Massive Scandal Swamps Indonesia’s Legislature

The Indonesian political sphere has been rocked by what has been called the biggest scandal ever to engulf the House of Representatives, with officials embezzling Rp2.3 trillion (US$171.9 million) from a program to supply the public with smart identity cards.

On March 9 the Jakarta Corruption Court put two high-ranking former Home Affairs Ministry officials, Sugiharto and Irman (who like many Indonesians use only one name), on trial in a case that revealed that scores of lawmakers, civil servants, officials and others received portions of the embezzled funds from the program, called e-KTP, or e-ID, which contain microchips. As many as 90 people – many of them very powerful politicians – are said to have been involved.

Many other charges are expected. Within the 122 pages of the indictment, the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) identified virtually all of the country’s political parties as complicit. Among top political leaders are Setya Novanto, the Speaker of the House, who has managed to evade a long string of previous corruption charges including a November 2015 attempt to extort shares from Freeport Indonesia, the US-based mining giant. Although he was forced to resign his position then as speaker, his political clout got him reinstated last November. He has also been elevated to head Golkar, Indonesia’s biggest and oldest political party, and he played a major role in bringing the party into President Joko Widodo’s ruling coalition about six months ago.

The matter has been going on for seven years, raising questions why it has surfaced now and leading many in Jakarta to think there may be a political hand somewhere at work.

“It certainly does confirm what everyone already knows, that the Indonesian House is little more than a marketplace for payoffs, which is one reason legislation here is almost uniformly defective, cumbersome and counterproductive,” said a western businessman. “Coming now, it could complicate things for Jokowi. If they charge Setya Novanto, it could throw open another power struggle in Golkar not long after they made a deal to join the Jokowi government.”

Certainly, it appears set to damage former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his Democrat Party at a time when he has been trying to resurrect his political standing, reminding everyone that the Democrats benefited most from the payoffs, especially since it was the Democrats who engineered what had previously been the country’s biggest scandal – the theft of US$105 million from the construction of a sports complex.

Deep sleaze

Indeed, besides Novanto, former Democratic Party home minister Gamawan Fauzi, two former Democrat Party politicians, Anas Urbaningrum and Muhammad Nazarudin – who are already being held in the sports complex case – are among those whose names have emerged. Six others from Golkar, four from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) headed by Megawati Sukarnoputri – the party of President Joko Widodo – and lawmakers from six other political parties have been mentioned. They are said to have taken bribes ranging from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars.

“It is very important for the public to make sure that investigations are transparent,” anti-corruption activist Tama S. Langkun from Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW) told Asia Sentinel.

According to data from the ICW, 573 corruption cases were brought in 2016 alone, with those convicted receiving only an average two years and two months in jail, relatively short sentences for the theft of massive amounts of money.

“We also need to anticipate the fight back from corruptors that want to weaken the KPK. We know there have been repeated attempts of judicial reviews of the KPK law to the constitutional court, as well as trying to revoke KPK’s right to wiretap phones, etc.,” Tama said.

The KPK prosecutors have planned to present more than 130 witnesses to testify in court in the trial of Sugiharto and Irman. It is expected that either the defendants or witnesses may drag more figures into the case, allowing the KPK to bring more suspects to court.

Big names

The indictment has dragged in other important names, including Yasonna Laoly, the current Minister of Law and Human Rights, and two active governors who are members of the PDI-P, Ganjar Pranowo, Governor of Central Java, and Olly Dondokambey, North Sulawesi Governor, who is also treasurer of the party.

The three were part of the home affairs commission in the House during the time the bill was pushed through. The nationwide e-KTP project was seen as a crucial step for the vast archipelagic country to fix the problem of multiple identities, which have been blamed as a contributing factor in terrorism as well as creating headaches during national and regional elections.

Many shocks

Interestingly, on the day the trial began, a much-awaited meeting took place between Widodo and Yudhoyono that was widely perceived as an effort to mitigate the shockwaves of the graft case and other tensions.

Indonesia has been battling corruption cases for decades, involving politicians, regional leaders, police officials, businessmen and judges.

In October 2013, the chief justice of the Constitutional Court was arrested in his official residence by anticorruption investigators, who accused him of taking a bribe to issue a favorable verdict in an election dispute. The KPK investigators found a paper bag full of currency totaling US$232,000 at his house during the raid. He was sentenced to life in prison in 2014.

In a fresh shock for the public, in January the KPK arrested and declared Constitutional Court justice Patrialis Akbar and three others suspects after allegedly receiving bribes from three businessmen.

According to a recent survey by the Berlin-based Global Corruption Barometer (GCB), Indonesians perceived the House of Representatives as the most corrupt state institution. The survey also showed that 65 percent of Indonesian Muslims believe the level of corruption has increased in the past 12 months.

In a survey conducted in 2013, the Indonesian police were regarded as the most corrupt by respondents, while the House was ranked second.

“It is a sad commentary that almost 20 years since Suharto was chased from office, the system remains deeply corrupt,” said a Jakarta source. “Is it more corrupt? Hard to say. Under Suharto none of this could have come to light. Now at least we have the KPK so there is a chance of the bribe takers being charged and jailed.”