Jakarta – As in years past, International Anticorruption Day was observed at the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) on Thursday to celebrate the agency's role in the country's fight against graft. But this year, the KPK – and Indonesia as a whole – must reckon with profound failures on that front.
The KPK, once the vanguard of graft busting, faces a trust deficit, especially since Firli Bahuri and his deputies took the helm two years ago. A survey conducted by Indikator Politik Indonesia in November found that the KPK ranked at a record-low eighth in credibility among state institutions, behind the National Police and the Attorney General's Office (AGO) – fellow law enforcement institutions.
The commission's credibility crisis should come as no surprise, as public confidence in the KPK has been falling since 2018, according to Indikator Politik. Before the decline, the KPK typically ranked among the top two or three most trusted state institutions.
President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, who spoke at the International Anticorruption Day ceremony, implicitly highlighted the KPK's shortcomings by celebrating the AGO's role in unveiling large-scale corruption scandals involving state insurance companies PT Jiwasraya and PT Asabri, forcing the KPK to share the limelight with the AGO and the police on the anticorruption front.
It is encouraging that the police and the AGO have stepped up their antigraft efforts, but the KPK must raise its own bar even higher, given the powers at its disposal. It is only natural for the public to expect the commission to stay ahead of other law enforcement institutions in the fight against corruption.
But it is the political elites who should be held responsible for the weakening of the KPK. The mess started with the revisions to the KPK Law in 2019, which caused the commission to lose much of its independence. The KPK's issues today lend credence to the accusation that the law was amended simply to undermine the institution. In due course, the ultimate beneficiaries of the move will become apparent.
The dismissal of 57 KPK employees, including senior investigators, following their supposed failure of a "civic knowledge test" early this year shows how the KPK has been made subject to external power games, which would not have happened if it had retained its independence. Now, the National Police have moved to hire most of the dismissed employees, knowing their test results show only the absurdity of the exam and the incredibility of the current incarnation of the KPK.
Because the crux of the KPK's problem is trust, the only way it can regain public confidence is by going after the big fish. While bringing two ministers to justice was a strong start, the follow-up should be further and deeper investigations into high-level political corruption.
There is little doubt that politics corrupts. The country needs its antigraft champions back.