The demise of KPK

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Photo: Dok. KPK

What it means to fight corruption

IO – What we fear has come true. Predictably, the sinister plot to weaken the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) has found its way into heart of the antigraft body and hastened its slow demise. The amended legislation
– Law No. 19/2019 on KPK – aimed at castrating the KPK authority has been used as a stepping stone to oust KPK employees who have been fearless in unearthing major graft cases. 

One of them was the famed Novel Baswedan, a senior KPK investigator, who was announced to have failed the civic knowledge test (TWK). His aggressive stance in uncovering many landmark corruption cases is there for all to see, from the e-KTP mega corruption scandal, graft cases implicating the former Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court, the Secretary General of the Supreme Court, the regent of Buol, Wisma Atlet kickback, and most recently the lobster seed export case which incriminated former Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Edhy Prabowo. 

A number of KPK employees in the law enforcement division who were “red-listed” and declared unqualified to become civil servants includes Andre Dhedy Nainggolan, Afief Yulian Miftah, Budi Agung Nugroho, Rizka Anungnata, Budi Sokmo, Ambarita Damanik, Muhammad Praswad Nugraha, Yudi Purnomo Harahap, and Marc Falentino. In addition, there are also senior investigators such as Iguh Sipurba, Harun Al Rasyid, and Aulia Posteria. 

A majority of these investigators have and are currently handling alleged bribery cases involving the General Elections Commission (KPU), social assistance corruption at the Social Affairs Ministry with the Minister named a suspect, alleged bribery of officials at the Taxation Directorate General, alleged corruption involving the regent of Nganjuk, alleged corruption involving Governor of South Sulawesi Nurdin Abdullah, alleged collusion in the appointment of Tanjung Balai administration officials, implicating its mayor and KPK’s own investigator. A number of high-profile corruption cases handled by the KPK after the passage of Law No. 19/2019 indicated that the people behind KPK have not been cowed, even though to a certain extend their hands are tied. 

From an organizational standpoint, it can be said that a strong KPK is buttressed by two pillars. First, its law, which the amendment has managed to weaken, especially in the dismantling of its independence. History has proven that a strong law has engendered various healthy regulations to support the corruption eradication mandate of KPK. The KPK’s inner workings have also become more effective because of the adequate provisions allowed by the previous Law. 

Secondly, its people. Prior to the amendment, KPK was able to recruit its own (independent) employees. This has distinguished its employees from the typically bureaucratic character of civil servants in general, enabling it to build a separate “organizational culture” and imbue its employees with a higher degree of independence than other state law enforcement agencies. Furthermore, through the workers’ union, KPK employees can mount resistance when an internal policy is considered unfair, unclear, or in violation of regulations.

This can be seen from the lawsuit filed at State Administrative Court (PTUN) by several directors from various directorates in mid-2019 who regarded the rotation of KPK heads to be arbitrary and legally dubious. They finally won the case. This, of course, won’t apply if it was done by the National Police Chief, Attorney General, Ministers, or Regional Heads. We hardly hear of open disagreement,except maybe internal murmur among themselves, but without being able to air their grievances and fight back. 

Dirty trick 

The elite power circle seems to have been caught by surprise, because the KPK still poses a living danger to them, despite their elaborate attempt to shape it according to their will by placing pliable people to helm KPK, coupled with a crippling KPK law amendment. The arrest of former KPU commissioner Wahyu Setiawan, who took bribes in a case implicating PDI-P Secretary General Hasto Kristiyanto and led to the disappearance of Harun Masiku, the key culprit behind the scheme, is certainly not something that the Jakarta elite had expected. 

Then, when KPK suddenly made a stunning arrest of perpetrators behind the bribery and corruption case in the Covid-19 social assistance disbursement at the Social Affairs Ministry, and named its Minister as suspect, it undermined the corrupt officials’ scenario to pitilessly plunder state coffers during the raging pandemic. In the latest development, investigation process by the KPK has uncovered several House members who were allegedly linked to the case, for example Herman Herry and Ihsan Yunus from PDI-P, although later their names suspiciously vanished from KPK official documents. 

