Mixed Results for Corruption Fight in Indonesia

By Murray Hiebert

Corruption and the KPK remain a controversial issue in Indonesia. Source: ivanatman’s flickr photostream, used under a creative commons license.

Transparency International gave Indonesia another poor grade on December 1 in the country’s ongoing battle against corruption. Indonesia scored 3 out of a possible 10 (the cleanest score) in Transparency’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), a slight improvement from 2.8 last year. It also ranked 100 (an improvement from 110 last year) among the 183 countries surveyed. The results highlighted a widespread perception in Indonesia that the government is not doing enough in its efforts to tackle corruption.

Several ASEAN countries scored lower than Indonesia on the CPI, which is closely watched by foreign investors, economists, and civil society groups.  Vietnam got a score of 2.9 (out of 10), just below that of Indonesia, while the Philippines came in at 2.6, despite the campaign mounted by President Benigno Aquino to tackle corruption. Singapore got the best score in the region with 9.2.

The day after the CPI was released, the Indonesian parliament revamped the country’s Corruption Eradication Commission, popularly known as the KPK for its Indonesian initials, but the new lineup got mixed reviews. Busyro Muqoddas was removed as head of the KPK, apparently because he was an outspoken critic of corruption and courageous in his pursuit of corrupt officials, but he kept his seat on the commission. He was replaced as head of the KPK by a relatively unknown lawyer, Abraham Samat.

Although the outgoing anticorruption czar will be joined on the commission by Bambang Widjojanto, a lawyer, civil society activist, and anticorruption campaigner, analysts widely expect that the reconstituted KPK will not take a very activist role in tackling corruption during the remaining years of the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono administration.

The election of Samat surprised many observers because he met parliamentarians for the first time during his vetting process in the days just prior to the voting.  He criticized Muqoddas for having been too outspoken in public and said that his own strategy would focus on enhancing the witness protection program, improving coordination with other law enforcement bodies, and promoting corruption prevention. Analysts were surprised that he didn’t stress prosecution of corrupt officials and businessmen.

How seriously the new KPK takes its work may become clear in the months ahead as it handles several ongoing cases. One case being watched is the investigation of a former official at the state-owned Pertamina energy company for allegedly accepting bribes for a fuel additive contract with a British firm in 2005. The commission began reviewing the case on November 30. The other case that will be watched is that of the collapse of a bridge in East Kalimantan that killed up to 39 people on November 24. The construction of bridge parts and its maintenance were handled by firms linked to two senior Golkar party leaders.

Since being established eight years ago, the KPK has received more than 50,000 complaints about corruption. It has investigated and prosecuted nearly 70 parliamentarians, more than 10 cabinet ministers, and other high-ranking officials, judges, and businessmen who colluded in the awarding of state contracts and business deals.

Fighting corruption was a key plank of Yudhoyono’s election campaign in 2009 after the previous KPK had succeeded in getting a number of senior officials and businessmen sentenced to prison terms. But that fight has slowed in recent years. A Gallup poll in October found that 91 percent of Indonesians felt that corruption in the Indonesian government was widespread, up from 84 percent in a similar poll in 2006.

Observers give Indonesia high marks for its successful transition to democracy, decentralization of political power, and vibrant free press and civil society, but they complain that the move to free elections has done little to rein in corruption. Foreign companies report that they often face unexplained fees to obtain licenses and permits and get requests for kickbacks when they seek contracts. Some say that they face requests for bribes when they turn to the courts to resolve disputes with local partners.

None of the candidates touted for Indonesia’s presidential race in 2014 have cited fighting corruption as a priority. Given the public’s rising discontent, this will need to change. Corruption now dominates political discourse among the populace and in the media. It is seen as the greatest barrier to consolidating Indonesian democracy and improving governance, and voters will no doubt want whoever they elect as their next president to address it.

Murray Hiebert is a Senior Fellow and Deputy Director of the Southeast Asia Program at CSIS.

Murray Hiebert

Murray Hiebert

Murray Hiebert serves as senior adviser and deputy director of the Southeast Asia Program at CSIS.


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