Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Indonesia Amid a Perfect Storm of Corruption

INDONESIAN President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono returned from Singapore to a perfect storm of a corruption scandal that requires perhaps the most dextrous manoeuvering of his career. On one side is his prized anti-corruption commission, with its
chief in custody facing questionable murder conspiracy charges that hinge on the evidence of a beautiful young golf caddy, and two deputies staring at corruption allegations over the failed pursuit of a fugitive businessman.

Ranged against that is the powerful Attorney-General's Department, no stranger to graft scandals, and the police force, whose senior criminal investigator is stood down pending the outcome of the scandal.

The third front in a storm that could bring down the tall trees of Indonesia's elite is a people's power movement taking to the streets to support the "gecko" - the corruption eradication commission - against the "crocodile" - the Attorney-General's department and police. The affair, which can be seen as the institutional version of a long-simmering feud erupting into a deadly street brawl, has transfixed Indonesia's commentariat for weeks. The presentation on Tuesday of the investigation by a fact-finding team established by the President two weeks ago - after he had promised not to dip his hand into what was essentially a criminal prosecution matter - was Indonesia's modern equivalent of the moon landing. Blanket coverage, constant analysis, live crosses to experts: it had the lot.

It's understandable that anyone getting their news solely out of the Australian parliament might think the Oceanic Viking, moored off the coast of Bintan island with its cargo of protesting Sri Lankans, has had some kind of impact on Jakarta's political debate.

It has not. And suggestions that Dr Yudhoyono postponed a trip this week taking in East Timor, Papua New Guinea and Australia because of it, are well wide of the mark.
"The cancellation is not due to the difficulty of the (Oceanic Viking) situation, or because he's disappointed or unhappy with Australia. Senior officials are the ones who can deal with issues such as that," parliamentary foreign affairs committee member Ramadhan Pohan told The Australian. The only game in town, news-wise, is how Dr Yudhoyono deals with the corruption scandal.

His fact-finding team's primary recommendation was that the charges against anti-corruption deputy commissioners Bibit Samad Rianto and Chandra Hamzah be dropped for lack of evidence. It was these charges, and the two men's arrests, that first drew students and democracy activists to the streets several weeks ago, in scenes reminiscent of the "reformasi" movement that brought down the late dictator Suharto.

The fact-finding team suggested that charges or some other sanctions be brought against those in the prosecutor's department who tried to frame the two men. Dr Yudhoyono spent yesterday in discussions with his cabinet over the report, and is expected to make a public statement on it within days.

One of the key demands of the street protesters has been the removal from office of Attorney-General Hendarman Supandji and police chief Bambang Hendarso Danuri. The fact-finding team fell short of recommending this course of action, although it did urge reforms in the police, Attorney-General's Department and corruption eradication commission.

But no one takes on the powerful Indonesian elite lightly. Dr Yudhoyono was re-elected in July on the strength of his corruption-fighting credentials, but even he knows he needs to be extremely careful where he treads.
The Australian by Stephen Fitzpatrick, Jakarta correspondent

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