Power struggle hits Indonesian anti-graft agency

Power struggle hits Indonesian anti-graft agency
Workers display placards reading 'save KPK (Corruption Eradication Commission)' during a rally in Jakarta on February 6, 2015 as they protest against Indonesian President Joko Widodo's decision of putting forward Budi Gunawan, a three-star police general, as his sole pick for police chief.

It is an immense mandate for a single agency to take on Indonesia's police, the military, powerful government officials and equally powerful tycoons to weed out endemic corruption.

But with single-minded determination, Indonesia's anti-corruption commission, called KPK locally, has battled graft at all levels for a decade, becoming one of the most respected institutions in the country and regarded by many Indonesians as a champion of the people.

But the KPK has earned itself powerful enemies, with its respected commissioners sent bullets in the mail and receiving death threats over the phone. The agency's biggest battles have been with the police.

Yesterday's decision by a Jakarta court to reject the KPK's move to name national police chief candidate Budi Gunawan a suspect in a graft case is part of a bitter power struggle that has badly hurt the agency.

The KPK had been investigating General Budi for some time over suspicious payments into his bank accounts when he headed the police's career development bureau from 2004 to 2006. But the KPK quickly upgraded his status to suspect when Indonesian President Joko Widodo named him as the sole candidate for national police chief.

In retaliation, the police announced investigations into all four KPK commissioners, including its chief Abraham Samad.

The KPK is likely to appeal against yesterday's court decision, risking an escalation in its battle against the police.

The KPK, though, is not known for backing down from a fight and has overcome past attempts by the police to intimidate it.

In the decade since its creation in 2002, the agency has achieved a 100 per cent conviction rate, put 400 people behind bars and returned US$80 million (S$108 million) to the state treasury. But many believe it has barely scratched the surface.

Indonesia ranked 107 out of 175 countries in the Corruption Perceptions Index last year, improving from 114 in 2013.

The anti-graft agency has high public support, much more than the police do. But what it needs is more political support, more staff and more funding, former KPK officials said. It has about 500 staff, with some investigators seconded from the police.

Crucially, it needs more internal discipline.

Mr Abraham's style has ruffled feathers and he has been seen as arrogant. His own political ambitions have put the KPK in peril.

Politicians from the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party - Struggle told a recent senate inquiry that the KPK chief met senior party officials last year to pitch himself as a running mate to Mr Joko, who was then running for president. It was an ethics violation.

Nonetheless, it is hard to deny the KPK's success.

"I have a high regard for the KPK," said Mr Tony Kwok, formerly with the Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), who was in Jakarta recently.

"It has demonstrated independence, integrity and determination in tackling big cases without fear. But the issue is whether it has sufficient political support," said Mr Kwok, whose ICAC cleaned up Hong Kong's graft-ridden environment.

He also questioned the power of Indonesia's police force.

"How is it that the police can do all these (charging all commissioners) without a check on possible abuse of power?"

The KPK's plight has earned it public support.

For the past month since the dispute over Gen Budi erupted, Indonesians have carried "Save KPK" slogans and taken turns keeping vigil at the KPK building in Central Jakarta.

"It is a symbol of our post- Reformasi or democratic era. We will not let it die," said KPK supporter Elis Hart at the building.

Some saw the chance of things changing for the better.

"It is the blessing of this crisis that we need to reflect seriously on how we can improve the KPK and political backing to fight corruption," said former KPK deputy commissioner Erry Riyana Hardjapamekas.

High regard

I have a high regard for the KPK. It has demonstrated independence, integrity and determination in tackling big cases without fear. But the issue is whether it has sufficient political support.

- Mr Tony Kwok, formerly with the Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption

This article was first published on Feb 17, 2015.
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