Sunday, October 4, 2009
Twists and turns in graft battle
SOMETIMES, as Indonesia proceeds along the often rocky path towards modernstatehood, the faith we have in the country to always do the right thing is sorely tested. This is one such time.
Take a look at concerted efforts to water down the powers of the Anti-Corruption Commission (KPK) and to undermine the credibility of incoming Vice-President Boediono and Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati, the country's two top reformers.
Then wonder what was in the minds of provincial lawmakers in Aceh, who recently passed a mediaeval - and seemingly unconstitutional - by-law that allows adulterers to be stoned to death. Stoning corrupt officials would make more sense, but that did not rate a mention.
All this when Indonesia is on top of its game, emerging virtually unscathed from the global economic crisis and looking ahead to five more hopeful years under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Given the vested interests involved, a backlash against the anti-corruption campaign was always to be expected. Certainly, it seems to prove what civil society activists have been warning about all along: As much as Indonesia seems to be laying the foundations for sound and democratic government, there is simply no room for complacency. Immediate concerns centre on the recently passed Anti-Corruption Court Law, and the way it gives district courts the authority to change the make-up of the five-man panels by choosing three career judges and two ad hoc judges instead of the other way around.
Career judges are regarded with deep suspicion, coming as they do from a corrupt court system that has dined on bribes for decades. Ad hoc jurists drawn from the legal community are seen to be more idealistic and therefore more trustworthy. Critics also believe the plan to establish anti-corruption courts in each province is premature, but there is some relief that the new legislation does not seek to prevent the KPK from prosecuting corruption cases. That, according to Justice and Human Rights Minister Andi Mattalata, can happen only with the revision of the law which created the KPK - perhaps a battle that will have to be fought further down the road.
The Anti-Corruption Court Law became necessary after the Constitutional Court correctly ruled in 2006 that the existing court had no legal basis. It gave the government and Parliament until December this year to rectify the anomaly. The arrest earlier this year of KPK chairman Antasari Azhar on charges of ordering the murder of an alleged blackmailer gave a venal coalition of police, bureaucrats and politicians the pretext to go after the commission.
Dr Yudhoyono only fuelled the backlash by suggesting in July that the KPK had too much power. The timing of the comment was also significant, coming shortly after one of his in-laws was jailed for corruption.
Only in the last week or so has the President belatedly come out in support of the commission, saying it was essential for it to retain its prosecutorial role and also to have the ability to wiretap during the course of an investigation. It seems clear, however, that significant segments of Parliament, the Attorney-General's Office and the police would not have continued their campaign against the KPK without feeling they had some sort of encouragement from higher up.
The police decision to go ahead and indict KPK commissioners Bibit Rianto and Chandra Hamzah on bribery charges appears to be based solely on what Antasari is alleged to have told them during his interrogation. Why a murder case suddenly veered into an investigation of other KPK members has not been explained, but the police now seem to be providing some justification for that by formally accusing Antasari of an improper meeting with a graft suspect.
Reformists claim national police chief-of-detectives Susno Duadji is pursuing a vendetta against the KPK because of inquiries it was making into his role in the Bank Century scandal. The Supreme Audit Agency is reported to have found signs of 'criminal activity' in its audit of the controversial 6.7 trillion rupiah (S$983 million) bailout of the bank.
Certainly, in a lengthy text message he sent around Jakarta on July 11, Mr Susno made no secret of his determination to literally cut the KPK down to size. In that, he seems to have succeeded, given the fact there are now only two commissioners left - not enough for it to function.
The President has had little choice aside from declaring his neutrality in the ongoing conflict, but in signing a government regulation in lieu of law to fill the vacancies left by three of the five commissioners, he now finds himself at the centre of another firestorm.
He is being accused of interfering in the KPK's status as an independent body, particularly in seeking to replace Mr Bibit and Mr Chandra who, unlike Antasari, have yet to be formally charged.
The Straits Times (Singapore) John McBeth, Senior Writer