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Jakarta Post

Supreme Court seeks to eliminate disparities in graft sentences

  • Galih Gumelar

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Wed, April 29, 2020   /   08:22 am
Supreme Court seeks to eliminate disparities in graft sentences Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) deputy chairman Alexander Marwata (center) speaks during a press briefing on the arrest of Aries HB, the speaker of Muara Enim Regional Council in South Sumatra and the regency's Public Works and Housing Agency acting head Ramlan Suryadi at the KPK headquarters in Jakarta on April 27. (Courtesy of/KPK)

A perceived inconsistency in the sentencing of graft convicts has put pressure on the Supreme Court to draft a set of guidelines for judges to follow, as antigraft experts call for a clearer sentencing policy for the nation’s corruption courts.

Graft sentences can vary wildly in Indonesia, a country steeped in corrupt practices in both the public and private spheres, where access to power and resources can often affect the outcomes of proceedings in court, in prison and long after sentencing.

Most recently, a study by Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) found that corruption court judges hand out varying degrees of punishment to graft convicts in different cases who are culpable of the same or similar charges, without providing any reasonable explanation.

“I’m still baffled as to why each graft defendant receives a different sentence,” ICW researcher Kurnia Ramadhana said recently.

“It only reaffirms the longtime public assumption that justice isn’t always blind to those with more power and resources in this country.”

Read also: Weakened KPK may face hurdles in probing social aid graft: Activists

As a fix, the antigraft watchdog urged the Supreme Court to draft a set of guidelines for use by corruption court judges, which Kurnia said was required to restore public faith in judges’ determination to combat corruption. Otherwise, the public would assume that the principle of fair trial was not being heeded in the courts.

“The Supreme Court needs to draft sentencing guidelines so [...] that the quality of the Indonesian justice system will eventually improve,” he said.

While the nation has strengthened its antigraft response since the founding of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) 18 years ago, pushback from political power brokers and conflicts of interest have stymied much of the movement’s progress in recent years.

Indonesia currently sits middle of the table at 85th place out of 180 nations surveyed in Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perception Index.

Read also: 2019: A grim year for antigraft fight

Kurnia said his suggestion was based on an ICW study released on April 22, which found that judges across Indonesia meted out an average two-year-and-seven-month prison term for graft convicts last year, a slight increase from 2018’s figures.

More disconcerting, however, is how the study recorded several cases of judges doling out different sentences in different court cases, even though the defendants often faced the same charges.

In July last year, for instance, judges at Makassar Corruption Court in South Sulawesi handed former Bategulung village head Muh. Said a 2.5-year prison term for embezzling Rp 542 million (US$36,133) in village funds from 2015 until 2018.

In misusing state funds for personal gain, the judges found Said guilty of violating Article 2 of the 2001 Corruption Law.

In a separate case, judges in Banjarmasin Corruption Court in South Kalimantan found former Hambuku village head Datmi guilty of embezzling Rp 43 million in village funds intended to finance the construction of a bridge.

The judges handed him a harsher four-year prison sentence, even though he was found guilty of the same charges as Said.

Read also: Activists warn of potential graft as govt sets aside billions for COVID-19 relief

The disparity in graft convictions did not just occur last year.

Most notably, former adjutant to the head of the East Java Agriculture Agency, Anang Basuki, got off lightly with an 18-month prison term in 2017 in a bribery case that saw him violate Article 5 of the Corruption Law.

In another bribery case that went to trial a year earlier, Kasman Sangaji, a former lawyer to Dangdut singer Saipul Jamil, was given five years in prison despite facing similar charges to Anang.

“This has led us to believe that every judge has a different way of interpreting graft cases that fall under the same articles in the Corruption Law, simply because there is no guideline to determine how punishments are meted out,” Kurnia said.

Read also: KPK wants death for corruption convicts during COVID-19 outbreak

While defending the judge’s prerogative in determining a sentence, a member of the University of Indonesia’s Judicial Watch Society (MaPPI) agreed that a set of guidelines would help the arbiters of justice determine the right sentence for graft defendants.

The group itself has been assisting the Supreme Court with setting up such guidelines since 2018.

MaPPI researcher Adery Ardhan said on Saturday that the public expected judges to be able to explain their considerations in handing down sentences or otherwise face accusations of unfairness.

“The guidelines can also preserve their credibility too, because once defendants raise doubts about their sentences, judges can use the guidelines to defend their rulings,” Adery told The Jakarta Post.

Supreme Court spokesman Andi Samsan Nganro acknowledged that there were concerns about the disparity in graft convictions, and said the court had already started drafting the necessary guidelines.

The guidelines, expected to be completed this year, will set out a list of conditions whereby judges can make sentences more or less severe, and is expected to include a mechanism to determine how a defendant’s role in a case affects the final verdict.

Read also: KPK terminates 36 investigations amid declining public trust

“We established a working group earlier this year to draft the guidelines. We hope we can finish them immediately as they are currently being finalized,” Andi said.

Separately, KPK spokesman Ali Fikri also expressed hope that the court would immediately issue the desired guidelines, noting that the commission had also been involved in the drafting process.