Cancer Stage-4 Corruption: Challenges of Leadership, Corruption and Governance in Indonesia

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Independent Observer

IO, Jakarta – Candidate President Number 02 Prabowo Subianto describes corruption in Indonesia as a stage-four cancer. According to Prabowo, Indonesia condition is currently in a corruption emergency, as State officials, Councilmen, ministers, and even judges get arrested by the Corruption Eradication Commission (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi – “KPK”). Due to the extreme level of corruption in Indonesia, Prabowo said, the poverty rate of the people continues to rise while the elites live sumptuously.

Prabowo’s statement is relevant to Indonesia’s current condition. In 2018 only, KPK has arrested 29 regional heads for their involvement in suspected corruption cases. Most of these arrested regional heads come from parties that support the Government: 10 suspects came from the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan – “PDIP”), 7 from the Functional Groups (Golongan Karya – “Golkar”) Party, 4 from the National Democratic (“NasDem”) Party, 4 from the National Mandate Party (Partai Amanat Nasional – “PAN”), 2 from the Democratic Party, and 1 each from the United Development Party (Partai Persatuan Pembangunan – “PPP”) and the Indonesian Unity (Persatuan Indonesia – “Perindo”) Party.

It is not just about the mounting number of corruption cases. Law enforcement in Indonesia in recent years is notoriously weak. Let’s take the most famous example: KPK investigator Novel Baswedan was splashed in the face with acid on 11 April 2017, by persons unknown. The attack even took place near his home. Yet no perpetrator has been found or arrested, while the case occurred nearly 2 years ago. Indonesia’s legal environment is really a cause for concern.

Root of Corruption
Dadang Trisasongko, Secretary General of Transparency International Indonesia (TII), believes that there are multiple causes for corruption in Indonesia: a weak internal and external bureaucratic monitoring system, a closed system for creating policies and regulations that allows the proliferation of transactions within it, political parties that are not committed in the fight against corruption, politicians who lack integrity, law enforcement that lacks accountability, and the allowing of private business practices that lack integrity. “Political expense is just one of the many factors that encourage corruption. However, corrupt politicians are corrupt not only because their political expenses are high, but they also steal public funds to fund their luxurious lifestyle,” he said.

The massive scale of corruption in Indonesia is also caused by the wide-open chances available for corruption in administrative processes: in the planning and budgeting for development, in the procurement of goods and services, in granting permits, and even in the recruitment of regional officials. They continue to speculate and perform corrupt acts, because not all such unethical practices are within the reach of by law enforcement. The public arrest of so many regional heads does not deter corruptor wannabes, because the integrity and honesty of public officials is not tested by the public. “The public seems to have a high level of tolerance for leaders who lack integrity. Corrupt politicians can still submit themselves for candidacy in the General Elections or Regional Elections – and unfortunately, the people keep on electing them,” Dadang said.

Corruption is always related to authority. People with a higher level of education tend to hold higher positions and have more authority, yet they are the very ones accused to corruption. A high level of education is not compatible with integrity. Why is that? Because schools and colleges cannot fully teach integrity and honesty to students and make them practice it in daily life. Furthermore, our inherently corrupt political and bureaucratic system is quite capable of seducing anyone who holds a public position.

Sudirman Said, former Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources, said that the main root of corruption is the poor example of National Leaders. If 5 out of the 7 Highest Leaders of the State are involved in corruption, we need to realize that the alarm has been sounding with a red alert. There is something wrong with the leadership of the country. “In the past, there were no rigid regulations, not many layers of monitoring agencies, no free press, no KPK, and no special courts to process corruption. But how come corruption was not as massive as it is now? Some people might reply simply “Because there was just not so much money available for corruption in the past.” I disagree. In the past, State Leaders still had high morality and integrity standards, especially our forefathers. Therefore, what we lost now is the honor and exemplary function of the State Leaders,” he said firmly.

