Saturday, December 19, 2009

Fighting the sales of justice in Indonesia

System’s rules dictated less by the law than by money and power

They have long worked illegally in the shadows of Indonesia’s police stations, attorney general’s office and courts, the common link in what is called Indonesia’s ‘‘judicial mafia.’’ Called markuses, they are middlemen who can persuade corrupt police officers, prosecutors and judges to drop a case against a client for the right amount of money.

The markuses gained national attention last month after they were featured prominently in wiretaps involving a long-running battle between the nation’s law-enforcement agencies and anti-corruption officials. With that leap into unaccustomed and unwanted prominence,

they were transformed overnight into symbols of this country’s broken justice system. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said that he would make eradicating the system of markuses and corrupt officials a priority of his second term.

Citizens, who in the past were only dimly aware, if at all, of the markuses, are now urged to report wrongdoing to the government by mailing in envelopes marked with the message, in Indonesian, ‘‘Ganyang mafia,’’ or just ‘‘GM.’’

But lawyers, officials and monitoring agencies warn that uprooting the so-called judicial mafia will require an overhaul of the country’s law enforcement and justice systems. They say that Mr. Yudhoyono, who shies away from confrontation, is unlikely to push through overhauls inside the nation’s powerful police force, attorney general’s office and courts — institutions that are considered among Indonesia’s most corrupt.

Most experts agree that it will take years, if not decades, to reform the criminal justice system in Indonesia, ranked as one of the world’s most corrupt countries by Transparency International, the international anti-corruption organization based in Berlin. The 32- year rule of Suharto, which ended just a decade ago, left behind law enforcement agencies that perpetuate graft, the experts say.

Last month, wiretapped conversations revealed a plot by a prominent businessman, police officials and prosecutors to fabricate a case against officials at the Corruption Eradication Commission, the nation’s chief anti-corruption agency. The people in the wiretaps spoke of bribing key officials by handing out cash through a network of markuses. What shocked most Indonesians was not the speakers’ brazenness but that the practices they mentioned seemed routine. By contrast, Indonesians without money have seemed increasingly at the mercy of a justice system that metes out severe punishment for seemingly harmless offenses.

The investigation, prosecution and judgment of a particular case follow rules dictated less by the law than by the free market of the middlemen. It depends on how much money you have.In dealing with the police, the markuses — who are typically officers’ relatives, lawyers, journalists or anyone who has contacts with particular police officials — bribe them on behalf of a client in trouble with the law. With money, they persuade the police to alter evidence or drop a case, according to watchdog groups, police officials and lawyers.

Because the money is usually distributed to the officer’s supervisors, police officers with a good nose for potentially lucrative cases tend to rise quickly in the force.

Police officers have a strong incentive to engage in corrupt practices from the beginning of their careers. To get into the national police force, applicants must pay bribes that in Jakarta range from $6,000 to $9,000. Typically, the applicants are in a hurry to repay the sum, which they have borrowed and cannot repay on a low-ranking officer’s monthly salary of $100.

The system requires corruption to survive and it is estimated that 25 percent of police officers bent the law to earn extra income and about 90 percent of police officers accept some form of ‘‘gifts.’’ Accepting gifts is an illegal though commonly accepted practice among the police, prosecutors and judges. In fact, many people draw an ethical line between those who actively seek bribes and those who passively accept gifts. Here, too, markuses hand out gifts on behalf of a client or a lawyer.

So far, attempts to reform or monitor the police, prosecutors and judges have been largely cosmetic, experts say. The Judicial Commission, created in 2005 to oversee the nation’s judges, recently moved into a gleaming, six-story building with the capacity to house a staff far larger than the commission’s 200 employees. Inside, the commission’s posters depict judges wielding guns and holding stacks of money. The posters urge people to report corrupt judges, saying, ‘‘Don’t let them kill justice.’’

Since its founding, the commission has received 6,555 complaints about judges, said Busyro Muqoddas, the commission’s chairman, adding that Indonesia now has 6,900 judges. But with limited powers of investigation and no authority to summon judges for interrogation, the commission has been able to recommend sanctions against only 39 judges suspected of corruption.

The Supreme Court, which oversees the conduct of all the nation’s courts, has mostly ignored the commission’s recommendations, choosing instead to protect colleagues, Mr. Muqoddas said. Of the 39 judges suspected of corruption, only two have been fired for accepting bribes.

A bill to strengthen the commission’s powers sits in Parliament, he said, adding that he held little hope for its passage. The Parliament, ranked as the country’s most corrupt institution by Transparency International, recently announced a list of 55 priority bills it plans to take up next year. By NORIMITSU ONISHI International Herald Tribune

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