It has been more than a decade since the Reform era began, yet we still wonder why corruption has been so difficult to eradicate. In fact, corruption has become a chronic illness that has been difficult to treat, even with so many methods available to us.
We have tried almost every theory and practice used by other nations that have succeeded in reducing corruption. Apparently, corruption in Indonesia has been more stubborn, and has systematically spread to become endemic.
Many NGOs have been established as independent institutions to monitor official corruption. The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) has been established in view the failure of the National Police and the Attorney General’s Office to adequately fight corruption. More and more corruptors have been dragged into court. The 2001 revision to the Corruption Law has lead to heavier sentences, some as great as 10 years’ imprisonment, for the guilty. However, in reality, corruption is unlikely to subside.
Some say our legal system has not been strict enough or “vicious” enough in punishing the guilty. Many state that the death penalty must be levied on those convicted of corruption to create a deterrent effect. Some blame the government, while others say that courts have been less serious about eradicating corruption and law enforcers.
As Acton famously said in the 19th century, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” — which suited the conditions in Europe at a time when it was transitioning from absolute monarchies to democratic states.
However, in the 21st century, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi said it bluntly and reasonably: “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it, and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.” Fear of losing power causes people in power to do everything they can to hold onto control of the government so that they can preserve power to reach their objectives.
This can be seen today in Indonesia, where politicians engage in “money politics” to preserve their power to winning general and regional elections. Almost all political parties gather funds in violation of election law.
From past experience, campaign fund-raising in presidential, gubernatorial and regency elections has been less than transparent and in violation of the law. Abuse of power, vote-rigging and misuse of the state or regional budget in elections has been rampant. Abuse of power includes misuse of state facilities, and this can happen because it is difficult to distinguish, for example, whether an official who also serves as a leader of a political party, is traveling outside his home region in his capacity as a state official or a party leader.
A desire to win election can create a conflict of interest for politicians who must serve party and the public, which eventually encourages corruption.
Over the last decade, a number of lawmakers, officials and chief executives have been prosecuted and convicted by the Corruption Court. However, this has failed to create a sufficient deterrent effect; it is unlikely that the corrupt now fear conviction. It continues, even though ministers, governors, mayors, judges, prosecutors, police officers, tax officers and lawmakers have been sent to prison.
What should now be studied is how to confiscate the assets of corruptors to repay the state for embezzled money and stolen assets. Such measures including seizing money from bank accounts and confiscating the houses, land and wealth of corruptors.
Prison sentences alone cannot make those convicted of corruption learn their lesson. Without effective deterrent, there will be a tendency for the corrupt to repeat their wrongdoing in the future. A legal breakthrough must be made to impoverish corruptors. Wealth from corruption must be taken and returned entirely to the state.
Meanwhile, as a further preventive measure, the supervision of state and regional budgets must be tightened by separating awarding procurement from issuing payments. A system of supervision and separation must also be applied to legislative councils and judicial institutions. Periodic audits should be done of all expenses and purchases of goods and services as an ultimate financial control.
In addition, the Supreme Audit Agency (BPK), as the institution that manages state finances, must be empowered. The same goes for the Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (PPATK) and other institutions that are directly or indirectly related to corruption prevention efforts. This must be done to limit the opportunity of the corrupt. Let’s hope that in the future, with a system of tight supervision and periodic oversight of officials, power will no longer associated with acts of corruption.
The writer is a member of the National Law Commission (KHN) and the chairman of the Indonesian Advocates Association (PERADIN).