Monday, February 17, 2014

A Practical Approach to the Mandatory Use of Indonesian Language in Contracts

A couple of months ago, the West Jakarta District Court annulled a contract between an Indonesian party and a foreign party made entirely in English on the ground that it contravenes the provisions of Law No. 24 of 2009. You can read the Court's decision here. The Court said that based on Article 31 (1) of Law No. 24 of 2009, the use of Indonesian language is mandatory in contracts involving an Indonesian party and therefore, the failure of having an Indonesian version of the contract caused the contract to be annulled by operation of law based on Article 1335 of the Indonesian Civil Code.

I won't discuss in this article whether the Court's decision was correct since I have already made my analysis here. What I would like to analyze now is the practical issues relating to the case and my prediction on whether we will see a lot of similar cases in the future.

First of all, this is generally a case about a debtor that was getting caught by a loan shark. If you read the case carefully, the interests attached to the debt was very huge. No wonder the debtor tried to annul the contract using various cheap tactics, including arguing that the failure of using Indonesian language in the contract can be used as a valid reason to annul such contract.        

But should we treat this case as a disaster? That parties will no longer be able to enter into foreign language contracts? I don't think so. The issue can be mitigated easily if only the parties entered into a dual language contract. The Court only said that the main problem in this case is the fact that the Indonesian version of the contract was not available.

In general, there are no prohibitions for Indonesian parties to enter into foreign language contracts, they just need to prepare the Indonesian version to be safe. Moreover, there are no clear rules on the governing language of contracts, so I will stick to my old opinion that parties are free to choose foreign language as the governing language of their contracts.

The issue here is that having dual language contracts tends to be costly. Although it is good for the lawyers' business, it imposes unnecessary costs in contract drafting. I need to admit that in drafting contracts, I also prefer the use of English over Indonesian language.  This was not caused by lack of nationalism. It was simply because English can capture more terms needed in our contracts compared to Indonesian language. In addition, we have a lot of precedents in English, making it more efficient to draft the contracts in English compared to Indonesian language.

If you think that I am wrong, try to translate the Indenture (the document generally used for issuing bonds under New York Law) into Indonesian language and see by yourself whether you can be satisfied with the result when you compare the Indonesian version with the English version. Monstrous.

Finally, I do not think that we will see a lot of similar cases. In practice, creditors are very prepared nowadays. When dealing with first time debtors, they will insist on having the Indonesian version at the same time with the English version of the contract. With repeated debtors or debtors that have good reputation, the Indonesian version will be provided later on but as soon as possible.

More importantly, no sane debtors will ever try to do the same thing with the debtor in our case above. You will simply be blacklisted by most of the creditors and you will never receive credits unless you replace all of your management and change your name. The stain stays with you forever.

To give you an example: Indonesia was famous among investment bankers as a country where an ordinary SPV structure for global bonds issuance was annulled by the Supreme Court because it was deemed to breach the public policy of Indonesia. The case involved a US$500 million bonds and the debtor successfully run away from its obligations. Since 2006 until today, there are only two cases have ever reached the Supreme Court, both are from the same group company, and both have different results (one was annulled and one was enforced).

I always describe the above case in the risk factors section of my client's offering documents but I have never seen similar case to occur despite the fact that Indonesian issuers are quite aggressive in getting foreign financing. Why? Because we all know what happen to the executives of the company described above. The company cannot get any new financing (at least from foreign banks) and even if the executives have moved to another company, if the banks know about this, they will simply cancel or break the deal so that the new company cannot get any financing.

In conclusion, this crazy move to annul debts based on frivolous reasons can only be done by debtors rich enough so that they can sustain themselves without ever getting new financing or desperate enough so that they choose to abruptly end their adventure in the financing world. Apparently, most debtors are sane enough not to choose the above way.       

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Jewelry, The Child, and The Misleading Question

2013 was a really bad year for my blogging activities. In fact, it is my worst year of blogging within the last 5 years and I am committed to ensure that this will not happen again. Let's start the 2014's first article by analyzing a misleading story.

A couple of days ago I read the following short story: a child asked her/his mom whether the mother would ever leave her precious jewelries and purses full with money with the maid. The mother's answer was no, explaining further that she does not trust the maid. Then the child replied: why do you leave me with the maid then? End of story.

I hate this kind of story, simply because it tends to be misleading most of the time. The quick reaction on the mother would be: how could you leave your child with the maid when you actually don't trust her? Are you saying that the jewelries and money are more valuable than your own child? Typical. But this quick reaction is completely wrong. If you read it further, you will realize that making a comparison between the child and the jewelry is misleading in the first place. Why?

First, from the mother's perspective, when she said that she does not trust the maid, she wasn't talking about the maid's capability to take care of the child. She was basically saying that the probability of the maid to escape the house with her jewelries and money are higher than the probability of the maid to stay at the house, guarding the jewelries.