Some believe that a high political cost is the root cause for the current massive scale of corruption. Sudirman admits that there is some truth to this statement, but it is not the only cause of the problem. After all, most corruptors are not political leaders who must spend a lot of money. In fact, a lot of them are already rich before they become corrupt. It is purely a matter of greed, which is limitless.

Sudirman notes that our checks and balances system, the control function of our independent agencies, is being weakened, whether by design or because the interested parties simply use each other. “We have not heard the Audit Board (Badan Pemeriksa Keuangan – “BPK”) being professionally critical, even though so many cases are related to potential misappropriation and misuse of State funds,” he said. Our parliament and political parties have extremely low credibility in the people’s eyes, as they do not perform substantial critique of any case. Even worse, it is generally agreed that our mainstream media has been co-opted. “We also do not hear critical voices from among academicians and university campuses. Such an environment is a fertile ground for corruption practices these days.”

Despite KPK’s massive waves of Sting Operations (Operasi Tangkap Tangan – “OTT”), scores of our regional heads continue to engage in corrupt acts. Most of our political leaders have the iniquitous view that these people who got caught are merely “careless” or they have “a run of bad luck”. In other words, they consider corruption to be a normal course of business instead of a wrongdoing. We actually should be sad about the fact that corruption of political leaders is rife among us. Members of the People’s Representative Council (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat – “DPR”), Regional Representative Council (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat Daerah – “DPRD”), Regional Representative Council (Dewan Perwakilan Daerah – “DPD”), and regional heads are public officials who earned their seats because they were elected by the people. Before they were elected, they sweetly persuaded the public with “Elect me”. Yet when the people already cast their votes, they shamelessly and immorally betray the people’s trust in them.

Bambang Widjojanto (BW), Chairman of KPK for the Provincial Government of DKI, said that corruption in Indonesia is continuous, because corruption mitigation strategies never touch the root of the problem. We only use “fire-fighting” strategies instead of “fire prevention” strategies that strengthen law enforcement. “How can we get serious if we don’t clean up our law enforcement?” he asked, rhetorically.

Our systems and methods never changed. It only seems that we are working, while we only spin our wheels in the same place. Corruption in Indonesia is not just massive, but also systemic and structured. “Crime gets perfected daily; the forces of darkness increase every day. They are able to consolidate their strengths,” BW said.

Our oligarchy nowadays has a characteristic that allows us to call it “wild oligarchy”. During the New Order era, it was a “tame” oligarchy because they would only approach people in power in order to get protection for their businesses and families. Nowadays, they not only want to protect their business and family, but they want to become part of the power by financing it. In that way, they can create policies that protect them and enable their business to prosper.

Power used to be held by President Soeharto and his family. The Parliament and Government were merely their tools. When reforms occurred, power became so fragmented and chaotic, leaving only mutual interest as the unifier. “Whoever has enough money could approach the power elite and “buy” the tools of power. The oligarchy used to fund certain people to represent them, but now they themselves become part of the Parliament and are better able to push their interests forward,” BW said.

According to BW, we are now actually protecting the roots of corruption. We are not able to regulate potential conflicts of interest. For example, a Councilman with a law background would be placed in Commission III, allowing him to have access to law enforcement high officials and indirectly direct things. We are actually protecting criminality very securely: we do not have clear-cut regulations and the ability to uphold them. “The problem is that we can make rules, but we are unable to uphold them. We are not capable of building a strong system that can control potential abuse of authority among State administrators. For example, we must control our permit-related administration properly. We are betraying the Constitution. An interesting fact: corruption has always occurred in relation to the State’s expenditure; we have never touched State income,” he said.

Integrity
The high number of corruptors arrested, according to Sudirman, shows how rare is integrity in our Motherland. We have a surplus of politicians, but a deficit of statesmen. We have many authorities, but we lack true leaders. Politicians and people in power perform their function by relying on their might as their primary concern. True statesmen and leaders perform their duties by upholding noble values such as honor, integrity, and concern for the future of the people, the State, and the nation. In the hands of leaders with high levels of integrity, even the lack of a system and legal weaknesses will be covered with their exemplary attitude and initiatives in resolving all imperfections. On the contrary, by putting ourselves in the hands of dirty politicians who have thievish tendencies, we allow our laws and regulations – no matter how good they are – to be broken with collusion.

Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) researcher Almas Sjafrina concludes that such conditions in the political environs have several causes, among others notoriously high political costs and the integrity of the relevant politician, both regional heads and politicians in DPR and DPRD. Nowadays, these two problems that are rife in both political parties and elections have ruined the recruitment quality of political parties. Political parties tend to submit not their best cadres for election, but people who can guarantee enough capital to win elections. The third biggest factor set is related to the system of procedures, monitoring, etc. The problem is, no matter how good the Government’s management and monitoring systems are, if the funding and recruitment problems are not resolved, the possibility of corruption to occur will remain huge. To repeat, there are many problems, but the root lies in political funding and recruitment issues.

Naturally, when we talk about the high incidence of corruption cases in Indonesia, a big question is about integrity. Do political parties and the public place integrity as a benchmark, as an essential requirement for consideration when parties submit a candidate for Elections, and when the public makes its choice in Elections? This is a huge task for us all, especially for political parties. They must be assured of how integrity is considered a basic need that is required of each politician participating in the elections, and preparing to hold a position as a State administrator in the future…while making sure that their expenses remain covered in an honest manner.

According to Sudirman, corruption is a cheating action that does not discriminate between ages, amount of wealth owned, nor educational level. It is regrettable that it is the young and well-educated who are caught in corruption cases. They should have thought about their fates when they got caught, and that of their families. But they do not do so, out of arrogance and greed. In fact, it is a lack of honesty and integrity, coupled with a high level of intelligence and learning. After all, sophisticated and large-scaled crimes can only be perpetrated by highly intelligent people…who lack morality and concern towards others.

Dadang regrets the fact that corruption has a high potential of occurring in the justice courts. They are frequently too proud of their independence, conveniently lacking respect and appreciation of the integrity of their personnel and the accountability of their work process. They like to hide behind the façade of their “independence” to avoid external scrutiny and evade public accountability.

Sudirman has a similar view. For example, in Hongkong, when the HK Independent Commission Against Corruption (their equivalent of the KPK) was established, the first round of cleanup was made in the rank of law enforcement. We must also face the truth that our law enforcement agencies have declined steeply in their credibility within the past decades. Ask any commoner: they most fear to have anything to do with the Police, the Attorney General, and the Courts. Such a bitter irony that these agencies, which are designed to function as the protectors, servants, and providers for the people, are the very institutions that the common people fear the most!

Sudirman further notes that as a technical mechanism, our monitoring system is actually quite adequate. However, because the people running them have an evil intent, this layered monitoring system can still be breached. A good system must have elements that reinforce each other: strong structure, good (honest and competent) personnel, and a mutual control culture.

Stadium 4
Earlier, we have quoted Prabowo as saying that corruption in Indonesia is like a stage 4 cancer. Sudirman understands this to be a “call for attention”, an alarm that all parts of the nation must pay attention to. In comparison with the previous Governments, this Government has truly worsened. The Chairman of the DPR plays around with the law in this regime, when the DPR’s main duty is to serve as a law maker. Four out of seven Highest Leaders of the Nation are implicated in corruption, and it occurs in this present regime. Fully 300 out of the 600 public officials who are arrested and tried because of corruption have been arrested during the reign of the present Government.

Even more dramatically, in a first recorded incident of direct and personal aggression against law enforcement, this period also records the attack against Novel Baswedan, a highly skilled KPK investigator. He endured great pain and danger when persons unknown splashed his face with acid and ruined one of his eyes. It is nearing two years, but his attack remains unsolved. In this period, KPK also suffers from multiple legislative weakening and attacks. What an irony. Prabowo’s comment that corruption in Indonesia is like a stage 4 cancer is hardly an exaggeration.

