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Indonesia's Anti-Corruption Effort Faces Threat


Indonesia ranks in the bottom of the corruption perception index in Asia, and its citizen often name graft as the main problem in their country. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who is running for a new term in next month's presidential election July 8, owes much of his popularity to his clean image and record of fighting corruption. But much remains to be accomplished before Indonesia can say it has beaten corruption.

During Indonesia's ongoing election campaign, it seems the candidates have made corruption their highest priority. Some small political parties have hung large banners throughout Jakarta, demanding the death penalty for the corrupt.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, however, has the advantage in this issue. During his term in office, the country has seen several prominent anti-corruption cases investigated by the highly feared and highly revered Corruption Eradication Commission, or KPK.

"KPK is like, you know, an island of integrity in a sea of corruption in Indonesia. KPK has become a hope, and also a hero for the public," said Danang Widoyoko, the coordinator of the civic group Indonesian Corruption Watch.

Even the recent arrest of the KPK's chief on murder charges has not seriously dented the commission's reputation. Its record speaks for itself: a 100 percent conviction rate for cases involving some of the country's highest-ranking officials.

In comparison, in more than half the corruption cases brought to ordinary courts, the suspect walks free. The judiciary is considered one of the most corrupt institutions in Indonesia.

The key to KPK's success is its total independence to investigate and prosecute cases in a special anti-corruption court. But Widoyoko warns that the KPK's powers may be in danger, because this year Parliament must pass a law to allow it to keep its independent court.

"If the KPK had to go to ordinary courts, then it would have problems with corruption and also the uncertain legal processes in the ordinary courts," added Danang Widoyoko. "You know, the problem is that we have a corrupt political system, so we're in very, very hard times now, because the MPs [members of parliament] will try to reduce, one by one, the KPK authority."

There are concerns that Parliament may not act to protect the independence of the corruption court.

Mochammad Yasin, one of the four KPK commissioners, says that he is not surprised to see a lack of support from Parliament.

"We're handling high-ranking officers including ministers, ambassadors, the former director of the central bank, the chief of police, including members of the Parliament, so this is why the Parliament doesn't like us," he said. "But we believe that we can maintain ourselves because we have a strong support from the public."

Each candidate in the July 8 presidential election pledges to issue a decree protecting the KPK's authority if Parliament fails to pass the law before the December deadline.

But Todung Mulya Lubis, the president of corruption watchdog Transparency International in Indonesia, says campaign promises are not enough.

"You can not put people to jail as the only answer to fight corruption, you know, because you put one million people to jail, then you'd have another two million committed to corruption. It is not the only answer," said Mulya Lubis. "The other answer is a system that guarantees transparency and accountability. You could have that if you could have bureaucratic reform taking place in this country."

Only the Ministry of Finance has started to reform its bureaucracy, under Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati. But she says it has not been easy to change the way employees think.

"You have to admit: we are all committing this crime. The corruption is not because of greed - or maybe, some of it only," she said. "It's because the system is so bad that it makes it impossible for them to become a good public officer. Once the system becomes right, I expect your behavior to also follow the right things.

Business people say that in the Ministry of Finance, corruption has sharply declined. Tax and customs revenues are up, and business leaders say the processes are smoother and efficiency higher. Even though investors still complain about red tape, the situation is far better than with other ministries.

Reforming the countless central and local administrations remains a huge challenge that will have to be addressed by the next President. But anti-corruption experts say a radical transformation of graft-ridden Indonesia will demand tremendous political will and skill.


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