Guest Post: A Bleak Future for Indonesia’s Anticorruption Commission?

GAB is pleased to welcome back Sofie Arjon Schütte, Senior Advisor at the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, to contribute today’s guest post:

Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission, known by its acronym KPK, was established during Indonesia’s reformation period in the early 2000s, and quickly became one of the world’s most powerful and independent anticorruption commissions. When the KPK began operations in 2004, a government regulation granted the agency substantial autonomy in its human resources management system, which the KPK used to ensure the integrity and competence of its staff. This control over personnel is considered good practice by international standards for anticorruption agencies, especially in environments where the existing state apparatus, and in particular law enforcement, is part of the corruption problem. And in Indonesia’s case, the KPK’s success in ensuring a competent and honest staff has been crucial to the agency’s track record of success—a track record that includes bringing more than 700 cases, the large majority of which resulted in guilty verdicts against members of Indonesia’s national and regional political elite.

But the KPK’s threat to vested interests has provoked strong resistance. This resistance has taken many forms, from judicial hostility, orchestrated demonstrations and threats, personal attacks on members of the organization, stalling the agency’s budget, and attempts to curtail its authority and autonomy through other legislative changes. The most devastating development was a new KPK Law, adopted in 2019, that was pushed through the legislature in rapid time without public input. This law effectively stripped the KPK of autonomy in important investigative functions and in its human resources management (here and here). Under the law, by September 2021 the KPK is to be integrated into the state apparatus, and its employees must become regular civil servants.

Allegedly as part of this process of integrating KPK employees into the regular civil service, the government recently required all KPK officials to take a specially concocted “national vision exam.” To be clear, neither the 2019 KPK Law nor its implementing regulations explicitly require such a test, which differs from the standard civil service entrance exam that all civil servants must take. Rather, this special test was developed by the National Civil Service Agency in collaboration with the Indonesian Armed Forces and Intelligence Service specifically to determine which KPK officers were radical and lacked neutrality and integrity and therefore presumably unfit for future civil service.

Seventy-five KPK employees failed this special exam. That may not seem like a big deal, both because 75 people amounts to less than 6% of the KPK’s current staff of over 1,300 employees, and because it might seem that failing a civil service exam is a reasonable ground for dismissal. But as the names of those who failed the test, and more details about the questions and the process, were made public, many critics have raised legitimate concerns. Indeed, even before the test was administered, the KPK employees’ union (which, by the way, will cease to exist after the conversion of the KPK into a regular civil service agency) warned that such a test could be misused to legitimize the marginalization or dismissal of KPK officers that handle strategic cases or hold strategic positions in the agency. And now that the results have come out, there are reasons to believe these fears were well-founded.

As for the people: Several of those who failed the test, and therefore face an uncertain future, have been in managerial positions with the KPK since it began operations back in 2004; several others, who joined later, have been at the forefront of the KPK’s most prominent investigations. All of these individuals had previously undergone a rigorous, multi-tiered selection process to join the KPK in the first place. Some had been regular civil servants before joining the KPK, meaning that they had already passed the regular civil service entrance exam. And all of them underwent integrity tests, administered by independent private sector consultants, before joining the KPK, and pledged to abide by the KPK’s code of ethics. If there were concrete reasons to suspect improper behavior by any of these officers, this could have, and would have, been investigated by the KPK’s Ethics Council.

As for the test itself, the questions are odd, to put it mildly. For instance, respondents had to state how much they agreed (on a five-point scale) with a series of statements that would seem to have little to do with their competence to serve as KPK officers, including “I have a bleak future,” “I live to atone for past sins,” “Religion is the result of human thought,” “I believe in the unseen and the practice of teaching without questioning,” and “Homosexuals should be given corporal punishment.” Some of the questions may have been designed to ferret out those who harbor racial prejudice (“All Chinese are the same,” “All Japanese are cruel”) or religious extremism (“Blasphemers must be put to death”). But very few of these questions seem to have anything to do with integrity or competence. (And, even as a test of radicalism or prejudice, the test seems extremely poorly designed, as it’s fairly clear what the “politically correct” answer to those questions would be.)

In addition to the questionnaire, KPK employees had to write an essay (on highly politicized topics such as the Free Papua Movement, the Communist Party of Indonesia, and the Islamic Defenders Front), and be interviewed by a panel that included representatives from the National Anti-Terrorism Agency, the Secret Service, and the Army’s Intelligence and Psychological Services, answering to questions such as the reasons for their marital status and religious practices at home.

For all these reasons, many suspect that this test was not really about vetting KPK officers for their qualifications as civil servants, but rather is a poorly disguised attempt to silence some of the more outspoken and unrelenting KPK officers. Especially now that the Constitutional Court, after some delay, rejected the last of several legal challenges to the new KPK Law that had been filed by the former KPK leadership and civil society organizations, the future of the KPK looks bleak indeed.

1 thought on “Guest Post: A Bleak Future for Indonesia’s Anticorruption Commission?

  1. Thank you for this summary, although the gist of the content is lamentable. Having worked in the archipelago as a USAID consultant part-time 2010-2014 with the Indonesian Supreme Court and the prosecution service, I met occasionally with the KPK folks, a dedicated bunch. They have been under attack literally from their founding, but they have persisted and, in numerous instances triumphed, in addition to serving as a beacon for similar efforts in neighboring countries.

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