House vows to uphold
graft courts

Lawmakers promised Tuesday they would revise a corruption court bill to create independent courts amid public concerns the bill might be used to weaken the country's fight against graft.

Activists and experts are worried about two articles in particular. One article designates district court heads to chair regional corruption courts, while another article delegates the authority to select judges to preside over specific cases to the district court chief and to the chief justice in appealed cases.

The bill also grants the Supreme Court head and district court chief the prerogative to decide on the balance of career and noncareer judges in district-level corruption courts.

The bill prescribes the number of judges must be odd, either three or five.

The bill mandates the establishment of a corruption court in every regency and municipality in order to make the anti-corruption campaign more effective.

Given the notorious history of district court and career judges colluding with corrupt suspects appearing before them. which created a veritable "court mafia" embedded in the country's judicial system, many anti-graft activists say the bill could be a strategy to weaken the fight against corruption.

They said the credibility of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) would be undermined should the anti-graft body be defeated each time it brought cases before the Corruption Court.

"We will not let that happen, so we will revise those articles. We want to create a strong and independent court system," said Gayus Lumbuun, a member of the House of Representatives' special committee deliberating the bill.

Gayus, a lawmaker from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), said his faction has proposed an article to set corruption courts apart from the general court system, with each having a separate chief.

"We will discuss the ratio of career to ad hoc judges. But we want to have a majority of noncareer judges presiding over every graft trial," he said.

Many observers have said ad hoc judges, recruited from outside the current system, had higher standards of integrity as proven by those in the current ad hoc Corruption Court.

Lawmaker Azis Syamsuddin of the Golkar Party shared a similar view, saying Indonesia needed to bolster the Corruption Court's independence.

He said his party had noticed wide public concern over several contentious articles in the bill. "We'll see what other factions will say," said Azis, deputy chair of the House's Commission III for legal affairs.

The special committee began deliberating the bill once the House came back into session Monday.

The bill was drafted in Dec. 2006 after the Constitutional Court killed a provision in the 2002 KPK law which had been the basis for the establishment of the Corruption Court.

The Constitutional Court ordered the government to devise a new law which placed corruption courts under the aegis of the existing district courts.

The House has until Dec. 2009 to finish the bill, but many observers have expressed fears that such a short interval may be insufficient because legislators will soon be preoccupied with campaigning for the 2009 general elections.

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