Second, from the maid perspective, the costs of badly treating the child are generally higher than stealing the jewelries and money. If you treat the child badly, you can be held liable and you may lose your job and salary, or even go to the prison (if it turns out to be a criminal activity). Meanwhile, if you steal the jewelries, although there is also a probability of going to the prison for stealing, at least you gain something to compensate the costs, i.e. jewelries and monies. Ultimately, the maid will need to do cost-benefit analysis: will getting the jewelries and monies be more beneficial compared to the costs of penal sanction multiplied with the probability of getting caught? 

Given the above incentives of the maid, it would really make sense for the mother to trust the child to the maid but not her jewelries. So yes, that's the answer to the child question. If you think that this answer is too long, I have prepared a shorter answer for the child: "nak, pertanyaanmu gak nyambung."  

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Friday, September 06, 2013

Can "All Workers Unite" Actually End Capitalism?

I'm always interested with the claim that if all workers in the world cease to work, capitalism would crumble and there will be no more masters and servants afterward. I highly doubt that a labor strike in such supernatural level will ever occur considering the nature of men and their self interest.  Nevertheless, this could be an interesting thought experiment.

So, for the argument's sake, let us just assume that all of the workers in this planet simultaneously stop their work. What would happen? If all productions stop, I assume that most businesses (especially those which use employee/employer system) will also stop save for businesses that are being run by individuals.  My assumption that individual businesses will still conduct their business activities is based on two further assumptions: (i) they are their own masters, and therefore, there is no need for them to follow the workers, and (ii)  they can run their businesses without significant dependance on other businesses or infrastructure support. In short, they would be most likely local businessmen who have the capacity to produce their own products by themselves.  

Now, you can always stop working, but you can't stop living. You still need to obtain your basic needs right?  If you can gather everything by yourself from the nature, that would be fine. But if not, what would happen? You'll depend on other people, and in this case, you will depend on the above individual businesses during your strikes while waiting for the crumble of capitalism.

In such case, the law of supply and demand will automatically work. With less supply and more demand, price will increase. Even worse, without any competitors, the local businesses will eventually have enough monopoly power to solely control the price of their goods and services. And trust me, that would be a very bad scenario.

Let me give you an example: previously a local farmer sells an apple for US$2. In reality, he's almost out of the business since he can't compete with the local supermarkets which are far more efficient than him and can sell their apples for US$1 each. But, with the great labor strike, the supermarkets cease to operate and the farmer becomes the only apple seller in the community. Imagine his power now to determine the price of his apple without any competitors. Why bother charging US$2 if you can get a higher price? After all, people can only get apples from you.   

How about the workers? Without a job, the only thing that they can do is to use their savings, or they can try to become businessmen on their own, selling their own services/products to other parties. If they can do it, that would be nice, if not, they will need to rely on the new capitalists, i.e. the individual businessmen as I described above and the cycle will begin again. The irony is: in order to survive, they need to become new capitalists.

So in the end, at best, the strike will only produce new capitalists and a new cycle of capitalism. At worst, the workers lose their savings before the rich guys lose all of their money and therefore, the old capitalism prevails. In any case, it won't change the fact that servants and masters will always exist.

The problem lies with human nature, namely: the basic needs for surviving in this world. In the past, in order to survive, men must have a lot of skills. In such case, only the true elites can survive while others perished. But humans are not stupid, there is an easier way to survive, and that is by interacting and cooperating with others.

Unfortunately, by default, you can't get anything for free. Either you need to obtain your needs by self labor (producing everything by yourself) or you exchange something with others to obtain what you need from them. This process creates the market and within such process, the iron law of supply and demand will eventually lead some people to be on the top place while others will stay below depending on their skills and luck.

The above analysis is made on the assumption that order and authority remain to exist. But how about in worst case scenario when there is a revolution? Suppose the workers are out of their savings and they decide that they will take control of the resources from the businessmen. Will that change the analysis?

My answer is no. Once the workers gain control of the resources, similar issue will still exist. Even if you have all the money in the world, you can't do everything by yourself. Some will still be better at doing things than you and the process of exchange of products and services will start again. This will lead to another cycle of supply and demand, market, etc. And before you know it, capitalism will return swiftly. Of course, this is also assuming that those workers will distribute the resources evenly in the first place. If not, even from the very beginning, new masters will emerge without having to wait for another cycle of capitalism.   

In the end, I don't think the slogan "All Workers Unite" will work to end capitalism. It will just produce another capitalism (but with different "capitalists"). It is still a nice slogan though, has a nice ring to it, and sounds powerful. Well, at least it is perfect for campaign and propaganda.         

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Does Islamic Law Deal With Minimum Wage?

There is a fundamental problem when I read this paper titled: Islamic Commercial Law and Social Justice: Shari'ah Compliant Companies, Worker's Rights and the Living Wage (written by Susan C. Hascall), namely, the fact that she argues that some of the Prophet's Hadiths can be used to support the existence of minimum wage for employees and the notion that a company cannot claim itself to be Shari'a compliant without complying with minimum wage requirement. 

