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Jakarta Post

Explainer: How the KPK is losing public trust

  • Moch. Fiqih Prawira Adjie

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sun, October 11, 2020   /   08:53 pm
Explainer: How the KPK is losing public trust Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) chairman Firli Bahuri greets journalists before giving a press conference on a graft case pertaining to an allegedly fictitious project by state-owned construction firm PT Waskita Karya at the KPK headquarters in Jakarta on July 23. (Antara/M. Risyal Hidayat)

Since its establishment in 2003 in the wake of the 1998 reform movement, the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) has spearheaded Indonesia's long battle against corruption.

But now, the KPK is losing public trust as criticism abounds over its new and controversial leaders and a restrictive new anticorruption law.

Mediocre performance after new law was passed

In September of last year, the House of Representatives and the government passed a revision to the KPK Law, ignoring widespread opposition from the public. Many feared the amendment would quietly declaw the antigraft agency.

Activists pointed to a number of problematic provisions, particularly an added layer of bureaucracy in graft investigations through the formation of a KPK supervisory council, which has the power to approve or reject arrests, searches and wiretapping of people of interest. Previously, KPK investigators needed only the approval of the commission’s five leaders.

Now, a year later, the concerns appear justified. Experts say the added bureaucracy is one of the main reasons behind the KPK’s mediocre performance, coupled with its controversial new leadership under Firli Bahuri.

The KPK has recorded two successful sting operations since its new leadership took over at the beginning of this year, a decline from the eight operations the commission’s previous leader, Agus Rahardjo, completed only six months into his tenure in 2016.

“Under the new law, the KPK has to go through a very long ordeal to start operations to search or arrest people of interest," said Zaenur Rochman, a researcher at the Gadjah Mada University Center for Anticorruption Studies (Pukat UGM).

Read also: Which KPK leader has caught more suspects in their early days?

In one notable example, the KPK’s attempt to search the headquarters of the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) in January was reportedly delayed because of a pending search warrant from the supervisory board.

Swift but accountable action, said Zaenur, was the key to dealing with extraordinary white-collar crime, just as it was facilitated in the previous law.

Concerns about independence also come from within

The new law’s requirement that all KPK employees – including forensic auditors, investigators and prosecutors – be civil servants has left many employees worried about potential conflicts of interest when handling cases related to the government, as well as reduced independence overall.

Recently, Febri Diansyah announced he would quit his job as the KPK’s public relations head, citing "changes in the KPK's political and legal spheres" over the past 11 months as the reason for his departure – presumably referring to the changes introduced by the revisions to the KPK Law.

Febri joins 31 other employees who tendered their resignations between January and September. Febri, a KPK spokesman for five years, until December 2019, was described as an important asset for the agency by former commissioner Laode M. Syarif.

“Changing the status of KPK employees to civil servants is like putting them on a leash and undermining their morality,” Zaenur of Pukat UGM said.

Controversial leadership

Following the passage of the contentious law last year, the House selected five new KPK leaders and placed Firli, an active police general, at the commission’s helm.

He is now at the center of most public criticism of the KPK.

Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) has noted that Firli visited other state institutions without the presence of KPK colleagues at least 17 times between January and February despite calls for the KPK to maintain its independence.

Last month, the supervisory council found him guilty of an ethics violation for displaying a “hedonistic lifestyle” by taking a private helicopter for a personal trip in June.

“[Under Firli], it's clear that the KPK’s performance has dropped dramatically, and we also often see KPK controversies of late,” ICW’s Kurnia Ramadhana said.

A shift in strategy

After assuming his position, Firli announced plans to focus more on graft prevention than on law enforcement.

But the KPK has yet to introduce new programs in its prevention campaign. Firli has opted instead to continue past initiatives, such as assessing the policies of government institutions, finding loopholes for corruption in their systems and recommending quick fixes, as well as conducting antigraft campaigns in schools.

Read also: KPK shows ‘lack of willingness’ to fight corruption in natural resources sector: Activists

Activists said Firli lacked focus in cracking down on corruption in strategic sectors such as natural resources – which is typically responsible for the lion’s share of state losses due to corruption – and politics.

Wawan Heru Suyatmiko from Transparency International Indonesia pointed to the KPK's lack of progress in investigating major graft cases of the past, such as the Bank Indonesia Liquidity Support (BLBI) bailout case.

Keeping the spirit alive

Amid a restrictive law and a string of KPK controversies, Wawan has pinned his hopes on civil society groups and the public to advocate for the anticorruption enforcement they have been fighting for since the reform movement in 1998.

Read also: 75 years on, Indonesia grapples with entrenched corruption

“Looking at the development of the KPK today, we must begin to realign the spirit of the antigraft movement,” he said. “If the KPK weakens, it means that members of society – and their enthusiasm to root out corruption – must prevail.”

In a press conference last week, KPK commissioner Alexander Marwata addressed some of the concerns of critics, saying that the change of employment status would not affect the commission’s independence. “We will keep our spirit of corruption eradication alive – both in terms of prosecution and prevention,” he said.