Indonesia's Jokowi Blocks Move to Weaken Anti-Graft Body

In a demonstration of his growing sway, President Joko Widodo has put his foot down against a move in the House of Representatives to push through legislation designed to weaken Indonesia’s fearsome Corruption Eradication Commission, the country’s anti-graft watchdog.

“Jokowi slowed [the amendments] down,” said a Jakarta-based businessman. “He has the legislature under control. It is not a formal deal, but we understand this to be the case.”

The president met with leaders of the House of Representatives this week to forge an agreement to postpone the discussion of revisions to the 2002 Law on the Corruption Eradication Commission that would have altered the methods of conducting investigations, weakened its authority to conduct wiretapping, changed recruitment protocols and established a supervisory body to monitor the agency. Critics say the moves would effectively neutralize the KPK.

He has drawn the support of Gerindra, the party headed by his presidential election rival Prabowo Subianto, and the Democratic Party headed by former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono – whose own administration was crippled by investigations into numerous scandals including the construction of a sports complex, bribes in the energy ministry and crookedry related to the annual Haj pilgrimage. Three former Yudhoyono ministers are already in prison due to KPK action.

Just stop

Following the meeting with House leaders, Jokowi said he respected the House’s efforts on the amendments, but said it wasn’t ready for deliberation.

“I think we need more time to strengthen the plan and to disseminate more information about it to members of the public,” he told reporters. The administration earlier agreed to work on revisions of the law on the condition that they would strengthen the agency.

The amendments clearly weren’t going to do that. The KPK, as the organization is known, has already been weakened somewhat by less-than-attractive appointments to the leadership. Nonetheless, it remains by far the most potent force in the country against official misdoings, achieving a 100 percent conviction rate on the 86 cases it has completed since it came into being in 2003 and opening investigations against many more from the district level up to cabinet ministers – many of its targets members of the House of Representatives.

Although he caused concern over his lack of zeal during his first year in power, Jokowi has come alive since last August, when he replaced a few hacks in his cabinet with technocrats and reformers. On the economic side, he has cut red tape, removed obstacles to investment and taken steps to open the country to foreign investment.. In his most recent move, his administration indicated that laws forcing mining interests to build highly uneconomic smelters would be delayed, while considering deregulation across the board.

The move to shortstop the weakening of the KPK comes at a welcome time. To the distress of reformers, he has remained largely silent as the KPK and the police have traded arrests of each other’s officials since January 2015.

Mega's guy

At that time, the KPK went after Budi Gunawan, the candidate of Megawati Sukarnoputri, the head of Jokowi’s own political party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, for national police chief commissioner, for allegedly receiving bribes. Budi was denied the top job but was named to the No. 2 post at Megawati’s insistence. From that perch he wields enormous influence.

Johan Budi, a former KPK official now serving in the president's office, complained at the end of last month that National Police criminal complaints against KPK officials were paralyzing the work of the organization. KPK officials are not allowed to function while they are the subject of complaints by the police.

Allies supporting

Interestingly, one of those complaints, against leading KPK investigator Novel Baswedan, a former cop and long-standing target of his former colleague in uniform, was dropped quietly earlier this month.

A coalition of NGOs has come to the rescue, forming a movement to stop the amendments, including Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW), Transparency International Indonesia (TII) and the Indonesia Budget Center. The coalition also started an online petition entitled “Don’t Kill the KPK,” which so far has drawn nearly 57,000 signatories, and presented it to the leaders of the House of Representatives.

“If the house supports the idea of strengthening the KPK, it must refuse the law amendment, just like what the Gerindra Party has done,” ICW researcher Donal Fariz told a press conference at the House complex today.

In the petition, the coalition also urged the House to cancel deliberations on the KPK Law draft revision and asked members to consider the impact of the amendment on corruption eradication measures.

Running battle

It isn’t the first time the public has come to the KPK's rescue. In 2009, police chief detective Susno Duadji discovered the KPK had tapped his phone and unleashed an attack on the organization, comparing the KPK to a cicak, or gecko, fighting a crocodile – the national police. The police arrested two KPK commissioners on charges of extortion and bribery, only to have a tape recording appear of the police conspiring with the attorney general’s office to frame them. They were released and became folk heroes.

As the controversy grew, a popular movement began to support the cicak, with newspapers running cartoons of the cicak-buaya(crocodile) confrontation. A Facebook campaign grew to more than a million members. Then-president Yudhoyono ordered an investigation, the tapes of the bugged conversations were played publicly. naming Susno, the deputy attorney general and others.

That hasn’t stopped continuing efforts to hamstring the organization, which was organized along the lines of Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption. It’s unclear how long the amendments will stay dead. The draft revision is among priority bills listed on the 2016 calendar. The house speaker Ade Komarudin recently said the legislative body was targeting to finish deliberation of 37 of 40 priority bills this year. For now, at least, the bill is off the calendar.