Almas Sjafrina stated that Presidential Candidate Prabowo is not the only one who finds corruption level in Indonesia to be at a dire level. This is the general opinion of political parties, the public, and even politicians themselves. Why is it “dire”? Because corruption occurs in multiple sectors, and in all levels of business, politics, public sector, education, health, or other positions of trust you can always find corruption cases. Even worse: people who are already proven to be involved in corruption cases can still stand for office in elections, supported by political parties! Corruptors in Indonesia are not afraid of getting caught for their crimes despite the high number of arrests and positive punishment. Corruption is so deep-rooted in our lives that people would even find opportunities for corruption in relation to aid for disaster victims!

Scores of regional heads have been arrested already, but this does not deter the hard-core corruptors. There are several reasons for this. First, we should not only look at the number of regional heads being punished for corruption: it is also important to see what punishment is meted out by law enforcement officials to regional officials or other politicians involved in a corruption case. The punishment is generally minimal and laughable. Even major criminals like Fuad Amin get a maximum of 13 years’ imprisonment, but the average length of imprisonment for this crime is only 6 years!

Second, about restituting damages to the State. We should pay attention to the amount of damage suffered by the State, and how much damages are paid to the State as imposed by the Courts to the people who are proven to be corrupt.

Another factor that also encourages people to remain corrupt anyway is the fact that there is too much lenience for convicted corruptors who have served their sentence, especially in the context of allowing regional heads to participate in Regional Elections and be re-elected. A notorious case is that of Vonnie Panambunan in North Minahasa. The former Regent’s involvement in a corruption case was proven, but soon after she served her sentence she was nominated again as a candidate and got re-elected. She did not only get re-elected as regent, but she also leads a political party in the region. This is the actual source of the disease. It is only logical: how can we expect regional heads (including candidates) to shy away from corruption, when even convicted corruptors get away with things so easily and can get re-elected to boot?

Trivial Sentencing
Dadang concludes that such trivial punishment levels cause people to look at corruption as a crime with low legal risk. After all, the average duration of imprisonment is a mere 5 years. They also feel that there is a bigger likelihood for success than failure. Therefore, there is a high incidence of repeat offences and imitation of corruption acts.

Sudirman said that the weight of punishment is relative. However, it is obvious that the legal procedure of getting a verdict of punishment for corruptors, as well as the punishment itself and when the punishment ends, are not followed by social ostracism among the people. Corruptors can still smile cheerfully in their high-fashion clothes and exhibit zero guilt, even when they are stripped of their fineries and clothed in the orange jumper of convicts.

In view of the situation, Sudirman privately hopes that if Pak Prabowo is elected as President, as the Head of State Prabowo can have the courage to step up the intensity of punishment for corruptors. The Government may issue a Government Regulation in Lieu of Law to deter corruptors and their family members, for example impoverishment, banishment and isolation from family members, or other types of punishment that have a deterrent effect. Capital punishment for large-scale corruption that causes systemic damage may also be considered, with continued consideration of human rights.

Many countries have successfully mitigated corruption. The best example is Hongkong, because among success stories it is a great one, and the complexity of its social and legal system is nearest to our country’s. We can also learn from Malaysia and Singapore as our nearest neighbors, even though the complexity of their issues and the size of their systems are much smaller than ours. “But I am sure that we have many competent people,” Sudirman said. “Many countries and international agencies are willing to help us out. The determinant is National Leadership. When the vision and actions of national leaders clearly support the eradication of corruption, everything else is all technical issues. Funding, HR, equipment, regulations, and support from international cooperation.”

Solutions
According to Dadang, in order to mitigate massive corruption in Indonesia, the first thing we need to do is to simultaneously eradicate corruption in all three branches of power: executive, legislative, and judicial. Second, we must reorganize the governance of political parties. Performing elections must be made less costly. We need stricter monitoring of politicians in DPR and DPRD, especially in terms on how they obtain assets and how lobbying is performed. We must eliminate incentives for private parties to prevent them from exploiting a corrupt system to get permits and contracts from the Government. The people must be educated in order to keep them honest and able to differentiate between private and public affairs. Corruption in law enforcement agencies must be eliminated, and KPK’s work must be supported by the Government and DPR (i.e. strengthening Anti-Corruption Laws).

