Exchange of promises: Administrative Reforms Minister Azwar Abubakar (far right) shakes hands with former Constitutional Court chief Jimly Asshidiqqie (center) and Judicial Commission member Jaja Ahmad Jayus after meeting with a group of judges from remote regions, who raised complaints about their low salaries. The judges met with the officials on April 10. JP/R. Bertho Wedhatama
A few dozen judges from several areas recently came to Jakarta to protest their low salaries. Along with police, prosecutors and lawyers, judges are part of Indonesia’s widely criticized judiciary. The Jakarta Post’s Hasyim Widhiarto reports on the issue.
Judge Sunoto Ahmad, 31, is on the brink of giving up his job after six years in the courts.
Transferred from the Liwa District Court in Lampung to Aceh Tamiang District Court two years ago, the father-of-three said he has been struggling to make ends meet with his relatively low salary.
“As a judge, I earn a total of Rp 3.3 million (US$359.7) per month, with at least Rp 2 million spent on food, Rp 600,000 for paying a housemaid, Rp 500,000 for buying household needs and the remaining Rp 200,000 for buying milk for my two-year-old son and baby girl. It’s hard to save — even a single cent — from my salary,” Sunoto said.
But he considers himself lucky as he was given an official residence. Many of his colleagues in other remote regions have had to seek rented accommodation. Besides his modest furniture, the other valuable asset in Sunoto’s house perhaps is only the 2007 Honda Supra Fit motorcycle his parents bought for him.
Although he also receives an additional performance-based remuneration every three months, Sunoto said he has put that additional income aside for his eldest daughter’s school needs and other emergency purposes.
“For the past two years, my wife and I decided not to take the children to our hometown in Pati [Central Java] during the Idul Fitri [Islamic] holiday … it’s better to save for the rainy days,” said Sunoto, who was inaugurated as a judge in 2006 after completing a two-year intensive training program run by the Supreme Court.
Sunoto, who holds a master’s degree in notary, said he has had often received “requests” for favorable verdicts from defendants’ families or lawyers, for a fee. Sunoto said he was trying his best to resist the temptation.
“Today I still manage to uphold my dignity as a judge. But honestly, I don’t know for how long I can survive [by doing this],” he said, adding that he was considering switching his career from judge to a notary public.
One judge, who requested anonymity and would only speak in general terms, said it often was not as simple as choosing between right and wrong.
“At first, they put money on the table for you. If you refuse, they replace the money with a gun. If you were me, which one you would choose?” the judge said.
Even in their very early days of service, new judges — and even judge candidates — are confronted by such offers.
Although his authority is still limited to writing draft court verdicts for judges, Dodik Setyo Wijayanto, 30, a judge candidate interning at the Cibinong District Court in Bogor, West Java, said several lawyers have tried to approach him to ask if he could help them win their cases.
“I never know who told the lawyers that I was the person assigned to conceive the draft verdict of a certain trial. One of them even promised to pay me, at any cost, should I manage to help the client win her pre-trial appeal,” said the father-of-one, who will be inaugurated as a judge in the next couple of months.
Granted the status of “state officials” under the 2009 judicial authorities law, judges hold great responsibility to represent the state in running its judiciary. On the one hand, the role poses another threat to the safety of judges and their families with every guilty verdict. On the other hand, their powers attract offers of graft payments — with their modest income being the classic excuse for accepting the bribes.
A 2010 survey of 392 judges in four provinces — East Java, Riau, South Sumatra and Southeast Sulawesi — carried out by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found that just 13.7 percent admitted to have ever been offered a bribe.
But a higher proportion of respondents, 20.3 percent, said that they know other judges who have accepted a bribe.
The survey did not ask whether the respondents themselves have accepted a bribe.
The monthly take-home pay for a low-ranking judge currently ranges from Rp 2 million to Rp 6 million, much lower than the Rp 7 million recently proposed by the Judicial Commission as a decent basic salary for lower court judges.
Earlier this month, a group of judges from remote regions met members of the House of Representatives and Administrative Reforms Minister Azwar Abubakar to voice their anger over deteriorating living standards, due to their limited salaries and lack of civil-service benefits.
