Indonesia’s anti corruption commission goes missing in action.

Jun 2, 2021

If you needed a blood transfusion, would you accept a donor from a different religion?  Do you believe in polygamy? Would you take part in a threesome?

These and other intimate questions are alleged to have been included in test papers used by the Indonesian civil service so employees with the Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (Corruption Eradication Commission), could be confirmed in posts they’ve held for years.

In an administrative shake-up of the nation’s most trusted anti-graft agency, 75 investigators, auditors and prosecutors had to take the ‘civics test’  to be listed as formal State employees.

Only 24 staffers passed but will have to get formal training, leaving 51 out of work.  This group includes the KPK’s best-known agent, Novel Baswedan. He was partially blinded in an acid attack in 2017 when probing reports of corruption involving the introduction of electronic ID cards and some powerful politicians.

After a prolonged investigation and the intervention of President Joko Widodo, two low-rank policemen were charged and jailed. Baswedan said they were scapegoats, not masterminds.  He’s also been saying the ‘civics test’ debacle is to ‘frighten the younger generation who are passionate about eradicating corruption.’

Amnesty International Indonesia executive director Usman Hamid claimed the test questions ‘had nothing to do with the participants’ civics knowledge, let alone their competence as KPK employees.’

In a video, Widodo said the test results should be used as ‘a step toward the betterment of the KPK, both at institutional and individual levels. They should not be used as a pretext to dismiss.’

The failed candidates aren’t going quietly. Apart from appealing to the Ombudsman and Komnas HAM (the National Commission on Human Rights), they’ve also held weird rituals outside the KPK office to purge the building of malevolent spirits.

Theirs hasn’t been the only protest.  A previously unknown group calling itself the Indonesian Student and Youth Alliance unfurled professionally-produced banners urging the KPK to sack staff who failed the test, particularly  Baswedan. He’s a cousin of Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan who is expected to be a candidate in the 2024 Presidential election.

The latest twist is to dub the 51 ‘Taliban Muslims’ as extremists rejecting Pancasila, the nation’s five-point ideology of religious devotion, humanitarianism, nationalism, consultative democracy, and social justice. The slander is a bit suspect as some of the sacked are Christians.

The KPK was established in 2002 as an independent authority in the reformation era when enthusiasm to wipe out the plague of KKN (Korupsi, Kolusi dan Nepotisme) was running high.

It followed the 1998 overthrow of the dictator Soeharto who came to power in a coup in 1965.  For the next 32 years, the president’s family allegedly embezzled US $35 million, according to Transparency International (TI), which labelled Indonesia’s second president the world’s ‘greatest-ever kleptocrat’.

Also in 1965, Singapore became independent under the late Lee Kuan Yew.  The once deeply corrupt island state now shares third place for administrative honesty alongside Switzerland, Finland and Sweden in TI’s Corruption Perception Index.  Indonesia ranks 102 among the 179 nations measured.

Soeharto died in 2008 aged 86 and was never prosecuted.  His family kept the cash. Despite his mega-thieving, Soeharto is still revered among Indonesians hankering for the abandonment of messy democracy and a return to authoritarian rule when real or imagined wrongdoers could suddenly disappear.

At first, the KPK scored big hits against individuals previously considered untouchable.  Their well-publicised open trials, convictions, fines and imprisonment were supposed to send a message to other’s tempted to plunder the public purse. However there must have been a communication breakdown.

Late last year Social Affairs Minister Juliari Batubara was named a suspect in a scam involving the distribution of Rp 12 billion (AUD 755,000) allocated to buy food parcels for the poor impacted by Covid-19. A fortnight earlier Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Edhy Prabowo was charged with graft involving licences to export lobster larvae.

Like President Widodo, Batubara is a member of the Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan (Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle) run by the nation’s powerful matriarch Megawati Soekarnoputri, daughter of founding president Soekarno.  The sacked KPK staff includes those examining the alleged Batubara thefts.

Widodo is constitutionally barred from standing again for office.  Megawati, president between 2001 and 2004, is promoting her daughter Puan Maharani, 47, for the Republic’s top job.  She is currently the Speaker in the House of Representatives.

In an earlier case, chief detective Susno Duadji who was under investigation by the KPK dismissed the agency as just a cicak (gecko) fighting a buaya (crocodile).  The imagery has been embraced by KPK supporters who see David and Goliath parallels, but this is no slingshot contest.  Heavier weapons and more subtle tactics are being used.

These have gained force since Widodo won a second five-year term in 2019. In that year former police general Firli Bahuri was appointed head of KPK.  He’s said to favour education and prevention rather than prosecution.

Legislators added extra levels of bureaucracy to the agency, particularly a ‘supervisory council’ with the power to reject plans to arrest, tap phones and search suspects.  Anti-graft groups claim this is to hamper the swift execution of warrants so suspects are alerted.

A 2020 TI report recommended: ‘To make real progress against corruption, the Indonesian government must strengthen the integrity of its institutions, ensure efficient use of public services and improve internal supervision and law enforcement, including police, prosecutors and inspectors.

‘The government must also support and protect civil society and media in their efforts to disclose corruption.’

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