Indonesia’s corruption watchdog faces uphill battle to regain public faith

In mid-October, the antigraft body arrested former agriculture minister Syahrul Yasin Limpo on graft charges. The case opened a Pandora’s box of counteraccusations that ultimately brought Firli down.

Dio Suhenda

Dio Suhenda

The Jakarta Post


December 29, 2023

JAKARTA – Once seen as the country’s most effective graft fighting institution, the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) is ending 2023 with a significant public confidence deficit following an extortion scandal implicating its leader that overshadowed the high-profile arrests it made throughout the year.

In mid-October, the antigraft body arrested former agriculture minister Syahrul Yasin Limpo on graft charges. Investigators suspected him and two of his subordinates of accepting US$10,000 monthly payments from ministry officials, which they allegedly used to pay credit card bills and installments on a luxury car Syahrul had bought.

The case opened a Pandora’s box of counteraccusations that ultimately brought Firli down.

In late November, the Jakarta Police named the then-KPK chairman a suspect for allegedly extorting Syahrul during the KPK investigation into the former minister.

Firli’s lawyers maintained that the investigation and decision to name Firli a suspect were invalid and filed a pretrial motion challenging the appellation. But the court rejected the motion on Dec. 20, prompting louder calls from antigraft activists for Firli to be detained.

Suspended Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) chairman Firli Bahuri leaves the National Police’s Criminal Investigation Agency (Bareskrim) headquarters in Jakarta on Dec. 27, 2023, following an interrogation.

The KPK supervisory council, meanwhile, found Firli guilty of severe ethics violations for having had close contact with Syahrul without notifying other KPK officials since 2021, the year that the antigraft body started investigating the then-minister.

The council, which had no power to dismiss Firli, urged him to step down from his position as stipulated by the KPK code of ethics. It also sent the ruling to President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who has the authority to fire the KPK chairman.

“The State Secretariat has prepared a draft for a presidential decree on Firli’s dismissal. We’ll hand it over to the President tonight after he returns from his working visit to North Sulawesi,” said presidential expert staff coordinator Ari Dwipayana on Thursday.

Restoring lost trust

Several other KPK scandals surfaced this year, including a report in June that a KPK administrative worker had skimmed hundreds of millions of rupiah from travel budgets for other KPK employees.

The revelation came shortly after a separate investigation found that KPK detention center employees had taken some Rp 4 billion (US$259,327) in bribes from detainees from December 2021 to March 2022.

The KPK supervisory council also found multiple instances of sexual misconduct by a detention center employee against family members of detainees.

Adding to Firli’s misconduct allegations was an accusation that he had leaked internal investigation documents to an official at the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry. The council dropped the ensuing ethics probe, citing a lack of evidence.

When President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo appointed commissioner Nawawi Pomolango as interim KPK chief, the incoming official said his biggest priority was to reverse the damage that Firli had done to the antigraft body’s reputation.

“The most urgent matter for us now is to restore the eroded public trust, no matter how small the outcome is,” Nawawi said after his inauguration on Nov. 27. “[Public trust] has long been the KPK’s only capital, and [restoring it] is the heaviest task.”

Nawawi now has a more time to work on that goal. President Jokowi recently signed a presidential decree extending the graft official’s tenure, which was supposed to end this month, for an additional year.

The decree followed a Constitutional Court ruling in May that extended the term of current commissioners from four to five years. It also made them eligible for reelection for a second five-year term.

Hope for the future

Despite the string of scandals, the KPK made some high-profile graft arrests this year.

Syahrul was the only cabinet member the KPK nabbed this year, but his arrest was a second blow for the Jokowi administration after it lost former communications and information minister Johnny G. Plate, also a NasDem member, to a corruption case handled by the Attorney General’s Office (AGO).

The court found Johnny guilty in November of accepting at least Rp 11.5 billion in kickbacks and sentenced him to 15 years in prison.

The KPK made headlines earlier this year for arresting several officials at the Finance Ministry, including former mid-ranking tax collector Rafael Alun Trisambodo and the former head of the Makassar Customs and Excise Office, Andhi Pramono.

One of the KPK’s highest-profile arrests was of former Papua governor Lukas Enembe, who was sentenced in October to eight years in prison for accepting Rp 17.7 billion in bribes and Rp 2 billion in gratuities during his tenure as governor.

Lukas died on Tuesday, a month after the high court increased his prison sentence to 10 years. He was being treated at a hospital for kidney illness.

With serious concerns looming over the KPK, activists say the commission needs more than its recently installed interim head to win back public trust.

They say Jokowi, whose administration is accused of systematically defanging the KPK, should use his final year in office to reverse the controversial revision of the KPK Law, which stripped the antigraft body of its independence by placing it under the state bureaucracy.

But with Jokowi’s term coming to an end in less than a year, the nation’s future leaders will also have to offer solutions for the country’s ailing fight against corruption.

On that question, Presidential candidate Anies Baswedan and his running mate Muhaimin Iskandar say they will push for legal reform in legislative practices, law enforcement and corruption eradication, including measures that would restore the KPK’s independence.

Similarly, presidential candidate Ganjar Pranowo, who is running alongside Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD, says he has put legal reform high on his priority list, including ensuring law enforcement officers are free of corruption.

Presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto and running mate Gibran Rakabuming Raka have pledged to balance corruption prevention and law enforcement and to focus on the recovery of state assets. (jan)

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