Why? Let us read first the Hadiths used by Ms. Hascall below:

"Give a servant his fee before his sweat dries"

"God Most High said: I shall be the opponent of three people on the day of judgment: the man to whom I gave generously but then he cheated; the man the man who sold a freeman into slavery and ate up its price, and the man who hired a worker and took his due measure from him but did not pay him for his (fair) wages"

The word "fair" that I underline above is an additional language used by her. I have to disagree with Ms. Hascall because from the very beginning, these Hadiths do not deal with the fair amount of wages to be given to a worker. It is true that some Islamic scholars tried to argue in such a way, but I do no think that their interpretation is correct.

In my view, these Hadiths deal with the obligation of an employer to honor his contract with his worker, i.e. to pay his employee's salary/fee for the work that has been done and that he should not postpone such payment without a valid reason. No words on fair amount. Therefore, this is about the sanctity of contract not minimum wages.

As I have argued several times in my blog and in my paper here, Islamic Law (as a concept and not in the context of Legal Positivism) separates moral and legal issues and also puts efficiency and the general welfare maximization as the main principles in building its legal system. This is why Islamic Law does not prohibit or even condemn pre-existing slavery, condemns riba but does not provide any sanction even though God says that the sin of committing riba is equal to murdering a man or having an incestual relationship with our own mother. When dealing with economic/commercial issues, we have to admit that Islamic Law is very flexible, namely it does not criminalize the violation of provisions relating to commercial issues.

This is also in line with the fact that God does not prescribe an absolute value of minimum wage and cannot be expected to do so. Once we deal with fairness issue, there is no single clear answer. Saying that Islamic Law compliance can only be done once you pay your worker with a fair amount of salary creates too much ambiguity. It also transforms a moral issue into a complicated legal issue.  As an example: if an employer pays his worker too small, does it mean that he violates the law? Would that mean that the contract is invalid? What would be the consequences?

Of course you can always say that it would be good if employers pay attention to the overall well being of his employees and should pay good salaries to them. But that should stay as a moral issue rather than a legal issue with all of its consequences. Because payment of salary is also subject to many factors and the law of supply and demand. As there is a fairness aspect relating to the employee, there is also a fairness aspect relating to the employer.

I think that is why Islamic Law focuses more on the enforcement of the contract to protect the rights of the worker and the Hadiths are more consistent with this approach. As I argued here, I believe that the best way of promoting the interest of the workers is by making policies that are correlating with the supply and demand of manpower.       

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Friday, August 23, 2013

My New Papers on SPV's Law and Economics and Legal Positivism

It's been a while since the last time I wrote in this blog. I admit, I have sinned. But enough with the excuses. I've just finished two papers having completely different themes. The first one is titled: "Special Purpose Vehicles in Law and Economics Perspective". You can download the paper here. The second one is titled: "Legal Positivism and Law & Economics: A Defense". You can download the second paper here.

The first paper will be published in the Journal of Indonesia Corruption Watch to be published this year. In this paper, I discuss the nature of Special Purpose Vehicles (SPV) in the form of corporation, their function and benefits, their potentials for misuse, and also the techniques to solve or prevent such issue. I believe that for a developing country like Indonesia, relying on legal doctrine such as piercing the corporate veil to chase the ultimate shareholders of SPVs who conduct illegal acts would be too costly. They are just too cunning and some countries specialized in the formation of SPVs have all the incentives to assist these crimes.

So, the other solution is to ensure that those SPVs established in Indonesia will be here to stay, namely, we need to put some of their capitals as hostages in Indonesia by way of mandating minimum capital requirement or bank guarantee/insurance requirements. I also discuss the costs and benefits of these solutions as there is no such thing as a perfect solution. The rest can be read in the paper.   

The second paper will be presented in the third Indonesian national conference of legal philosophy to be held at Surabaya on 28 August 2013. I always enjoy legal philosophy, particularly Legal Positivism and I think that most Indonesian scholars misunderstand the nature of Legal Positivism by equalizing Legal Positivism with Legal Formalism or even worse, strict textual method of legal interpretation.

Of course this is wrong. Legal Philosophy is a theory of law while Legal Formalism is a theory of adjudication. But the mistake is so persistent that Legal Positivism is often blamed for many issues in Indonesian legal system! I think the conference would be a good place to present a defense on Legal Positivism so I decided to write this paper.

The paper will discuss the main thesis of Legal Positivism, i.e., the Source Thesis (that law is a social fact and can only be derived from social sources) and the Separability Thesis (that the content of the law does not have any necessary connection with its validity). People usually connect Separability Thesis with the relationship between law and morality. But I believe that the issue is wider than that, it can include religion, local custom and other type of norms.

I certainly believe that Legal Positivism (if applied correctly), is a democratic thought that will allow various legal theory to compete for domination within a legal system. I argue this by showing how Law and Economics (which is obviously not a pure theory of law) can survive in the framework of Legal Positivism but will be kicked out from the game in the framework of Natural Law (because by nature, Natural Law which supports only one absolute value will not be tolerant to other type of thoughts). As usual, the rest can be read in the paper itself.

Happy reading and hope it is useful.

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