Don’t Blunt the Spearhead: Why the Proposed Revision of Indonesia’s KPK Law is a Bad Idea

Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi, or “KPK”) was established in the hope that an independent anti-graft agency would effectively and fearlessly combat endemic corruption in Indonesia. True to its purposes, the KPK, in collaboration with other actors, has become one of Indonesia’s few anticorruption success stories. Since its establishment in 2003, the KPK has successfully charged 82 legislators in the parliament for corruption—a remarkable achievement in a country that has been known for the impunity of its political elite. After the appointment of its newest team of commissioners in 2015, the KPK has furthered its success in catching corrupt public officials, one of which was again a member of Indonesia’s House of Representatives (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat, or “DPR”). It is safe to say that the KPK can indeed be deemed the “spearhead” of Indonesia’s corruption eradication efforts.

Yet, as an Indonesian proverb has it, “The taller the tree stands, the stronger the wind blows”: Attempts to weaken the KPK have grown in direct proportion to the agency’s success in bringing cases against powerful individuals and institutions. One example of this is the ongoing “Gecko v. Crocodile” struggle between the KPK (the small “gecko” with limited resources and young age) and the Indonesian National Police Force (the fierce “crocodile” with abundant power and resources), in which every time the KPK brings corruption charges against members of the Police Force, their members retaliate with criminal charges or harassment against members of the KPK. More recently, and more troublingly, members of the national parliament are now also trying to do what they can to undermine the KPK: Six out of the ten member parties in the DPR have proposed a revision of the current KPK Law–despite protests from the remaining political parties, NGOs, academics, and even the general public. Those opposed to this amendment argue (correctly) that there is no article in the revision that would increase the performance of the KPK, but instead all of the proposed revisions would undermine the KPK’s power and independence. Despite being packaged as a set of procedural improvements, the revision seeks to render KPK impotent – a strategy both subtler and likely more effective than the ham-handed tactics of the police in the “Gecko v. Crocodile” conflict.

The proposed law includes four main points of revision that proponents claim will improve the KPK’s performance. In fact, all four pose threats to the KPK’s independence and effectiveness:

  • First, the proposal would create an additional Supervisory Board, as part of the KPK’s organizational structure, to ensure the KPK chief carries out his or her duties properly. This additional supervisory body, however, would be redundant, given the KPK’s existing (and effective) Advisory Board and Deputy of Internal Supervision. The Supervisory Board—which, notably, would be staffed by members appointed by the President—constitutes an intervention by the executive body in the supposedly independent KPK.
  • Second, the revision would require the KPK to seek permission from the aforementioned Supervisory Board to conduct wiretaps. Such a requirement would not only significantly increase the time it takes to authorize a wiretap (given the lengthy bureaucratic process typical in Indonesian agencies), but, even more seriously, it would also pose the risk that a wiretapping plan is leaked to a potential target. It is not uncommon in Indonesia, especially in the context of police raids, that targets manage to dodge responsibilities and flee due to leaked information.
  • Third, the proposed legislation would give the KPK the authority to issue a Termination Letter to stop its ongoing investigations. Under Indonesian law, once a criminal investigation has been opened, in can only be terminated prior to bringing charges by the issuance of a Termination Letter (which is to be issued only if the investigator finds there is a lack of evidence to convict). The KPK currently lacks the authority to issue Termination Letters; that power rests with the police or prosecution offices. It might at first seem counter-intuitive that the KPK benefits from its absence of authority to terminate investigations. But in fact, because it lacks such power, the KPK is forced to work extremely carefully before formally opening an investigation into a potentially corrupt official, conducting due diligence to ensure the rights of the suspect, and consequently maintaining an excellent overall conviction record. (In the few cases when the KPK has been compelled to terminate its investigation, the KPK has always been able to either ask for a Court Decision Letter or submit a request for termination to the Prosecution Office.) A new power to terminate a case will only cause the KPK to be less cautious in opening investigations. Worse, this power brings with it the risk that investigation targets seek to offer bribes to KPK officials in exchange for Termination Letters—a risk that currently doesn’t exist due to the KPK’s lack of the power to unilaterally terminate investigations.
  • Fourth, the proposed legislation maintains the KPK’s power to choose its own investigators. Sounds like great news for the KPK, right? Not so much, because the proposed legislation now specifies that the candidates for such posts must be either members of, or recommended by, the police or prosecution offices, instead of being carefully chosen from KPK’s own pool of competent members. So the freedom to choose investigators is illusory; the reform actually gives the police and prosecutors more power to influence the KPK. It is Gecko v. Crocodile all over again, but this time, the presence of the police force is to be slowly implanted within the KPK’s body.

