Antigraft body's death sentence awaits president's signature

Credits:  Kompasania

Credits: Kompasania

Lawmakers in parliament have agreed to amend the Corruption Eradication Commission Law (Law No.30/2002) in the final days of the 2014-2019 parliamentary session which is set to end on 30 September. If rushed through and passed, the amendments would cripple the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) as well as remove its all-important independent status.

The KPK is the country’s most trusted institution and has taken on some of the most powerful corruptors, including an active speaker of the Lower House (DPR), numerous lawmakers, ministers, governors, party heads and local leaders. The KPK has investigated hundreds of public officials and has a near 100% conviction rate with defendants serving time in prison, making it one of the most trusted institutions. Around half of the KPK cases brought to Court for Corruption Crimes (Tipikor) involve bribery.

The 2002 law established the KPK and the institution has a high level of public approval since it was established in 2003.

The KPK Law, as it’s known, categorizes corruption an “extraordinary crime” and provides the commission with special investigatory and prosecutorial powers to combat these crimes.

Legally, the KPK is an independent institution and is positioned under the executive but is not part of the government.

It’s aggressive and successful track record has led to backlashes and confrontations with parliament, the national police and other institutions. Over the years, there have been numerous attempts to weaken it and even do away with the commission entirely. This latest attempt however comes at a time when President Widodo has continuously claimed that corruption eradication is a priority for his administration.

Here are some of the controversial amendments that DPR is proposing:

Removing KPK’s independent status

  • The KPK’s independent status is one of the most important aspects of the commission and the proposed amendments would change that. The House is proposing to remove the KPK’s special status and place it within the central government, categorizing KPK staff as civil servants. This is directly against the principles of having the agency separated from the branch of power.

New supervisory board would oversee the KPK

  • The push for a new supervisory board is viewed by many as a move by parliament to intentionally weaken the KPK.

  • The formulation of the KPK’s Supervisory Board (five individuals) would be selected by the House.

  • This board would have a higher position than the KPK’s five commissioners.

  • Such a board would make the KPK more bureaucratic, weaker and more importantly create a conflict of interest with the board members and lawmakers.

Wiretap capabilities would be reduced

  • KPK’s wiretapping capabilities would become limited and more difficult to conduct.

  • Currently the commission has the power to wiretap without seeking approval from other agencies which has led to much of its success with evidence gathering in corruption cases. Under the proposed amendments, the KPK would be required to request written permission from the new supervisory board before conducting any type of wiretaps. The more people included in the wiretap process, the more likely hood for leaks and interference.

Investigators would be less independent

  • The KPK currently has the authority to appoint independent investigators for its cases and also has mechanisms to conduct investigations beyond one year. Under the proposed amendments, the investigators would be required to be sourced from the national police and the new board would have the authority to end investigations that reach one year long. (The KPK and national police have clashed on several occasions over the years particularly when KPK investigations have focused on senior members of the police.)

New coordination with the Attorney General’s Office

  • KPK would have to coordinated its anti-corruption efforts with the Attorney General’s office which would slow the process and increase the chances for leaks. Currently, investigations and prosecutions have been done in-house and the KPK is authorized to do so by the AG.

Past attempts to weaken KPK

This the not first time that there have been moves to weaken the KPK. There were attempts in 2009, 2013, 2015 and 2017. Some of these attempted to cut the KPK’s resources, change the structure of the agency, remove its independent status and reinterpret the KPK’s role. A strong public outcry and demonstrations put the moves on pause.

Discussions behinds closed doors

The amendments to the KPK Law and the decision to amend it was done behind closed doors. It also was not included in the parliament’s yearly National Priority Legislation Program (Prolegnas) but made it into faction deliberations. The Prolegnas includes key bills that will be discussed for the House session. In fact, the draft law was not included in the House’s Legislation Body (Baleg) as recently as 19 August. The draft was added to Prolegnas last week, just three weeks before the 2014-2019 House session ends.

The president and the minister of law and human rights, claim they were unaware of the House’s initiative to amend the law. Some MPs tell a different story however, stating that although discussions to amend the law were held behind closed doors, the government had agreed with the effort. Purportedly, at least six factions in the government coalition have agreed with the move. In fact, lawmakers from the president’s own party, PDIP, have stated that not only was the government well aware of efforts to amend the law, but that they were updated informally during the process and supported the amendments.

It’s important to note that several parties in the government coalition have been hit with corruption scandals particularly Golkar and PPP. A PDIP lawmaker has also been detained on corruption charges last month.

Other MPs said that the sudden announcement to amend the KPK Law was intentional and the timing was in line with current nomination process of a new KPK chief. The goal is to ensure that only candidates who support the proposed amendments would be approved by the House. As a reminder, the president has the right to select 10 candidates to lead the KPK. These names are sent to parliament to go through a fit and proper test by House Commission III. The fit and proper tests begin today.

What’s next?

DPR has sent the draft law to the president’s office for review. According to Indonesian legal system, both the legislative and executive must jointly agree on the final draft before it is passed. In order for this draft to move forward in the House, the president would have to sign a presidential letter and send it to the House leadership indicating the government’s agreement to begin rushed deliberations of the draft law in parliament. If the president does not sign the letter, the draft cannot make it into the deliberation phase and will essentially be killed for the 2014-2019 DPR session, which is set to end 30 September. We will have to wait and see if Widodo will live up to his anti-corruption campaign promises in 2014, 2019 and if he is willing to go against his own party.

Shawn Corrigan