Should police be policing policy decisions? The Jakarta Post

Indonesian policeman Seladi cycling to his office in Malang, East Java. Seladi, a member of Indonesia's notoriously corrupt police is to be honoured for refusing to accept bribes during his 40-year career.
Indonesian policeman Seladi cycling to his office in Malang, East Java. Seladi, a member of Indonesia's notoriously corrupt police is to be honoured for refusing to accept bribes during his 40-year career.PHOTO: AFP

In its editorial on July 26, the newspaper notes that the move is making regional chiefs wary of making investment decisions

The vigorous anti-corruption campaign seems to have had a backlash on budget implementation by regional administrations, as indicated by the 246 trillion rupiah (S$25.5 billion) in regional investment budget left unused and lying idle in banks at a time when the economy badly needs government pump priming.

Undisbursed budget funds hurt the economy in several ways. First of all, almost 45 per cent of the state budget is disbursed through regional administrations. Since quite a portion of the government investment budget is financed through bonds, unused funds means the government has to pay interest on debts, which does not contribute anything to fiscal stimulus.

True, many heads of regional administrations and local lawmakers have been jailed, are on trial or have been declared corruption suspects. But while the special graft buster, the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), remains highly trusted and accountable, the anti-corruption drive by the National Police and the Attorney General's Office (AGO), which are still perceived to be notoriously corrupt, seems to have been overzealous.

Many regional administration chiefs have become wary of making policy decisions on the implementation of their investment budget for fear of being investigated or prosecuted by the police or AGO prosecutors on allegedly trumped-up charges of corruption.

The problem is that the procedures that must be followed by the police and the AGO in declaring someone a graft suspect are not as stringent as those for the KPK.

The former two law-enforcement agencies are allowed to eventually drop cases if evidence turns out to be inadequate, but this loophole seems to have been exploited by corrupt police or prosecutors to extort money from regional officials.

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has apparently received many complaints of how the police or AGO officials often harass regional leaders with corruption allegations that could be dropped, allegedly in return for money.

The President reiterated at a meeting with police chiefs and AGO officials from across the country on Tuesday that they could not criminalise policy decisions made in good faith and in full accordance with the law and prevailing procedures.

He emphasised that regional administration leaders were allowed by the 2014 Public Administration Law to introduce discretional policies on programs that were not clearly regulated as long as the policies were made in good faith, in the public interest and with high standards of transparency and accountability.

If police officers, prosecutors or even politicians can dispute or even attack and criminalise a policy made in good faith and in compliance with proper procedures, senior officials will not have the courage to make policy decisions however urgent or imperative they may be.

Any decision involves a choice between a number of alternatives. Decisions can be a complex mixture of facts and values, especially in regard to certain policy areas where detailed rules or procedures are absent while quick decisions have to be made to implement government programs.

* The Jakarta Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 21 newspapers.