Fight against corruption in Indonesia stalled by lack of judges

INDONESIA - The fight against corruption has come up against yet another hurdle with the Supreme Court admitting it struggles to recruit quality judges for corruption cases.

The court announced on Friday that only one out of 40 candidates for the fifth batch of ad hoc antigraft judges passed the selection test, making the court's own target for antigraft judge recruitment seem somewhat unattainable.

The Supreme Court aims to have 244 ad hoc judges for 33 lower and 30 high courts nationwide in 2014. Last year, even after the Supreme Court extended the process, only 4 out of 53 candidates were selected to fill the lower and high court posts. Eighty-four ad hoc corruption judges were selected in July 2011, 82 in November 2010 and 23 in February 2010, making a total of 193.

"It is hard to find judges in Indonesia, whether ad hoc judges, career judges or justices," Supreme Court spokesman Ridwan Mansyur said on Friday.

"We cannot do anything but employ the existing ad hoc judges. And they must work harder as there are plenty of graft cases [...] we have included professional and public representatives on the selection panel [but] the panel could only manage to find one judge," he said.

The Supreme Court invited several people to sit on the 10-member panel, including Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) deputy head Bambang Widjojanto.

The panel also asked for input from the Judicial Commission and a coalition of NGOs - consisting of Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW), the Indonesian Legal Roundtable (ILR) and the Indonesian Judicial Watch Society (MAPPI) at the University of Indonesia.

In their recommendation, the Judicial Commission urged the Supreme Court and the selection panel to scrutinize 30 out of 40 names, or 75 per cent, for accepting bribes or gratuities, misusing their authority, adultery or unethical acts. The coalition found 18 names, or 45 per cent of the selected, to have questionable integrity.

They found that seven candidates were affiliated with political parties, including newly selected judge, Timbul Priyadi; four had represented graft defendants or had their names mentioned in corruption indictments or dossiers; five candidates did have the required 15 years of legal experience as stipulated in the Corruption Tribunal Law; and two candidates had questionable degrees.

Former lawyer Timbul, 41, from Lampung, will sit as an appellate ad hoc judge at Tanjung Karang High Court. Timbul was once affiliated with NasDem, serving as the head of its legal advocacy body.

The activists have even called for a postponement of the selection process until the government conducted a thorough evaluation of the graft tribunal system.

At least five ad hoc judges have been implicated in graft. They are Setyabudi Tejocahyono, Kartini Marpaung and Heru Kisbandono, who are now serving jail sentences, while Pragsono and Asmadinata, are facing jail time after the KPK named them suspects.

The ICW recorded that as of Aug. 20, at least 89 graft defendants prosecuted by the KPK or local prosecutor's offices had been acquitted by corruption tribunals across the country since the enactment of the 2009 Corruption Court Law. The law gives the Supreme Court a two-year deadline to establish local graft tribunals - in addition to the Jakarta hearing - to try graft cases.

Despite Timbul's political background, Judicial Commission head Suparman Marzuki, who previously urged the panel to not pass the 30 candidates, said he appreciated the move.

"It is the right decision and matches with what we want. It's very dangerous to have people with doubtful integrity and skills to preside over corruption cases. It will only add to the problems."