Jakarta picks five new faces for anti-graft agency

Mr Agus Rahardjo won majority support on Thursday from Parliament's legal, security and human resources committee to be KPK chairman.
Mr Agus Rahardjo won majority support on Thursday from Parliament's legal, security and human resources committee to be KPK chairman.PHOTO: THE JAKARTA POST/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK

But many are unhappy with the choices, saying others have better track records

Indonesian lawmakers yesterday approved five new top officials for its anti-corruption agency, known as the KPK, but all found little favour with the media as well as among anti-graft activists.

Mr Agus Rahardjo, a former manager of the national procurement agency, won majority support on Thursday from Parliament's legal, security and human resources committee to be KPK chairman. His appointment, as well as that of four of his deputies, were endorsed in a plenary session of Parliament yesterday.

The four included one-star police general Basaria Panjaitan, corruption court judge Alexander Marwata, law professor Laode Muhammad Syarif and Mr Saut Situmorang, an expert at the national intelligence unit.

Mr Agus "is a conventional civil servant and he will be making a quantum leap to a far more weighty role, and it remains to be seen how he handles this transition", Mr Kevin O'Rourke, author of Reformasi: The Struggle For Power In Post-Soeharto, told Bloomberg news agency.

Armed with broad powers, such as to wire-tap suspects without prior court consent, make arrests and prosecute suspects, the KPK managed to nab rogue ministers, police generals, as well as a senior prosecutor. But a bitter feud with the police force this year apparently has left the anti-graft agency considerably weakened.

The Jakarta Post slammed three of the other appointees. It said Ms Basaria was known for her anti- KPK comments, Mr Laode Muhammad lacked practical knowledge about corruption and Mr Saut was notorious for calling for an end to the KPK's investigation into a major corruption scandal centring on the misuse of the central bank's bailout funds. Mr Marwata is also well known for offering dissenting opinions in rulings against corruption defendants.

Lawmakers chose the five-member team from a shortlist that included others with a better track record, according to anti-graft activists.

Bloomberg quoted Ms Ade Irawan, a leader of Indonesia Corruption Watch, as saying the new KPK team was "disappointing".

The KPK was set up in 2003 as Indonesia embarked on a major crackdown against rampant corruption against the backdrop of dwindling confidence in the conventional law enforcement agencies such as the police and the Attorney General's office. The KPK answers to Parliament.

Armed with broad powers, such as to wire-tap suspects without prior court consent, make arrests and prosecute suspects, the KPK managed to nab rogue ministers, police generals, as well as a senior prosecutor.

But a bitter feud with the police force this year apparently has left the anti-graft agency considerably weakened. It all began when the KPK named three-star police General Budi Gunawan as a bribery suspect days after he was put forward as the sole candidate for national police chief. General Budi eventually did not get the job.

Within weeks, police placed all four KPK commissioners on separate investigations. All four were eventually told to leave in the face of criminal charges that were never proven. Mr Agus' predecessor, Mr Abraham Samad, was also suspended while police investigated him for alleged document forgery in a case seen as part of efforts to neutralise the body. He was eventually relieved of the post.

The KPK has also been involved in turf wars with the Attorney- General's office.

After Parliament's endorsement, Mr Agus said the agency needed to balance suppression and prevention in the fight against graft. He called for good coordination with the police and Attorney-General's office.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 19, 2015, with the headline 'Jakarta picks five new faces for anti-graft agency'. Print Edition | Subscribe