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Corruption in Indonesia’s Mining Sector: A Technical Topic with Global Implications

The Global Policy Residency is the capstone project of the Master of Arts in Global Policy (MAGP). Students tackle a policy challenge in a foreign country, analyze it in a comparative context, and propose recommendations in the form of a memorandum and briefing.

The capstone culminates with a one-week overseas research trip. This year, MAGP students selected Indonesia as the location for their policy research.

We recently spoke with MAGP student Adam Bennett about his research, experience as a candidate in the MAGP program, and post-graduation plans.

Adam’s research team paired with Indonesian Corruption Watch to answer the question: What reforms should Indonesia adopt to combat corruption in its subnational mining licensing regime?

  1. Your research looked at corruption in Indonesia’s subnational mining licensing regime. How did your team arrive at this research question?

Corruption in Indonesia’s mining sector may seem like a narrow topic, and it is. But mining is important to this resource-rich state, and the issues surrounding the industry’s functioning touch on so many challenges and opportunities that exist in Indonesia.

Our team members had shared interests in energy and governance issues, so we collectively gravitated toward mining after hearing anecdotes of the sector’s haphazard licensing amid the decentralization policy of the post-Suharto era. We honed that into a workable research question after looking at other resource-rich states and assessing what lessons they might hold for combating corruption.

  1. What were your findings and policy recommendations?

Considering Indonesia’s weak institutions, our policy recommendations focused on simplifying the existing legal framework and on boosting transparency, a first step in shining light on potential wrongdoing. The transparency mechanisms we recommended included a mandated role for civil society organizations to serve as a watchdog during the regulatory process, as well as creating an integrated public database that disclosed the location, owner, and government payments for each license in every locale.

  1. Your team spent over three months immersed in the topic. How did the pace, scope, and focus of research evolve?

This is a pretty technical topic, so the initial steps were fully dedicated to stepping up the learning curve—understanding the existing laws and regulations, how the process functioned, and how Indonesia differed from other countries. Those first couple of weeks were a feverish race to soak up as much information on the topic as possible, in a targeted manner. Once our group got that functional level of knowledge, the scope narrowed to what was possible within the Indonesian context and what could work, which really helped to guide our efforts from there.

  1. What research insights did you gain from your visit to Indonesia?

I don’t think this deliverable would have been as strong without those meetings on the ground. Our reading was extensive and we collectively had dozens of initial contacts and background interviews with Indonesia experts. But it wasn’t until we arrived in Jakarta, met with our contacts, and floated our policy recommendations that we gained a broader understanding of how all the pieces fit together.

  1. MAGP is a cohort-based program, and the global residency is group-based work. How does this create opportunities or challenges different from working alone?

In this project, working alone would have definitely yielded a different outcome. We had some challenging times reaching consensus, but I think this group also pushed each other for better ideas and more critical thinking. During the interviews in Indonesia, the group effort was magnified. Many times, the members of the group would work off each other’s questions to probe deeper.

In an individual paper, I would have been more focused on the technical aspects of this topic, while other group members brought in fresh ideas on the inclusion of civil society that I would not have delved into as deeply.

After graduating from the school, I think this experience will have great value in a professional setting, where balancing a diversity of ideas is necessary to bring about the greatest result. Doing that under the pressure of a strict deadline I think only sharpens those organizational and critical thinking skills that are valuable in the working world.

      6. What are your post-graduation plans?

After 16 months of a pretty intense study schedule on top of my regular 9-to-5, I’m first and foremost focusing at home. My kids have enjoyed having dad back on Saturdays, so quality time is definitely in order. I also want to dig deeper into the nexus of energy and foreign policy. These are interesting times and the US relationship with many major geopolitical players is shaped in some way by oil, natural gas, and other energy products.