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JAKARTA – When Johan Budi, newly promoted to acting deputy head of Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), sat at his old spokesman’s desk and not in his new office, it was as if he was willing the clock back to when Abraham Samad and deputy Bambang Widjojanto were in charge.
Samad and Widjojanto were suspended in February following a retaliation by the police after the KPK named the anointed candidate for national police chief as a corruption suspect. Their absences and ongoing police attempts to undermine the KPK have had “a big impact” on its work, Johan acknowledged in an interview.
The KPK is one of Indonesia’s most esteemed institutions – targeting everybody from regional governors to banking officials, judges and parliamentarians – and has had a 100 per cent conviction rate since it was established in 2003.
But that record has been tarnished since the KPK was forced to relent on its attempt to investigate Budi Gunawan, nominated by President Joko Widodo in January as the next chief of police.
Not only did the police file counter-charges against KPK commissioners and investigators, but Hasto Kristiyanto, a leading member of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), the biggest party in Indonesia’s parliament, made explosive corruption allegations against Samad.
He claimed that Samad had wanted to run as Widodo’s vice-presidential candidate in last year’s election and that he had promised to put corruption cases involving members of PDI-P – which backed Widodo’s campaign – on the back burner in exchange for getting on the ticket.
A loud public chorus of protest urged Widodo to “Save the KPK”, but he came up with a fudge. Gunawan was delisted as police chief, but Widjojanto and Samad were forced from their jobs, temporarily at least. Gunawan’s case was handed to the Attorney-General’s office, disappointing anti-corruption advocates.
But that transfer was “done by law”, Johan stressed, his diplomatic stance informed by his mission to mend fences between the weakened KPK and the police. “My first job as a KPK commissioner is the recovery of the relationship,” Budi explained.
With the KPK needing police backup to carry out its work, the stand-off has threatened to undermine the already-harried agency. It has a caseload of 36 investigations, but with only 79 investigators, it can manage only around 10 at any one time.
“We need investigators from the police, but police and KPK have a bad relationship,” Budi said. In a recent meeting, he said, Widodo had specifically asked his team to get back to a good working relationship.
Widodo has said as much publicly. Speaking on the BeritaSatu TV channel, he called for an end to the two institutions’ infighting. “If [each] follows its own ego, working alone, not sharing information, then this [fight] is what happens,” he said.
Repairing police-KPK relations might be easier said than done, as the relationship has been fraught for several years, with public clashes in 2009 and again in 2012.
This time around, too, the KPK looks more vulnerable. Indonesia’s politicians – often the target of KPK probes – have scented blood, with lawmakers lining up to castigate the commission for indicting Gunawan.
Corruption suspects such as Hadi Purnomo, the former head of Indonesia’s Supreme Audit Agency, have taken heart from the KPK’s travails. Following a tactic successfully employed by Gunawan, Purnomo and others have filed legal challenges to their status as suspects. Others have simply refused to show up for hearings at the KPK, making the commission look weak.
Further undermining the KPK, Widodo went to say that the commission should prioritize corruption prevention, implying that agency should relent on its characteristic pursuit of officials on the take.
“To be denied the authority to investigate corruption allegations against major police figures in such a way is an important signal to the rest of the country’s elite and a setback for the reformist project,” warned Jacqueline Hicks, researcher at the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies.
With every twist seeming to mute the KPK further, it all looks like a backward step for a nation still struggling to unravel three decades of kleptocracy under President Suharto almost a generation after he stepped down.Show