Indonesia's new anti-graft leaders fail to impress in first 100 days

30 March 2020 00:00 by Jet Damazo-Santos

It’s been a hundred days since Indonesia’s new team of anti-graft leaders took the helm of the respected anti-corruption agency amid a cloud of controversy, yet it appears to have done little to assuage fears that the commission would not weaken under them.

Two public surveys released last month showed that the Corruption Eradication Commission, or KPK, has declined in the list of Indonesia’s most trusted institutions.

According to the Alvara Research Center, the KPK dropped from being the second most trusted public institution in August 2019 to number 5 in its January survey. The Indonesian military topped the list in both surveys.

This was mirrored in the surveys conducted by Indo Barometer, which also ranked the KPK as the fourth most trusted public institution in January, down from its usual spot in the top three alongside the Indonesian military and the president.

These are hardly surprising results, given the highly controversial changes made last year to the law governing the KPK that led to the creation of a new supervisory board, as well as the appointment of a police general plagued by ethics questions as its new chairman, Firli Bahuri.

But instead of disproving the naysayers, the new KPK leaders have instead gotten themselves into one controversy after another, according to the Indonesia Corruption Watch, or ICW.

Weak enforcement

The anti-graft NGO said the commission’s enforcement actions have substantially dropped under the new leadership.

Between 2016 and 2019, the ICW said the KPK conducted 87 sting operations to arrest suspects in the act of exchanging bribes, which translates to an average of just under two a month. But in the first 100 days of the new commissioners, only two such operations were undertaken — one for a case involving the alleged bribery of an election commissioner, and another on corruption in a district in East Java Province.

The NGO also pointed out that these operations were even based on search warrants issued by previous KPK commissioners.

Instead, the KPK was apparently busier with closing down cases. In a span of two months from the time they took office on Dec. 20, the new batch of commissioners dropped 36 preliminary investigations — an unusually high number compared to the average of 40 per year under the previous leaders.

Missing suspect

In the election bribery case, the KPK got into even more controversy after failing to arrest one of the primary individuals involved — Harun Masiku, a politician from the ruling party PDI-P, who is accused of bribing an election commissioner to get a legislative seat vacated by a fellow party member who passed away.

The ICW claims the KPK commissioners have not been transparent about the agency's handling of the case, particularly with regard to the reported detention of a team of KPK investigators for several hours at the Police Staff College complex in January while looking for Harun.

“Even during a hearing with the House of Representatives Commission III [which oversees law and human rights issues], the chairperson of the KPK refused to give an answer when asked about the incident at the Police Staff College,” the ICW said in a statement.

Curiously, the KPK has insisted on returning to the National Police one of the investigators working on the case, Rossa Purbo Bekti, who was part of the team detained at the Police Staff College. Rossa was seconded to the KPK in 2016 and is not due to return to the National Police until after September.

According to local investigative magazine Tempo, a prosecutor who also worked on the case, Yadyn Palembangan, was also suddenly returned to the Attorney General’s Office, along with a prosecutor who had investigated allegations of ethical violations against the current KPK chairman.

Plans ahead

The KPK appears unperturbed by all this, though. In response to the criticisms, acting spokesman Ali Fikri only said they will use the inputs and suggestions to improve their work.

“We believe that the ICW criticizes and evaluates the work of the KPK out of love for the KPK and commitment to eradicating corruption in this country,” he said.

The spokesman added that the KPK remained committed to the same cause, and will work as much as it can with other law enforcers and the community to fulfill those goals.

Earlier this month, KPK deputy chairman Nurul Ghufron said they aim to increase Indonesia’s score in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index by five points to 45 by 2024.

He didn’t outline a specific plan for this, though, only saying that the KPK would achieve this by focusing on four main sectors — business, politics, law enforcement and the public service.

-Additional reporting from Satria Putra

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