Saturday, May 18, 2013

Indonesia’s fight against corruption and the role of lawyers

Corruption is one of the greatest challenges facing our nation today. Despite many efforts to combat corruption and the fact that hundreds of high-ranking government officials and politicians have been convicted and imprisoned for graft, white collar crime seemingly remains unbeatable in Indonesia.

However, many people found guilty of corruption have shown no remorse or humiliation no matter how antipathetic the public is to them. Under such circumstances, even if all the graft suspects were arrested and brought to justice, there is no guarantee that corruption would stop or be uprooted.

High-profile people may measure well the legal consequences they will deal with before committing acts of corruption. They know how to get away with it when they get caught by law enforcers and how to get light sentence when the courts convict them.

The Attorney General recently said that the judicial mafia would not loosen its stranglehold on the system by a mere pay raise for law enforcers. This statement is valid. The creation of a clean legal system will not be successful if the character, competency and commitment of law enforcers to corruption eradication remain an issue.

In addition, the fight against corruption will not be won until the “rule of law” works. Under the rule of law, the law (including the anti-corruption law) is enforced equally against everyone. Without the rule of law, there will be the “rule of force” and justice will be determined by how much power or influence a man holds or how much money he is willing to pay.

The denial of the rule of law in preference for the rule of force will have its consequences. As we have just seen in the case of the Cebongan prison attack in Yogyakarta, without the rule of law, the rule of the jungle takes hold and the weak fall victim to the strong and nobody is safe.

Law is the very foundation of a peaceful and prosperous society, which we all can benefit from. The rule of law creates a disincentive for the corruptors or crooked people to do what they want.

The most fundamental requirement for us to uphold the rule of law is to have credible lawyers (including lawmakers and law enforcers) take the lead.

There will be no rule of law without credible lawyers; lawyers of course who are righteous and have a strong sense of justice. The absence of credible lawyers to carry out the mission to uphold the rule of law presents a disincentive to corruption eradication.

In the fight against corruption lawyers are an important instrument because they are the key actors in our legal system, which is apparently not functioning properly. It is the lawyers who can contribute greatly to liberating our nation from corruption.

All the government’s efforts in the battle against corruption will fail if the majority of lawyers take an opposing stance or act as onlookers.

It is regrettable to see that more and more lawyers stand up, not to fight corruption, but “for” corrupt suspects instead. They appear to have no respect for their calling and conscience.

The comforting news is that there are still thousands of lawyers out there who have the desire to combat corruption and create a clean legal environment. These lawyers should stand up and share the responsibility for combating corruption. It is not an easy task to execute, but it is also not impossible if they choose to work and fight together.

Corruption will be hard to beat and could even become more widespread if our legal society maintains the current mindset toward corruption. Corruption must be perceived as a “public enemy”. Corruption is not just a character problem or wrong behavior; it is both an economic crime and crime against humanity. It’s not just money lost; corruption also kills.

A clean legal system is imperative to beat corruption. As a clean legal system must come from clean figures, corruption within the legal profession, big or small, must be eradicated first.

The media can and should play a key role in creating a culture of hatred against corruption in our society. Today there are too many “corruption lawyers” and “celebrity lawyers” who inappropriately receive too much publicity. At the same time, there has been very little coverage of humble lawyers with excellent professionalism. Due to a lack of role models, the media must give an adequate spotlight to people who have been consistent in obeying the law and are committed to implementing zero tolerance against

The government, as well as the anticorruption bodies, needs to rethink its strategies before it loses public confidence in its capability to fight corruption.

Corruption can be fought off when all of the players and stakeholders in the legal system (including judges, prosecutors, police and advocates) share the same commitment.

They all must be willing to work together with mutual respect and trust. Without such concerted efforts, we will not be able to eradicate the contagious disease of corruption.

The writer is chairman of the Indonesian Christian Legal Society and member of the executive committee of the Law Association for Asia and the Pacific (LAWASIA). The views expressed are personal.

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