Amy Chew – Indonesian anti-graft activists are protesting against plans by legislators to revise a law governing the country's Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) that critics fear will weaken the agency.
The KPK has played a crucial role in investigating corruption among Indonesia's state-owned companies, government agencies and private sector. It has consistently been voted the nation's most trusted institution over the years.
A key proposed amendment would place the KPK, which currently operates as an independent agency, under government oversight.
NGO watchdog Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) said this would curtail the KPK's power to investigate without interference from the executive.
"You need independence to investigate high-profile cases involving powerful businesspeople and political elites," ICW coordinator Adnan Topan Husodo told the South China Morning Post.
Since its establishment in 2003, the KPK has investigated more than 1,000 cases. Lawmakers were involved in 255, according to The Jakarta Globe newspaper. "Politicians see the KPK as an agency that threatens them," Adnan said.
The KPK posted a statement to its website on September 5 saying it categorically "rejects the revisions to the KPK law", which dates back to 2002.
But last week Indonesia's House of Representatives approved the changes and said it intended to pass the revisions before the current 2014-2019 parliament disbanded on September 30.
A letter from the house on the issue has reached the desk of President Joko Widodo, who now has 60 days to decide whether to sign the proposals into law, according to local press reports.
Adnan said all political factions in the house had "agreed to the proposed changes without exception".
"The country's political elites, from all the different political parties, whether from a religious or nationalist party, are all the same," Adnan said.
"They do not care about the public or national interest. Their basic interest is material, whether it is to do with economic resources or political resources."
According to former environment minister Sarwono Kusumaatmadja – who earned the nickname Mr Clean for his modest lifestyle in a country where many officials are known for their extravagance – the legal revisions were proposed with several different agendas in mind.
"Some MPs want to dilute the KPK's authority while some want to strengthen it," Sarwono told the Post.
Civil rights and anti-corruption activists have called on Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, to "save the KPK", but Sarwono said it was not clear which way the president would lean. "He remains enigmatic on the KPK," Sarwono said.
The Jakarta Globe reported that during a recent visit to West Kalimantan, Widodo said he had not yet read documents outlining the proposals. "From what I've seen, the KPK is doing a good job," he was quoted as saying.
Among the contentious changes is a proposal to restrict the KPK's freedom to conduct wiretapping operations by establishing a supervisory board.
ICW said wiretapping had helped the KPK build evidence against corrupt officials and apprehend many red-handed. The NGO said it was often difficult to obtain evidence in corruption cases and wiretapping was a crucial method.
"Catching a suspect red-handed is important in helping build up a legal case against perpetrators so they can be prosecuted," Adnan said. "The proposed supervisory board could reject the KPK's requests for a wiretap."
The changes also stipulate that KPK investigators should only be drawn from the ranks of the civil service, and not the private sector or civil society. ICW said this would impinge on the agency's independence further.
The Jakarta Post in an editorial on Tuesday said the fact that politicians were "poised to speed up the revisions" should raise questions about their motives.
"Many fear that lawmakers will endanger, if not kill outright, the anti-corruption drive. President Jokowi could precipitate the withering away of the KPK if he approves the deliberation of the bill," the newspaper said.
"Hopes, however slim, abound that Jokowi will bow to public demands to rescue the KPK from its peril, as he did in the past. We need more voices to make him respond accordingly."