​Indonesian anti-graft agency's wings clipped as lawmakers pass controversial amendments

19 September 2019 5:08pm
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17 September 2019. By Jet Damazo-Santos.

With uncharacteristic haste, Indonesia’s outgoing legislative assembly today approved in a plenary meeting a controversial bill that has been widely criticized for being aimed at weakening the country’s highly respected anticorruption agency.

The bill, which now needs only to be signed by President Joko Widodo to officially become law, will create a supervisory board that the Corruption Eradication Commission, or KPK, must report to and seek wiretap permits from, according to a statement from the House of Representatives.

The new restrictions, according to critics, will constrain the independence and effectiveness of the KPK, the most trusted state institution in the country.

The development comes after two tumultuous weeks that have seen widespread protests against what anticorruption officials and activists have described as blatant efforts by the legislative and executive branches of government to weaken the KPK. News of the bill's existence emerged only two weeks ago, and calls by KPK officials to be included in discussions on the amendments affecting their agency were ignored.

Activists had been hopeful that Widodo would use his powers to stall or even block the bill, but the president instead quickly gave his go-ahead for discussions on it to proceed. Although he later said he did not agree with the proposal to impose controls on the KPK’s wiretapping powers — a key tool behind the agency’s near 100 percent conviction rate — the final version of the bill still contained those controls.

Worse, in critics' view, the ratification of the bill comes just one day after lawmakers confirmed in a plenary meeting a new set of KPK leaders for 2019-2023, to be headed up by a controversial police general plagued by ethics questions.

— Amendments —

The NGO Indonesia Corruption Watch told MLex that it is already preparing to challenge the law at the country’s Constitutional Court as soon as Widodo signs it.

Minister for Justice and Human Rights Yasonna Laoly told state news agency Antara that the new supervisory board would consist of five members, to be selected by the legislature from candidates submitted by the president, a process similar to the way in which the KPK's commissioners are named. The members will have four-year terms and can be reappointed once.

Aside from issuing wiretapping permits, the supervisory board will also be tasked with evaluating the work of the KPK's leaders and granting permits for its search and seizure operations.  

The minister said the amended law would also give the KPK the authority to stop any investigation that has not been completed within two years, in order to provide legal certainty to those being probed. However, cases may be reopened if new evidence is found.