Jakarta – For years, the media and antigraft activists have been writing obituaries for the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). In fact, this very newspaper has prophesied the "endgame" of the institution, its "demise" and that its "luck may have run out".
But only this year can we say with some measure of certainty that those words were not hyperbole, that they do indeed reflect the malaise permeating the once powerful antigraft body.
The word "endgame" is certainly fitting to describe the episode two weeks ago in which National Police chief Gen. Listyo Sigit Prabowo inaugurated the 44 dismissed KPK investigators, including Novel Baswedan, as civil servants on the police force.
KPK watchers are already aware that the 44 sacked investigators were, in fact, the backbone of the commission and were responsible for many of its highest-profile arrests – from a House of Representatives speaker to government ministers.
Their absence was certainly felt this year as the antigraft body managed only to tackle smaller-scale corruption cases. Barely a single major corruption case was handled by the KPK this year.
Instead, the commission made the unprecedented move of issuing an order to halt an investigation. And as an indication of the KPK's diminished – or artificially constrained – ambitions, it was the graft body's biggest case, an investigation into the Bank Indonesia liquidity support program, that was axed.
"To be fair, this year, the KPK had its worst record in handling corruption cases. In fact, the Attorney General's Office [AGO] performed better, handling corruption cases involving Jiwasraya and Asabri that involved trillions of rupiah in state losses," said antigraft activist Zaenur Rohman of the Gadjah Mada University Center for Anticorruption Studies.
Things are really dire if the AGO, an agency not known for its integrity or good performance, outdid the KPK.
To add insult to injury, in early December, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo asked the KPK, in effect, to stand down.
"Corruption eradication should not only mean an arrest being made. Preventing corruption is more fundamental," Jokowi said in a speech commemorating International Anticorruption Day on Dec. 9.Before its dark denouement, the KPK was lauded for its courage. It dared to arrest high-ranking government officials accused of corruption, and the tough enforcement had a perceptible deterrent effect in government.
The numerous high-profile arrests were not an indication of failure but a reflection of the pervasiveness of graft in our society. If, as Jokowi asserts, aggressive enforcement is not the right path, how exactly would prevention work?
Apparently, the KPK chairman knows the answer. If you've driven on Jl. Sudirman in recent days, you have likely seen a jumbotron broadcasting a message from Firli kindly reminding you not to engage in corruption.
Sadly enough, this facile display is now the face of our nation's antigraft campaign.