Wednesday, August 31, 2016

CORRUPTION IN INDONESIA: LOW-RISK AND HIGH-REWARD CRIME? A big question lingers as to why Indonesia, whoever the president is, seems unable to diminish corruption

Defined broadly as the misuse of power by a public official for private gains, corruption has characterized every administration ever since this country was born 71 years ago, despite differing modus operandi and actors.

Simply put, corruption has become entrenched in our daily lives regardless of the various efforts to combat it. The failure to eradicate corruption indicates a fundamental problem with the anticorruption strategy we have implemented.

The easiest way to place blame in our inability to beat corruption may lie with the lack of political will. It is true that every administration — Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s is no exception — the deficit of political will has contributed to the emergence of bad governance.

It took Jokowi, for instance, almost one year to resolve the latest standoff between the police and the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). As a result, there has been a significant decline in the number of cases the KPK has managed to unveil. At the same time, Jokowi also has missed the opportunity to tackle police corruption as his political gesture was not in favor of the KPK and the public in general during the conflict.

However, in order to correctly analyze the groundwork of our anticorruption campaign we need to elaborate in what way does political will not exist and is there any country whose political leader does show ambition in cracking down on corruption. For the latter, we can easily refer to neighboring Singapore, which since 1985 has always scored high on the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI). Among Asian countries, Singapore is always perceived as the least corrupt.  

However, in fact, corruption used to threaten Singapore when under British rule as widespread bribery involved police officers, custom officials and public servants. Corruption was practically the way of life of the nation until the People Action Party (PAP) came to power in 1960 and started to treat corruption as low reward and high risk (Quah, 2001).

Singapore under the PAP began to treat corruption eradication as a priority agenda. Of course comparing Singapore with Indonesia is unfair because Singapore is only a city-state. But the political will to severely punish corruption and turn this dirty behavior into a high-risk activity is an excellent example for Indonesian politicians.

Unlike Singapore, Indonesia gives special treatment to graft convicts. For example, Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly quite recently proposed a revision to the government regulation on the rights of criminals, including graft convicts. Based on the minister’s draft, graft convicts have the right to remission and conditional release as long as they show good behavior. He says reducing prison terms of convicts, including corruptors, will help solve overcapacity facing our prisons.

The draft, however, will eliminate the existing condition for remission that currently is given only to corruption convicts who help law enforcers as justice collaborators. The role of justice collaborators is crucial as they can lead investigators to the masterminds of corruption.

The idea to ease procedures of remission for corrupt public officials without specific conditions has undermined public expectation for a better anticorruption strategy. It also exacerbates the ugly fact that judges tend to hand down light, rather than maximum, sentences to corruption convicts.

A study by Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) earlier this year found that imprisonment for graft convicts averaged only 2.2 years. With corruption convicts entitled to remission on several national holidays such as Christmas, Idul Fitri, Independence Day, National Heroes Day, etc. simply because of “good behavior”, they are able to regain freedom even faster.

If President Jokowi approves such a draft it can be said that he simply has no spirit for defeating corruption. Worse still, it will prove right public suspicion of the President’s incapability of withstanding short-term political interests that often characterizes public policy and decision-making processes in this country.

Instead of providing special treatment to corruption convicts, the government should do what it takes to maximize deterrence on potential fraudsters by implementing the stolen-asset recovery policy that has eluded Indonesia. The ICW study revealed that less than half the total state losses resulting from corruption could be rescued by enforcing the policy. The amount does not include the budget spent on investigations into each corruption cases, however.

The KPK is an exception in the fight against graft as it also enforces the Antimoney Laundering Law to trace as many assets controlled by a suspect as possible. The KPK’s success in seizing more than Rp 250 billion (US$19.23 million) worth of assets from graft convict Fuad Amin, a former Bangkalan regent in East Java, shows its seriousness in tackling corruption.

It’s better for the government to follow the lead of utilizing the best practices in eradicating corruption, which is treating corruption as a high risk, low-reward crime, not the other way around.

The writer Adnan Topan Husodo  is the coordinator of  Indonesia Corruption Watch.

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