THIS week, Indonesia’s parliament amended a law which clipped the powers of the Corruption Eradication Commission, or KPK.
The commission is one of the most respected agencies which enjoyed the backing of the Indonesian people to fight corruption.
KPK was born out of the reform movement, which led to the downfall of former president Suharto’s corrupt regime.
KPK embarked on its mission with a zeal unseen in Indonesian politics for decades.
In 2013, KPK won the Ramon Magsaysay award, which is considered Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize, in recognition of its tireless anti-graft campaigns in the country.
“KPK is the only agency which still holds the public’s trust,” said Natalia Soebagjo, who is a board member of Transparency International and has been the chair of the executive board at Transparency International Indonesia since 2011.
KPK had prosecuted many senior politicians and public servants in the past.
Other high-profile cases included Aceh governor Irwandi Yusof and the arrest of Indonesia’s first woman governor of Benten.
Its track record is outstanding, with 86 cases tried and 86 convictions, a 100-per cent rate that was the gold standard for anti-corruption agencies.
Back then, Transparency International ranked Indonesia at the bottom of its annual corruption report, with a score of 19 (with 100 denoting low corruption in public institutions) in the Corruption Perception Index (CPI).
Indonesia’s score showed that there was rampant corruption at nearly every level of government.
But in the 2018 CPI, Indonesia scored 38 and was ranked 89th out of 180 countries.
Critics had expressed concerns about the amendment and there were efforts by corrupt politicians and policemen to reduce its power to fight corruption.
Inspector-General Firli Bahuri of the National Police was appointed as the new KPK chief before the law was amended.
Activist questioned Firli’s integrity as he was suspected of breaching work ethics while serving KPK.
Under the amended law, KPK will be placed under the purview of an external supervisory board for checks and balances.
The board was not there at the time of KPK’s establishment.
Supporters of the amendment argued that the proposal to set up a supervisory board was to ensure KPK’s management would be more accountable.
The role of the board is to monitor KPK, and it will consist of people from the community and academicians.
President Joko Widodo had said that KPK investigators must also comprise state civil servants or state institutions and not only be from the police and prosecutor’s offices.
He stated that the supervisory board is necessary for good governance.
He said that there would be no compromise in fighting corruption and the government is committed to continuously improving the investment climate.
Dadang Trisasongko, secretary-general of Transparency International Indonesia, warned that the amended law set a poor precedent for economic reforms as KPK had been the driver of reforms in the business sector.
Activists argue that stripping KPK’s authority is counter-productive to curbing Indonesia’s current state of corruption.
The Indonesian Corruption Watch claim that the amended law might also expose KPK’s law enforcement officials.
This is because previously, KPK had named 23 sitting members of parliament as suspects in a number of corruption cases.
The attorney-general said he never wanted to erode KPK’s prosecution power.
In a Jakarta Globe report, KPK chief Agus Rahardjo claimed that there were attempts to defang
the agency, especially with the appointment of Firli as chairman of the supervisory board to overlook KPK.
Agus condemned what he described as poor communications among parliamentarians in approving KPK’s new law.
He said the process was completed in haste and it is hoped that the president would take measures to rectify the situation.
Dias Prasongko, a journalist at Tempo Media Group, said KPK as a law enforcement institution is independent in carrying out its duties.
Supporters of KPK tried hard to get the government’s attention by gathering in front of Parliament.
Anti-graft activists are sceptical whether the action taken by the government is sincere.
They question whether the shake-up is to make KPK more effective or to weaken the agency.
The shake-up only prolongs the bureaucratic process and hampers KPK’s work.
Dadang is worried that the president is making a political blunder with KPK’s law amendment.
This shake-up will only erode KPK’s authority and make it a toothless tiger.
The writer holds a professorial chair in Criminology and Crime at Institute of Crime and Criminology, HELP University