Independence is all that the KPK needs to perform

By Alvin Nicola, Researcher of TI Indonesia

Independence is an absolute requirement for all anticorruption agencies. However, none of the nine anticorruption agencies that have operated in Indonesia since 1959 have lasted long or performed well a lack of independence.

The first anticorruption agency in Indonesia, the State Apparatus Supervisory Agency (Bapekan), was dissolved by then-president Sukarno just before it completed an investigation into alleged corruption relating to the construction of sports facilities for the 1962 Asian Games.

The next antigraft body, the Corruption Eradication Team (TPK), which was formed by Sukarno’s successor, Soeharto, appeared convincing at first, but eventually stumbled when it began a probe into alleged corruption within state oil and gas company Pertamina, a major contributor to the state revenue Soeharto needed to realize his development agenda.

The youngest anticorruption body, the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), was given greater independence when it was founded in 2003. As a result, the KPK won the public’s trust at home and recognition internationally.

But like a double-edged sword, the KPK became embroiled in a standoff with the police, known as the gecko vs crocodile saga, on four occasions until finally an active police general was elected as KPK chairman last year.

Transparency International Indonesia has recorded that in its 17 year journey, the KPK has faced three modes of attack both from internal and external forces. The KPK has experienced various acts of intimidation and physical terror, selective prosecution of its leaders and the weakening of its authority through budget restrictions and revision of regulations.

In the latest attack on the KPK, fake news about the state of internal affairs was produced, such as allegations of a “Taliban” influence in the body, supposedly evidenced by the appearance of investigators with beards who wore cutoff pants as well as the hostile relationship between the KPK and police officers assigned as KPK investigators. The government-sanctioned KPK leadership selection process that featured candidates with dubious track records was another cause for concern.

The withering away of Bapekan and the TPK and lately the measures taken to defang the KPK confirm that corruption eradication is considered a threat when it dares shake the political and economic interests of the elite. Although formed with different motives and organizational models, the agencies followed a similar trajectory: noncompliance leads to dissolution.

The same phenomenon has occurred in other countries that champion corruption eradication. The Korea Independent Commission Against Corruption (KICAC) was dissolved in 2008 by then-South Korean president Lee Myung-bak because it was considered to disturb relations between the government and businesspeople. In Nigeria, the chair of the country’s antigraft body, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nuhu Ribadu, was forced to resign and later sought asylum in the United States in 2008 due to political pressure from the government.

In South Africa, Scorpion, a tactical corruption eradication agency that fell under the Prosecutor’s Office, was dissolved due to conflicts with the South African Police Department. After that, Scorpion was replaced by HAWKS, a new small taskforce under the police.

Concerns about the weakening of the KPK have come true after the new KPK Law was enacted. Law No. 19/2019 removes many of the KPK’s old authorities that enabled it to maintain independence. Articles 12 and 37 on the status and authorities of the KPK Supervisory Council, for example, are counterproductive to the independence of the KPK.

The council not only supervises but also holds a mandate to intervene in all stages of the pro-judicial process in the KPK. The council enjoys the extraordinary power of approving and rejecting investigators’ moves to wiretap, conduct searches and seize evidence.

In the latest graft case, KPK investigators recently failed to search the office of Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle secretary-general Hasto Kristiyanto, which could have helped the KPK find crucial evidence, because of the absence of a permit from the council.

In sum, the law has the potential to threaten law enforcement, both in the investigation and prosecution of cases.

There is another question about KPK oversight, which has actually been in place ever since it was born. The oversight system of the (old) KPK was better than that of most state institutions. The internal supervisory mechanism was conducted by KPK advisers, the deputy for internal supervision and public complaints and the KPK Employee Organization, while the external control mechanism was controlled by the president, the House of Representatives, the Supreme Audit Agency and society as well as other independent auditors.

Now that the new KPK Law has come into effect, we need to have more realistic expectations for the performance of the KPK going forward. Many parties also feel the need to accept the fate that it will be tough to win the fight against corruption in a literal sense, especially in the current situation. Therefore, with a regime that protects its own interests, the public must remain persistent in demanding the government’s political commitment. Although the commitment to anticorruption has not yet dwindled to zero, public involvement will still play a key role in ensuring policymakers are pro-anticorruption and pro-KPK. Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.

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