The proposed revision of Indonesia’s KPK Law would weaken the agency, undermine its independence, and pose hindrances to many of its initiatives. It is also worth considering the fact that the proposed reform was initiated by members of the DPR, the legislative body whose members have been charged consistently by the KPK for their corrupt behavior.

Moreover, the revision was proposed in a sudden rush with an obvious lack of transparency. The draft of the proposed revision is not even available for the public to see. As there were so many attempts to revise the KPK Law in the past, an absence of such a draft stirs confusion among the public regarding what the proposed revision actually contains. On top of that, the public also has no access to the Academic Script, a document containing thorough rationales behind any proposed legislation in Indonesia.

The fate of the proposed revision will be determined in the upcoming DPR General Meeting. Meanwhile, various campaigns opposing the proposal are taking place throughout Indonesia, especially in Jakarta. Although it is unnerving to anticipate the next steps that will be taken by members of the DPR, it is also encouraging to witness how Indonesian civil society continuously plays its part as an anticorruption watchdog.

Ultimately, the DPR’s indifference toward the public outcry against the revision, combined with the lack of transparency surrounding its formation, raises questions about Indonesia’s commitment to democratic lawmaking. Strong and responsive political leadership is needed, especially from President Joko Widodo. Jokowi’s leadership could determine the direction of the controversial revision. His lack of responsiveness so far to calls that he comes out firmly against the revision is due to the fact he is hamstrung by his political affiliations with strong parties within the DPR. This is understandable, but his commitment to eradicate corruption should trump any of such political motives. Corruption may seem like an elusive and unbeatable enemy to Indonesia, but the commitment to fight against it by the entire community will become Indonesia’s greatest source of strength. Don’t blunt the spearhead; sharpen it and fight with it with all your might!

4 thoughts on “Don’t Blunt the Spearhead: Why the Proposed Revision of Indonesia’s KPK Law is a Bad Idea

  1. Thanks for the insightful post! I’m wondering whether it is all or nothing with the full package of these reforms. That is, might it be possible that these suggested reforms be broken up and only some brought forward? Perhaps it would be politically tenable if President Widodo were able to come out not against the full package of reforms but simply condemn the most dangerous (which to me seem to be the Supervisory Board and appointments from the police and prosecution ranks). That might avoid some political problems but also avoid fully blunting the spearhead. If that were the case, do you have a sense of which of the proposed reforms might be made, sort of as concessions?

    From a less practical and more theoretical perspective, the reforms seem illegitimate because of legislators’ own self-interest in blunting the KPK’s power. When legislators face corruption charges under the KPK, it seems unlike the legislation they propose to refine the KPK would represent the interests of the people. If that is indeed the case, could the president reject this particular reform as an inappropriate use of legislative power? That might not be possible, but it does seem ridiculous to allow those who would face investigation to reform the agency investigating them!

  2. Thank you for your comment, Kaitlyn!

    Until now, the DPR is still going forward with all the four proposed as a package and currently, minimum prediction could be made as to whether only some revisions would be passed. I believe that since the DPR is proposing these revisions as a package, they will fight hard to bring all four revisions altogether as a “holistic” revision package of the current KPK Law.

    Also, President Jokowi has decided to postpone the needed discussion on these revisions. As I have mentioned in the post, it is pertinent for the President to address this issue firmly. By taking a clear position on this matter, not only will the President express his disapproval on the reckless proposal of KPK Law, he will also address a concern that the country is debating on and reaffirm his commitment against corruption.

    Again, both the KPK Law and the Anticorruption Law are not perfect legislations. However, whatever revision that is proposed shall objectively be intended to enhance the efficacy of Indonesia’s anticorruption efforts as a whole, and not constitute strategical action by the DPR to dodge the possibility of their members being charged with corruption.

  3. Pingback: The Culture of Corruption and the Corruption of Culture in Indonesia | Anti Corruption Digest

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