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Presidential candidates' plans can't tackle Indonesia's deep-seated corruption: Experts

Straits Times - January 20, 2024

Linda Yulisman, Jakarta – Indonesia's presidential candidates have outlined their plans to tackle corruption, but activists and analysts say these campaign trail promises ahead of the Feb 14 polls are ineffective to root out deep-seated graft.

The three presidential candidates – former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan, Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto and former Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo – proposed their ideas on Jan 17 at an event hosted by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).

These ranged from raising salaries of public officials, revising laws to restore the KPK's powers, and adopting digitalisation for financial transactions.

However, analysts pointed out that the candidates failed to address political corruption, which they say is endemic in Indonesia.

Transparency International Indonesia researcher Alvin Nicola said political corruption, especially relating to how political parties are governed and financed, is the biggest issue that remains unresolved.

"Political financing has been ignored, even though it serves as an entry point that can determine how far policies can benefit the public as largely as possible," he said.

He added: "Unfortunately, the candidates do not seem to take the issue of the conflicts of interests seriously, and give assurance to the public that the campaign funding from donations will not affect them when elected, such as when deciding on who will fill the Cabinet or when issuing policies."

Mr Adnan Topan Husodo, director of Banten-based think-tank Anti-Corruption Lab, said political corruption, together with corruption in the judicial system, remain the most common forms of graft in the country.

"Politics in Indonesia is expensive, complex and opaque... But no presidential candidate has proposed reforms in the political field," he said.

Reforms, he added, should include making political and campaign funding transparent and accountable.

Indonesia fares poorly on corruption rankings, sliding four spots to rank 110th of the 180 countries surveyed by Transparency International in 2022. Neighbours Singapore and Malaysia ranked as the fifth and 61st least corrupt countries respectively in the same survey.

Between 2018 and 2023, a total of six ministers and one deputy minister in the Cabinet led by President Joko Widodo were jailed for or charged with graft. Meanwhile, in November 2023, KPK chairman Firli Bahuri was accused of extorting money from Mr Syahrul Yasin Limpo, former agriculture minister and politician from the NasDem party, who had been arrested earlier for corruption.

Anti-graft activists and experts say Indonesia's fight against corruption has regressed in the past few years, largely because the amendment of its anti-corruption law in 2019 eroded the KPK's powers. This was seen as a systematic effort to weaken the agency, which had stepped on too many corrupt officials' toes.

These changes included establishing a supervisory council that decides on the agency's wiretapping, searches and arrests. KPK employees, including investigators and prosecutors handling important cases, were treated as civil servants who could be conveniently reassigned to other agencies to obstruct justice, critics have said.

Mr Adnan said the first condition before carrying out reforms in other sectors is to strengthen the anti-corruption agency and ensure its independence.

"If the KPK is not independent, it will not be brave enough to tackle political corruption cases," he said.

He added that key reforms in the judicial system can be done to limit the discretion of law enforcers by establishing a check and balance mechanism and strengthening control over them by an independent body.

Both Mr Anies and Mr Ganjar mentioned the KPK's dwindling authority at the Jan 17 event.

"We want to restore the KPK's legal authority, and this means revising the KPK law. With the revision, we want to return it to its strong position again," Mr Anies said.

Mr Ganjar also called for the return of the "full authority" to the graft buster to ensure its independence.

Front runner Prabowo proposed improving the welfare of high-ranking officials, such as judges, ministers and military commanders, to disincentivise graft.

"We need to enhance the quality of life and increase the salary of all state officials," Mr Prabowo said. "We are capable (of doing that). I have made a calculation with my expert team. Indonesia is a rich, not a poor, nation."

A salary hike, in Mr Adnan's view, would be effective to address petty corruption among low-ranking officials, but not systemic graft. "Grand corruption and political corruption won't be solved by a pay rise," he said.

He cited the case of tax official Rafael Alun Trisambodo, who was on Jan 8 sentenced to 14 years' jail for money laundering and accepting gratuities totalling 57 billion rupiah (S$4.9 million). Rafael's monthly take-home salary was around 75 million rupiah – high by Indonesia's standards.

Dr Zainal Arifin Mochtar, a law expert from Yogyakarta-based Gadjah Mada University, said: "Raising salaries can only address corruption by need and cannot tackle corruption by greed."

Enhancing the KPK, the attorney and the police, not only institutionally but also in terms of coordination and work mechanisms, will be necessary to improve Indonesia's efforts to combat corruption and address its dwindling corruption perception index, he added.

He said the country would also need a "clear roadmap" to tackle corruption.

Source: https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/presidential-candidates-plans-can-t-tackle-indonesia-s-deep-seated-corruption-expert