Indonesia's Once-Powerful Graft Watchdog Losing Favor

Public trust drops sharply as KPK flounders

Amendments pushed through the Indonesian Legislature last September have crippled Indonesia’s once-most-potent anti-corruption agency so badly that it has begun to lose public sympathy, now ranking behind the army, President Joko Widodo and religious organizations such as Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama in public satisfaction.

Widodo, known as Jokowi, installed five new KPK leaders in December 2019, with former Police General Firli Bahuri (above) as head, stirring protests by KPK officials because he was suspected of having committed serious ethical violations while serving as a deputy prosecutor at the institution.

The organization stepped on far many important toes since it came into existence in late 2003 following the deeply corrupt years of power on the part of the late strongman Suharto. In the intervening 16 years, it investigated, prosecuted and achieved a 100-percent conviction rate in 86 cases of bribery and graft related to government procurements and budgets including top members of former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s cabinet.

Accordingly the government and parliament, with the acquiescence of the president, hustled the new law hamstringing the agency through the legislature in a record 13 days although the revision of the law violated procedure because it wasn’t included in the legislative calendar, didn’t involve the KPK and was pushed through largely without debate.

As pessimists feared, the agency has shortstopped the initial investigation of 36 cases in the two months since the new leadership took over, according to Wana Alamsyah, a researcher for Indonesia Corruption Watch. Under the previous leadership, the KPK stopped action on 163 cases over three years from 2016 to 2019. The investigation process is the initial stage before seeking further investigation and prosecution.

"In the past, the KPK stopped an average of two cases each month, but since the new leadership was installed two months ago, that has gone up to around 18 cases per month," Wana said. The KPK under Firli, he said, was never suspected of corruption. The two recent arrests are the result of the investigation by previous officials.

"With the large number of cases stopped by the KPK during the investigation process, this strengthens the public's allegation that arrests in the future will decline sharply," Wana said.

The stopped cases, he said, are strongly expected to involve important actors such as regional heads, law enforcement officers, and legislative members. He also questioned how investigations could have got through what is called the "the case expose" process involving many parties with prosecution teams that have only been in office for about two months. "Have they done the process?"

Accordingly, the KPK has paid for it in public approval. A survey by the Jakarta-based research firm Alvara Research Center noted the level of public satisfaction dropped dramatically, from the 2nd rank in August 2019, to the 5th rank when the findings were released this month.

"In August 2019, the lowest public satisfaction was only filled with economic issues, but in 2020, law enforcement and corruption eradication factors also included in the lowest satisfaction category," said Alvara Research Center CEO Hasanuddin Ali.

The Indo Barometer survey ranked the organization fourth after the army, the president and religious organizations such as Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama after being ranked among the top three perennially.

KPK Spokesperson Ali Fikri denied the agency had been weakened, saying the terminations were in careful and responsible consideration.

“Some cases had been worked on since 2011,” Ali said. “They also did not fulfill requirements to be processed further, such as lacking preliminary evidence, not being identified as an act of corruption and other reasons that can be legally accounted for.”

Without going into specifics, Ali said the cases that were stopped mostly involved bribery allegations, involving regional heads, state-owned enterprises, law enforcement officials, ministries/institutions, and local/national parliament.

Although Ali said he couldn’t disclose these cases to the public because they are categorized as "excluded information" in accordance with the Public Information Disclosure Act, major cases of public concern such as the Century Bank bailout, Bank Indonesia liquidity assistance, and E-KTP apparently are still alive.

The new director, Firli, said the terminations of the investigation were to provide legal certainty for those suspected of being involved in corruption cases. "Case investigations should not be hanged to frighten justice seekers. If there is no criminal element found in the case, should it be continued?"

Termination of the investigations, according to Firli, aims to minimize the potential for abuse of authority. "In fact, if it is not stopped, it can be misused for extortion and other interests," he said.

Some 366 investigation cases have accumulated in the KPK, which could stop them in order to provide legal certainty and reduce the burden on investigators.

As an example of the KPK’s diminishing zeal, it has been unable to arrest Harun Masiku, a member of the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) who is suspected of bribing a General Elections Commission (KPU) commissioner, Wahyu Setiawan. Harun was a key witness in a case that allegedly will also ensnare a PDIP executive.

The KPK accused Harun of bribing Wahyu, who allegedly asked for Rp900 million (US$66,000) in exchange for his approval for the politician to fill the seat of a deceased politician in the House of Representatives. Harun is still at large after the KPK named him a bribery suspect on January 9.

KPK investigators were denied entry at the PDI-P headquarters on Jalan Diponegoro, Central Jakarta, to search for evidence and seal one of the office rooms allegedly belonging to the PDIP Secretary General, Hasto Kristiyanto, supposedly because the KPK did not bring a search warrant from its Supervisory Board. That has drawn criticism from the public and anti-corruption activists because the KPK's performance was in accordance with the mandate of the new KPK Law.