Indonesia's Anti-Graft Body Emasculated by Legislature

Indonesia’s deeply respected graftbuster, the Corruption Eradication Commission, has been hamstrung through laws pushed through the House of Representatives believed to benefit figures involved in corruption including several involved in major cases that have yet to be acted upon.

Worryingly, the measures were jammed through a plenary session of the legislature on Sept. 17 in just 12 days with the apparent cooperation of the government of President Joko Widodo despite public outrage, blackening the president’s reputation as a reformer and threatening to add his name in the public eye to a long list of deeply corrupt Indonesian leaders. Normally it takes months for legislation to percolate through the legislature.

Jokowi, as the president is known, last week issued a presidential letter approving the deliberations on the legislation, which the public had expected him to stop in its tracks. The situation has demoralized the staff, with several leaving in protest.

The House of Representatives has been on a long crusade to weaken the organization, known by its Indonesian initials KPK, through legislation but has been thwarted by public activism. However, the lawmakers ignored public criticism to rush the bill through.

The KPK is the country’s most respected public institution. It has been indiscriminate in punishing political party leaders, ministers, members of parliament, regional heads, businessmen and entertainment figures. Indonesia Corruption Watch data shows that over the past five years, the KPK has named at least 23 parliament members as suspects, including former House speaker Setya Novanto. Since its establishment 17 years ago, the KPK has been almost unbeatable in the corruption cases it has handled.

Activists and academics identified several revisions which were considered to weaken the KPK's performance. First, the KPK will be authorized to issue an investigation termination warrant (SP3) if it cannot compile a case file within two years. It is feared that the KPK now cannot handle complex corruption cases, but will only able to handle small cases that can be processed quickly. Indonesia Corruption Watch Coordinator Adnan Topan Husodo said that provision could stop major, complicated cases involving many actors.

"Some cases take years for various reasons, for example involving cross-country actors such as corruption cases on Garuda Airlines," Adnan said. Besides Garuda, other big cases that might be stopped include the Bank Indonesia Liquidity Assistance (BLBI), E-KTP and Bank Century, the subject of one of the country’s biggest scandals and the focus of a long series of Asia Sentinel stories.

Second, KPK employees will become state civil servants, which is feared will affect their independence and work ethic. Third, the KPK, which was originally an ad-hoc independent institution outside the executive, legislative and judicial branches, will become part of the executive branch. This has the potential to interfere with independence in overseeing these institutions.

Fourth, the establishment of a supervisory board, which consists of five people, is tasked with overseeing the implementation of the duties and authority of the KPK, granting licenses for wiretapping and searches, and establishing a code of ethics for KPK leaders and employees.

"This clearly will limit and weaken the KPK. Enforcement operations will be delayed for a long time because the KPK must ask for written permission from the supervisory board," said Corruption Watch activist Lalola Easter. The board will now be chosen by the House of Representatives through a selection committee formed by the President.

Fifth, wiretapping, the agency’s most potent tool, is to be carried out with the written permission of the Supervisory Board, potentially leading to information leakage. The ICW together with the Civil Society Coalition plans to sue in the Constitutional Court to cancel the bill.

The KPK was formed in 2002 during the reign of Megawati Sukarnoputri as a solution to endemic corruption at various levels of government after the end of Suharto's government in 1998. Indonesia's Corruption Perception Index (CPI) at that time was 20, the lowest among Asian countries.

Other legal institutions such as the police and prosecutors are considered too corrupt and unable to eradicate corruption. In order for its functions to be maximized, the KPK has been equipped with several authorities including the right to tap without permission from other government agencies. There is no system to abort cases, no supervisory agency limits the KPK's scope of work. These authorities are now limited.

In response to the ratification of the act, dozens of activists rallied in front of the DPR building by holding up posters, including the words "Corruptors Win," "RIP KPK" and "Save KPK." Activists suspect that the hasty discussion process indicated that the bill was part of a concerted effort to weaken the antigraft body.

Three of the five KPK commissioners have resigned and handed over the management of the institution to the president, which was seen as a way to express their disappointment to Jokowi for supporting the revision. They said the KPK had never been involved in the revision process, even to just look at the draft revision.

The president previously expressed his defense of several points to be revised in the KPK law. He agreed to the authority to issue an investigation termination warrant with the main consideration to provide legal certainty and a guarantee of human rights. Jokowi also agreed to the formation of a supervisory board because he argues that every institution works on the principle of check and balance. "This is needed to minimize the potential for abuse of authority," he said

Jokowi said the supervisory board must be in the internal structure of the KPK to keep the agency independent. They should come from academics and anti-corruption activists, whose appointment is through selection. Jokowi rejected the members of the Supervisory Board coming from political circles, bureaucrats, and active law enforcement officials. "I am not compromising on corruption. I want the KPK to have a central role (in fighting corruption)," he said.

Controversial New KPK Chair

In addition to passing the new law, the legislature also recently appointed five KPK commissioners for the 2019-2023 period amid criticism from anti-corruption activists and legal experts. They were incumbent KPK commissioner Alexander Marwata, Deputy Chairperson of the Witness and Victim Protection Agency (LPSK) Lili Pintauli Siregar, a judge, Nawawi Pomolango, a dean. Nurul Ghufron, and a police officer, Insp. Gen. Firli Bahuri.

Firli, who was appointed to head the KPK, was criticized by KPK officials and activists because of his track record after joining in 2018. KPK's Advisor Muhammad Tsani Annafari accused Firli of "gross ethical violations" during his time as KPK law enforcement deputy in 2018.

Firli met with former West Nusa Tenggara (NTB) Governor M Zainul Majdi, known as TGB, in the province on May 2018, while the KPK was investigating allegations of corruption in the ownership of PT Newmont which allegedly involved the governor. Firli, who served as the NTB's police chief in February 2017-April 2018, confirmed meeting the governor at a sports event but said the meeting was not deliberate and did not involve discussion of the case. He considered the meeting did not violate the KPK law because TGB did not have the status of a suspect at that time.

Law enforcement meetings with potential litigants raise suspicions.

"It turns out that in this country not only the regents who have been arrested can be elected (in the general election), but people who have been stated openly have a record of serious ethical violations can lead the anti-corruption institution," Tsani said in an electronic letter to KPK employees.

Firli was also accused of violating ethics by inviting officials from the Supreme Audit Agency (BPK) who were witnesses to his office on August 2018. Firli confirmed the accusation but he argued that he left the door open when the meeting occurred so that other KPK employees could hear their conversation.

The last accusation is that Firli met with a senior political party leader, known to be Megawati, at a hotel in Jakarta in November 2018. Firli said the meeting was unintentional and no discussion related to any case.

Firli was an assistant to the Personal Secretary of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2010 and an aide to Vice President Boediono in 2012. Boediono has been questioned by the KPK as a witness in the Bank Century bailout case in which trillions of rupiah were stolen and whisked overseas. The KPK is currently investigating the case even though there have been no significant developments.

The constitutional law expert Refly Harun said that the appointment of Firli, who came from a police institution, was contrary to the initial enthusiasm for the formation of the KPK. "This is an extraordinary paradox. The police as an institution authorized to eradicate corruption has not worked effectively and efficiently so that the KPK was formed. But now the KPK leader is from the police," said Refly.

Former Chairman of the Constitutional Court Mahfud MD advised the public not to underestimate the new KPK commissioners, and instead to support them to carry out their duties.