Jokowi’s development push leaves graft fight by the wayside

Indonesia’s score on Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perception Index slid four points to 34, the country’s biggest decline in 25 years and one of the worst year-on-year performances in the region.

Dio Suhenda

Dio Suhenda

The Jakarta Post


Infrastructure first: Construction of a toll road that dissects Pulo Kerto village in Palembang, South Sumatra is underway on Dec. 12, 2021. The section will be part of the trans-Sumatra toll road.(Antara/Nova Wahyudi)

February 3, 2023

JAKARTA – President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s economy-forward approach to development has left the country’s fight against corruption in tatters, critics say, as they point to a new global graft study that illustrates the scale of the regression.

Indonesia’s score on Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perception Index (CPI) slid four points to 34, the country’s biggest decline in 25 years and one of the worst year-on-year performances in the region.

The nation now ranks 110th of the 180 countries surveyed in the study, which was published on Tuesday, behind neighbors Singapore, Malaysia, Timor-Leste, Vietnam and Thailand.

Introduced in 1995, the CPI is a composite index that aggregates data from various sources to offer a measure of corruption levels by country. A CPI score of 0 indicates that a country is extremely corrupt, while 100 means it is free of corruption.

The latest CPI score serves as a snapshot of Indonesia’s downward spiral in the fight against graft. The country has fallen from a 2019 peak of 40 points and has now erased all the gains made during Jokowi’s presidency.

The new score also marks Indonesia’s worst decline on the index since 1998, when the CPI score dropped seven points at the tail end of then-president Soeharto’s notoriously corrupt regime.

“President Jokowi’s regime will go down as the worst in terms of corruption eradication since the start of the Reform era,” Indonesia Corruption Watch declared on Wednesday.

“Ahead of the changing of the guard in 2024, he has also failed to pass down good anti-corruption regulations,” ICW coordinator Agus Sunaryanto said in a statement.

During a working visit to Bali on Thursday, Jokowi responded by saying the government would use the CPI score as a means to “evaluate and self-correct ourselves”, state news agency Antara reported.

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The Jokowi administration’s push to improve the country’s international competitiveness has all but ignored the intransigent issue of corruption, activists said.

Transparency International Indonesia (TII) researcher Wawan Suyatmiko flagged the Political Risk Service index, one of eight sources used to compile the CPI, as the key contributor to the drop in the overall score, indicating that graft, bribery, illicit kickbacks and conflicts of interest among decisionmakers were increasingly prevalent.

One worrying trend, constitutional law expert Bivitri Susanti noted, was policymakers’ tendency to manipulate legislation for their own benefit, a technique that had become more common since Jokowi assumed office in 2014.

“Until at least two years ago, the rot wasn’t visible, but now it is clear for all to see. There have also been a raft of conflicting policies that, in turn, have yet to reveal their effects,” she said on Tuesday.

These included a recent government regulation in lieu of law (Perppu) on job creation, Bivitri said, which sought to resuscitate the controversial Job Creation Law, which was declared unconstitutional last year.

Officials claim the executive action was necessary to provide legal certainty for businesses, while critics insist it was another attempt to bypass proper debate and consultation at the House of Representatives.

Similar corner-cutting tactics occurred during the pandemic, with lawmakers and officials using the cover of social distancing to evade scrutiny and push through legislation.

Economist Faisal Basri said such a policy climate would only attract “low-quality” investment, as the high political risk would deter many would-be investors in the country, especially for the longer term.

Investors that did come, he said, “won’t want to stay too long. They will pick projects with a quick return on investment […] then take the profits home.”

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Beyond the legislative concerns, Bivitri said, the overall system of checks and balances had deteriorated.

She pointed to the controversial 2019 revision of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) Law, which many observers say was when the country began losing the battle against graft.

“The Constitutional Court saw nothing [legally] wrong with those revisions, but if we take a look at the KPK of today, it is a completely different beast compared to the institution it was before,” the Jentera School of Law faculty member said.

Members of the legislature, judiciary and executive had been seeking to defang the KPK since it began sending powerful figures to jail in its first decade.

They eventually succeeded in 2019, by installing ethically questionable KPK leaders, dismissing graft investigators and taking away many of the powers that made the agency a force to be reckoned with.

ICW’s Agus said Jokowi had a hand in weakening the KPK by letting lawmakers pass problematic legislation under his watch and having members of his Cabinet call for an end to KPK sting operations, among other actions.

In response to the new corruption index ranking, KPK deputy head of graft prevention Pahala Nainggolan said the country needed “new breakthroughs” to stamp out graft.

“We need someone to step up, […] sit all the state agencies down and lead them. The KPK can’t do it. We can only identify [perpetrators],” Pahala said on Tuesday. (tjs)

Editor’s note: Article updated with response from the government.

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