Sunday, September 27, 2009

Challenges Faced by Indonesia in Battling against Corruption

Compiled from and AFP

The future of Indonesia's powerful anti-corruption commission has been put under threat by what activists say is a concerted campaign to shut down progress made against entrenched graft.

Lawmakers are expected to pass a law next week that would strip the independent Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) of the authority to prosecute -- a power that has seen it put away high profile politicians and officials.

The law, part of a rash of legislation before the end of the current parliament's term, would leave the KPK solely as an investigator while the corruption-tainted attorney general's office (AGO) would be left to prosecute.

The Corruption Eradication Commission, the KPK, also faces a power vacuum after police named three officials as suspects in criminal investigations. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono says the bill should not be rushed through parliament in a form that hinders the fight against graft.

"The grand scenario is the government is trying to weaken the KPK," Indonesia Corruption Watch secretary general Teten Masduki told AFP.

The law is likely a reaction to successes that have seen the KPK-linked Corruption Court achieve a 100 percent conviction rate in a country known as one of the world's most corrupt, Masduki said.

"I think everyone knows the DPR (parliament) is always reluctant to go with the process of anti-corruption. They don't really support the KPK."

Here are some questions and answers on the issues.

Why does this matter?

Indonesia needs billions of dollars from domestic and foreign investors, but endemic corruption, red tape, and an unpredictable legal system all serve as deterrents.

Yudhoyono promised to tackle graft when elected in 2004 and has made some progress, thanks mainly to KPK and the corruption court, far more effective than other courts. The perception that Yudhoyono is serious about graft, has helped boost the rupiah currency, stocks and bonds.

But by weakening the two institutions most effective in jailing corrupt officials, bankers and businessmen, Indonesia will put off investors, post GDP growth rates below potential, and create insufficient jobs for a growing population.

How could the bill weaken the corruption court?

Mainly through changes to the panel of judges. The panels consist of two career judges and three ad hoc judges. But the government and members of parliament want to relax this rule so that the head of a district court can decide the make up of the court.

The judiciary is rated among Indonesia’s most corrupt institutions. The corruption court’s 100 percent success rate is due in part to the ad hoc judges and their majority on the panel: change that and it will become like other courts.

In addition, MPs want to stop the KPK from using wiretaps without permission and take away its power to prosecute suspects. The president has said that the KPK must retain those powers.

These clauses need to be agreed by parliament and the government before Sept. 30, when parliament’s term ends and a new parliament is sworn in.

The deadline for the bill is Dec. 19, but it seems unlikely a new parliament could handle it in time. As a final resort, the president could issue a regulation-in-lieu-of-law, or Perppu, to extend the life of the court.

Will the anti-corruption agency still be able to function?

The KPK plays an important role in the fight against graft, investigating and prosecuting in the corruption court.

But some parliamentarians appear keen to limit its role to investigating cases and give the authority to prosecute back to the Attorney General’s office, another body in need of reform.
Several lawmakers have already been sent to jail by the court. Others are awaiting trial, prompting corruption watchdogs to warn that this is why members of parliament want to curb the powers of the court and KPK.

What about the KPK power vacuum?

The fight against graft appears to be coming under increasing attack from other law enforcement agencies. The police on Sept. 16 named two senior KPK officials suspected of abuse of power.

Antasari Azhar, the head of the KPK, was detained in May as a suspect in a murder investigation. Yudhoyono has set up a panel, made up of a prominent lawyer, the security and justice ministers, a presidential adviser, and a former KPK head — to temporarily fill the vacant spots.

His intervention to resolve the uncertainty shrouding the KPK and court bill has been welcomed by some but questioned by others who say he is interfering with the independence of KPK. The panel is due to name the officials on Oct. 1.