Claiming to represent 7,000 judges from around the country, the group said that pay rises and better welfare provisions would help maintain their “independence”.
Although the government has responded the judges’ calls by establishing a small team, consisting of representatives from the State Secretariat, the Finance and Administrative Reforms ministries, the Judicial Commission and the Supreme Court, to study a decent and feasible salary increase, the disgruntled judges said they would place pressure on the team to ensure a fair outcome.
Judge Abdurrahman Rahim, the group’s spokesman, insisted on a deadline for the study’s findings and said judges would go on strike after Aug. 16, the day when President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is scheduled to deliver his 2013 state budget speech in front of the legislative.
“Some fellow judges initially wanted to hold a nationwide strike on the upcoming May Day, but we finally agreed to make Aug. 16 our deadline. If President Yudhoyono says nothing about improving judges’ welfare, then we will stop leading trials for an indefinite period,” Abdurrahman said.
Besides their long-standing financial constraints, Abdurrahman said many of his colleagues, especially those in remote areas, have also been subjected to psychological and physical harassment by people they have convicted and defendants’ families, since most judges live in close proximity to them but are not afforded any protection measures.
“For example I now wear shorts when visiting a local market after I met several former litigants who recognized me there,” said Abdurrahman, who works in Sambas Religious Court, West Kalimantan, citing his attempts to avoid harassment.
While improving judges’ welfare would not instantly eradicate corruption in the judiciary, failing to increase their pay would provide “a larger opportunity for corruption to worsen”, the deputy executive director of the Institute for the Assessment and Advocacy, Arsil, told The Jakarta Post.
Emerson Yuntho of the Indonesian Corruption Watch also said that once judges receive a pay increase, the Supreme Court must operate their reward and punishment assessment system more strictly to not only to ensure the quality of verdicts but also limit the possibility for corruption.
“A person commits corruption out of need or greed. Therefore, there is no guarantee that there will be no more corrupt judges if the state pays them, for example, Rp 20 million per month or more,” Emerson said.
He also questioned why judges from larger cities like Jakarta, Bandung and Surabaya did not join the recent protest.
“I’m afraid this pay-rise demand has not become an important issue for most judges in big cities, since many of them know how to welcome bribery attempts, or even extort justice seekers, without harming their position,” Emerson said.
In February, the Jakarta Corruption Court sentenced bankruptcy judge Syarifuddin Umar to four years in prison and ordered him to pay Rp 150 million in fines for accepting Rp 250 million in bribes while handling a case.
Last June, former Tangerang District Court judge Muhtadi Asnun — who acquitted graft convict Gayus H. Tambunan — was sentenced to two years in prison for receiving $40,000 in bribes from Gayus.
In August 2010, Jakarta State Administrative High Court judge Ibrahim was sentenced to six years in prison and fined Rp 200 million for receiving Rp 300 million in bribes from a palm-oil entrepreneur.
Several Greater Jakarta-based judges interviewed by the Post strongly refuted Emerson’s suspicion, saying it was pressure and threats of violence from lawyers and defendants’ families that usually put them in such difficult situations.
Basic salaries within the criminal justice system (in rupiah)
Administrative Basic Salary
rank Judges Prosecutors Police officers
IIIa 1,976,600 2,064,100 2,198,400
IIIb 2,035,900 2,151,400 2,267,200
IIIc 2,097,000 2,242,400 2,338,000
IIId 2,159,900 2,337,300 —
IVa 2,224,700 2,436,100 2,411,100
IVb 2,291,400 2,539,200 2,486,500
IVc 2,360,200 2,646,600 2,564,200
IVd 2,431,000 2,758,500 2,644,400
IVe 2,503,900 2,875,200 2,727,000
IVf — — 4,050,600
IVg — — 4,177,200
Sources: Government Regulation No. 11/2008 on Salary Regulation for General Court, State Administrative Court and Religious Court Judges; Government Regulation No. 15/2012 on Salary Regulations for Civil Servants; Government Regulation No. 17/2012 on Salary Regulations for Officers of the National Police