split-second I see myself in the defendant's chair, admitting to the honorable panel of judges that I have given Bobby two bottles of sweet syrup and a tin of assorted crackers for helping me get my new passport :s
So yeah, there I stand in the middle of the Immigration office's bustle and occasional curious glances from visitors, extending my hand awkwardly towards this public servant who is looking up at me from behind his desk and stacks of documents.
I gasped for words and could only muttered something that sounds like, "It's for Lebaran".
Bobby accepted the bag, I smiled lopsidedly, shook his hands, and walked away, promising myself that I would use the regular person's way next time. Please remind me in 2016.