October 24, 2023
JAKARTA – The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) has practically been declared irrelevant since the legislative body curtailed its powers and what appeared to be an elaborate attempt by its current leadership to purge the commission of some of its best investigators. We have even eulogized its symbolic demise as one of the most powerful Reform era legacies that had defined Indonesia’s democracy after the unraveling of the graft-ridden New Order regime.
Certainly, the antigraft body is not entirely dead yet. It is with great sorrow, and deep concern, however, that we are now seeing it not only becoming a sad reminder of what it once was but ironically falling victim to the very problem used as a rationale for its establishment in the first place, the rampant abuse of power plaguing law enforcement institutions.
The agency is now embroiled in a controversy over allegations that its current chairman, Firli Bahuri, had removed former investigations director Endar Priantoro for refusing to launch a full-blown investigation into a corruption case involving former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan. Endar cited a lack of sufficient evidence to follow his boss’ order.
The allegations have sparked concerns that the KPK leader was using the agency as a political tool to attack Anies, who has been put forward as presidential candidate by the Coalition for Change and Unity, making him so far the only projected contender for the presidency from the opposition.
Such allegations could have easily been dismissed had Firli proven himself to be a law enforcer of impeccable integrity.
Only recently, a video circulated on social media purportedly showing KPK documents being found at the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry, which is now being investigated by the KPK. In the video, two men are heard discussing the documents, with one saying that the “minister obtained the documents from Pak Firli”.
The documents were discovered during a KPK search in the office of the acting director general of minerals and coal, last month.
While we must give Firli the benefit of the doubt, we cannot ignore the fact that Firli has been found guilty of ethics violations before. His appointment as KPK chief was highly controversial, as the decision was made despite complaints about his, at best, questionable ethics record.
In 2018, he, as the KPK deputy for enforcement, was found guilty of gross ethical violations after holding a meeting twice with then-West Nusa Tenggara governor Zainul Majdi, at the time a witness in a corruption case handled by the KPK. In September 2020, the Indonesia Anticorruption Society (MAKI) reported the KPK chief Firli to the supervisory council for allegedly getting a kickback in the form of a generous discount for hiring a helicopter to travel to Palembang and Baturaja, South Sumatra. However, Firli only received a written reprimand for the ethics violation.
On Tuesday, the Indonesian Youth Activist Community (KAMI) demonstrated against Firli in front of the KPK headquarters in Kuningan, South Jakarta, demanding that he step down from his post. The rally followed a similar protest organized by former KPK commissioners and advisors and several members of local graft watchdogs, including Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW).
We cannot overstate the gravity of his actions, if he is found guilty of an ethics breach. We are not saying the KPK had always been free from politics. As one of the most powerful coercive institutions in the country, it has long served as a political football by various entities. This is exactly why it is critical that we protect the agency from any form of cooption that could lead to a politically dangerous abuse of power.
The KPK’s supervisory council is reportedly investigating the latest suspected ethics breaches, it will be for the council to decide if he is guilty or not. If found guilty, he must immediately step down or risk turning the KPK into another hotbed of corruption.