Sudirman said that corruption eradication efforts have been made since our Independence. A “Military Operation” was performed in 1957 to inspect and seize assets originating from corruption, with investigation, charges and verdicts on corruption. Law Number 24 PRP/1960, concerning the Investigation, Charging, and Judgment of Corruption Crime was enacted in 1960. The Government issued Presidential Decree Number 228/1967 concerning Corruption Eradication Teams in 1967. Commission Four for Eradication of Corruption was established in 1970, with Wilopo S.H. as Chairman and I. J. Kasimo, Prof. Dr. Yohanes, and H. Anwar Tjokroaminoto as members and former Vice President Dr. Mohammad Hatta as an Advisor.

Nowadays we have the KPK. Its system as a law enforcement agency is strong. However, there are several strategic steps that we must take in order to strengthen the effort to eradicate corruption. First, State Leaders must be exemplary. The Head of State must work hard to organize leadership in all agencies and levels, ensure that all positions are held by credible, honest, professional, and civic-souled personnel. Second, political parties must be adequately funded by the State. This will help reduce corruption, because political parties will have the pressure of remaining accountable and auditable as they use the public’s money. Furthermore, parties with good intent will have the ability to recruit, prepare, and promote the best cadres of the nation, because funding issues are eliminated. Third, law enforcement agencies must be led by non-partisan people. The Attorney General’s Office, the Ministry of Justice, the Police, and the National Intelligence Agency must be built as impartial institutions. None of their leaders can be affiliated with any political parties or political strengths. Fourth, continue to strengthen KPK with authority, equipment and human resource capacity. KPK also needs to strengthen prevention and education functions in society. The Head of State must signal full support for KPK in order to maintain coordination with other law enforcement agencies. Fifth, punishment for corruptors needs to be weightier. We need to find formats that generate more widespread and deeper deterrent effect towards the perpetrators and their families. As an effort made in an emergency situation, the Government has strong reason for taking urgent steps.

The above things are only possible when Indonesia has Leaders with great and strategic vision – leaders who understand where the world is moving, and who know where they want to take the country and nation. Clean, visionary leaders who have a strong track record of managing large-scale and complex organizations, who are able to organize and execute the above steps.

According to Almas, the first step the Government must take is to reform political parties in terms of both funding and recruitment. When funding is properly organized, the recruitment process will follow. Secondly, the system must be improved as well, whether for elections, public, or monitoring systems. For example, we currently have regional monitoring agencies. However, are they sufficiently independent? Do they have the power to monitor regional heads? Of course not, because they are still under the command of Regional Secretaries. This is something that we need to improve in the future.

BW confirms this opinion by stating that corruptors in Indonesia do not have any shame. Even when they are arrested in public, when they are facing a trial, they can still smile and wave to the crowd.

BW said that preventing corruption does not only depend on a clean President, but also clean people around him. One of the simplest methods of measurement is announcing the amount of their assets from the start. That way, any increase can be measured and explained clearly. Because corruption in Indonesia is systemic and structured, the system must be improved. We need to prioritize all the issues that we need to control, such as putting education, health, and agriculture (food) first to ensure that every citizen lives decently.

If we want to make our country great, we must control the 3 core fields: energy, food, and finances. For example, why must we import food? The response for this question, as well as the data used to support them by the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Trade, and (Badan Urusan Logistik – “Bulog”) are all different. “This is where the corruption starts. That’s where the interest margin comes from. It’s the easiest thing to do to get during campaign season – you only need to get imports. For example, when massive deforestation occurs, it does not mean that law enforcement officials don’t know about it, but they are part of it,” BW said. Therefore, we need to take care of food issues before we can talk about financial security, followed by energy security.

(Dessy Aipipidely, Ekawati)