Dio Suhenda, Jakarta – President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has dismissed Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) chairman Firli Bahuri and appointed an interim head of the antigraft body after Firli was charged with the extortion of a former minister.
Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Jokowi said he had, the day before, signed a presidential decree releasing Firli of his responsibilities and authority as KPK chief and appointing Nawawi Pomalongo – one of Firli's four deputies – as acting head of the commission.
Asked why he had picked Nawawi, Jokowi revealed little.
"There were many considerations. While there were four choices, we had to choose only one. We can't choose all four," he said, adding that he expected the KPK would "run well" under Nawawi's leadership until a definitive chief was vetted and elected.
Prior to joining the KPK in 2019, Nawawi served as a judge on the Jakarta Corruption Court. He presided over the 2017 trial of former Constitutional Court justice Patrialis Akbar on bribery charges and sentenced him to eight years in prison.
Deputy KPK chairman Nurul Ghufron said on Sunday that Nawawi would enjoy the support of KPK personnel in the new position.
"I think everybody at the KPK will support [him] and hope that Nawawi can restore the [institution's] dignity and public support for the KPK," Nurul said.
Firli was charged on Wednesday with the extortion of former agriculture minister and NasDem Party member Syahrul Yasin Limpo, whom the KPK previously named a suspect in a separate graft investigation that some observers maintain is politically motivated.
Firli filed a pre-trial motion with the South Jakarta District Court on Friday challenging the charges. The first hearing is expected to take place on Dec. 11.
President Jokowi called on the public to respect the legal process. "[We] have to respect the legal process. As it is still ongoing, I don't want to comment further," he said.
The Firli scandal has further eroded public trust in the antigraft body. In June of this year, the KPK became embroiled in a slew of controversies regarding the conduct of its personnel, including allegations of bribe-taking and sexual harassment.
On Thursday, former KPK chief Abraham Samad and a number of ex-KPK investigators, including Novel Baswedan, shaved their heads in front of the commission's office in Jakarta, saying the gesture symbolized the KPK's need for a clean-up.
Novel was one of dozens of KPK employees who were fired in 2021 for failing a widely criticized civic knowledge test that was mandated under the 2019 KPK law as part of a procedure to change the status of KPK employees to that of civil servants.
The civics test and the ouster of employees it occasioned, as well as the 2019 law itself, were widely seen as attempts to declaw the KPK.
The KPK's leadership has been mired in controversy since Firli took charge in 2019, around the same time critics said changes to the law governing the agency had weakened it, triggering a series of "save the KPK" protests.
Praswad Nugraha of the IM57+, an antigraft watchdog group established by former KPK employees, said efforts to restore public trust in the KPK should not stop at appointing an interim head.
"We at the IM57+ believe that KPK leadership should be evaluated thoroughly because Nawawi and [two] KPK deputy chairs were involved in the ouster of 57 KPK employees [in 2021]. We doubt their integrity, just like we doubt that of Firli, until they prove otherwise," Praswad said on Sunday.
Of the four deputy chairs, only Johanis Tanak joined the KPK leadership after the controversial civics test was administered. But he has not avoided controversy.
Johanis faced criticism in July over his conduct in a graft case implicating the National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas) and two military officers.
Johanis was also summoned to an internal KPK ethics hearing in August for communicating with a person of interest in a KPK investigation into the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry. He was cleared of ethics violations in September.
"So if the President really wants to save the KPK, he should use his final year in office to initiate a new revision to the 2019 KPK law to restore the independence of the agency," Praswad said.