Indonesian Anti-graft Watchdogs to be Ousted Over President’s Objections

Suspect test used as pretext to get rid of KPK’s most effective sleuths

Indonesian President Joko Widodo appears to have failed to save the jobs of 51 employees of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), an indication of the power of anti-sleaze forces in the country in seeking to emasculate the fabled watchdog agency.

The 75 dismissed employees, who include some of the agency’s most celebrated investigators, were ordered removed after supposedly failing a controversial “National Insight Test” known as a TWK on the basis of a provision requiring them to pass the test in order to change their status to civil service. The test, administered by the National Civil Service Agency, included what critics said was a dubious oral interview process.

In protest, hundreds of KPK employees who passed the test asked that their June 1 inauguration for a new term be postponed until the fate of their fellow employees was determined. The KPK was to hold a meeting today (May 31) to discuss the proposal.

Anti-corruption activists said they suspect the test was a pretext to get rid of critical people at the KPK by tying them to fraudulent suspicions of Islamic radicalism. There are also concerns that the test is being used to obstruct the investigation of major cases currently being handled by the investigators.

Although Jokowi, as the president is known, issued a public statement saying the employees couldn’t be fired for failing to pass the test, his order appears to have been ignored. Instead of stopping the dismissal process, Firli Bahuri, (above) the KPK chairman, and several officials agreed to remove 51 of the 75.

“The results of the TWK should be used as input for corrective measures for the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) for both individuals and institutions and not necessarily the basis for stopping 75 KPK employees who did not pass the test," Jokowi said, echoing a decision of the Constitutional Court (MK) that the transfer of the status of KPK employees to civil servants must not be detrimental.

Instead of obeying the president's recommendation, however, Firli, together with Minister of Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform Tjahjo Kumolo and Minister of Law and Human Rights Yasonna Laoly – both members of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle or PDIP, as is Jokowi – as well as the Head of National Civil Service Agency Bima Haria Wibisana, and other related parties met to agree that those who didn’t pass would be dismissed as of November 1.

The decision to oust the investigators has generated outrage, with Zainur Rohman, a researcher at the Anti-Corruption Research Center (Pukat) of Gadjah Mada University accusing the officials of having disobeyed Jokowi’s directions. Zainal Arifin Mochtar, another Pukat researcher, said that "If there are people who dare to violate legal orders, the decisions of the Constitutional Court, even the president, then I suspect that there is extraordinary power behind it."

As Asia Sentinel reported on May 14, 11 of those dismissed are senior investigators, including Novel Baswedan, who has uncovered major corruption cases and was nearly blinded several years ago by assailants who turned out to be two policemen believed to have been hired to disable him.

The change in status was mandated by a revision of the KPK law that was passed by the House of Representatives in 2019 with Jokowi’s acquiescence. Anti-corruption activists have called it the most successful method ever used to defang the institution, which was founded in 2002 and arguably has been Asia’s most successful corruption watchdog. Influential political figures ranging from the speaker of the house of representatives, ministers, businessmen to chairmen of political parties have all been jailed as a result of KPK investigations.

The regulation regarding the administration of the TWK test that was used by Firli doesn’t exist in the revised law. KPK employees who didn’t pass suspect that Firli engineered it to remove them from the agency. They complained that there was no transparency and accountability regarding the test until they were told they hadn’t passed. They called the questions raised by the assessors ambiguous, insulting, and unrelated to their duties as KPK employees.

Deputy Chairman of the KPK Alexander Marwata, however, said the failing grade was related to the employees’ commitment to the state ideology Pancasila, the constitution, the state, and the legal government.

"Our employees must be qualified, therefore KPK continues to build human resources not only in terms of capability but also aspects of love for the homeland, defending the country, loyalty to Pancasila, the Constitution, the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia, and a legitimate government, and free from radicalism and prohibited organizations," Marwata said.

Sujanarko, an employee who failed the test, said the failure caused the 75 to be labeled corrupt and ineducable. "This stigma is extraordinarily evil and this clearly violates human rights," said Sujanarko, the director at the Directorate of Networks and Cooperation between Commissions and Agencies at the KPK.

Among cases likely to be stalled by the ouster of the investigators are those involving the former social minister and member of the PDIP Juliari Batubara, another involving the former minister of maritime affairs and Gerindra Party member Edhy Prabowo, a bribery case involving Harun Masiku, a member of the General Election Commission, and old cases such as the notorious Bank Century Case and bribes involving the manufacture of national smart ID-cards which have not been resolved until now. Harun's corruption case drew public attention because of allegations of high-ranking PDIP involvement.

Giri Suprapdiono, the director of KPK's Anti-Corruption Campaign and Socialization – who also failed the test -- said he suspected that the purpose of holding it from the start was to get rid of certain people. "The first cluster (which will be removed from the KPK) is the nine heads of the task force," he said, adding that seven of the nine deactivated task force heads were handling major cases which, if they had continued to work, could pose a threat to unnamed political figures.

"What's interesting is not (the perpetrators of corruption) who have been convicted, but soon who will be the suspects and who will be (affected by) the development of this case," Giri told local television.

The second cluster, Giri said, consists of people accused of having radical Islamic views. And the third cluster is composed of those who in 2019 handled cases of serious code of conduct violations by Firli himself, resulting in his removal from his position with the KPK and being sent back to the notoriously corrupt National Police.

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