One can sit quietly on a mound and let it grow into a mountain. President Suharto, 86, who ruled Indonesia iron-fisted for 32 years, is facing a civil suit for misappropriation of public funds and the prosecutors are seeking damages totalling more than 1.5 billion. But it is a case of blindness, deafness, and muteness that have descended on the Indonesian people and government for too long. Suharto was forced to step down in 1998 after growing unrest in Indonesian society and has since then lived in luxury in the upscale residence in the suburbs of Menteng, Indonesia. He has been left to enjoy the fruits of his crime until a ripe old age. Meanwhile, millions of Indonesians live in poverty, squalor, illiteracy, and continuous humiliation.

Suharto had collected funds from the public and private sectors in Indonesia purportedly for the award of scholarship to poor students through the Supersemar Foundation, which he acted as chairman. But the money was, in reality, channelled for other purposes to family-linked companies. As a private foundation, its fund management records were never subject to public scrutiny. Suharto had a string of companies for his channelling activities which included Sempati Air, a now defunct airline operated by Suharto’s youngest son Hutomo ‘Tommy’ Mandala Putra, PT Timor Putra Nasional – the defunct national car maker, PT Kiani Kertas – a family-owned pulp and paper company, and PT Goro Batara Sakti – a retail company which has closed down.

Will Indonesia ever get back its money? If it does, Indonesians will still not be compensated enough for the years of poverty, backwardness and underdevelopment it experienced due to Suharto’s greed. The interest rates are beyond economic calculations but should necessarily include social, political and spiritual losses. There are many similar situations in South East Asia and all over the world where corruption is blatant, big-scale, and rampant. But the powerful crooks are allowed to sit on their treasure troves, quiet as ducks. When noises are made and legal action initiated, it is usually too late and too little to recover any semblance of sense, dignity or rights for the victimised people.