Of course, the surprises from Kuningan (a reference to the location of KPK headquarters), demonstrating that it is still a force to be reckoned with even after its law was weakened, cannot be separated from its employees. Their persistence, dedication, courage, high integrity, and experience in busting mega corruption scandals are the energy that sustained KPK while it is under siege. This doesn’t mean to belittle other KPK employees who are not in the law enforcement field. As explained before, they are the ones who have shaped the character of the KPK organization so that KPK is able to earn the public trust. Their contribution to KPK being a strong and reputed anticorruption body is no less commendable. Therefore, from an elite perspective, there is no other way: the mission must be carried out, namely to “eliminate” them from KPK. The trick was to surreptitiously incorporate TWK policy in KPK Regulation No. 01/2021 on procedures for the transfer of KPK employees to state civil apparatus (ASN). Article 5 point (4) stipulates that this is to be carried out through a civic knowledge test conducted by the KPK and the National Civil Ser vice Agency (BKN). We can say for sure that this provision was “smuggled in” because if we refer to a higher provision, namely KPK Law as amended and its derivative regulation (Government Regulation No. 41/2020), there is no requirement for TWK. The test itself is not something new; it has been widely used in the recruitment process of ASNs.

In addition to TWK, ASN candidates must also take personality test (TKP) and aptitude test (TIU). According to Decision of the Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform Minister No. 24/2019 on basic competence threshold for the recruitment of civil servant candidates, one must not score below 126 for TKP, 80 for TIU and 65 for TWK.

The problem is, the TWK used to screen KPK employees is a very different version the one typically administered, and it is a standalone. This was directly acknowledged by the BKN head. This was corroborated by the testimonies of several KPK employees who took the test in which they were asked odd, inconsequential and irrelevant questions in some portion of the test. For example, they were asked whether they prefer Quran or Pancasila, are they willing to take off their hijab (headscarves) if they are accepted into KPK, why are they still unmarried, and so on. 

The irony is that some of the names on the “red list” are those who have received recognition from the state because of their contribution to corruption eradication work. For example, Giri Suprapdiono, KPK’s Director for Anticorruption Campaign. He has been a lecturer at the National Resilience Institute (Lemhanas), Army Command and Staff School (Sesko AD), Defense Ministry, Police Command and Staff School (Sespim Polri), echelon I officers, regional head and ministers. Giri even received the Makati Bhakti Nagari award from the State Administration Agency (LAN) as the best graduate of the National Leadership training in 2020.


There is also Sujanarko, KPK’s Director for Inter-commission and Interagency Networking (PJKAKI). He also failed the test even though he is a recipient of Satyalancana Wirya Karya award – which honors role-model citizens – from President Jokowi. Koko, as he is popularly addressed by his colleagues, is also a mid-ranking KPK employee who was on the top 10 candidates for KPK leadership to partake the fit and proper test by the House’s Commission III. 

It can be said that accusation of incompetence, anti-Pancasila, anti-Constitution and disloyalty toward the government as the failure in the test implies is just a far-fetched excuse to get rid of KPK employees but – in light of President Jokowi’s directive and Supreme Court decision that the status transfer process must not put KPK employees at a disadvantage – there is a sinister “invisible hand” at play. There is a clear indication that they must be “silenced” at any cost. 

Back to zero? 

Even without the TWK fiasco, several studies have concluded that the performance of anticorruption drive in Indonesia has deteriorated in the last two years. For example, Indonesia’s score in the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) has dropped significantly from 40 in 2019 to 37 in 2020, meaning the country is now worse than Timor Leste (which scored 40 in 2020). The CPI score ranges from 0-100 where 0 is for country perceived as the most corrupt while 100 the cleanest.


This feels like history repeating itself. Indonesia used to send teachers to Malaysia, then Malaysia’s education quality quickly improved and left Indonesia behind. Likewise, in the case of corruption eradication, Timor Leste, a small, humble new republic that used to learn from Indonesia, is now gradually leaving its “teacher” behind. This suggests that the political elite in Jakarta has never learned from history, leading to the inconsistency in the corruption eradication agenda. A study by the Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI) in February 2021, participated in by the nation’s entrepreneurs and opinion leaders, revealed the state of anticorruption drive in Indonesia. The results found that 58% of the 1,008 respondents stated that corruption in Indonesia was getting worse, while 25% said they didn’t see any improvement at all. Only 8% thought corruption was in the decline.

In fact, regardless of largely negative public opinion, the anticorruption agenda in the hands of KPK is already on the right track. According to the theory of power, irregularities and corruption always take place in public service sector, because they hold the power to manage public resources and at the same time possess great latitude in policymaking. Therefore, if the KPK has so far been targeting political elites and state officials, this cannot be separated from the calculation and the probability of where corruption is rampant. 

Since KPK came into existence in 2004, Indonesia’s CPI has trended upward until it reached its highest score of 40 in 2019. Although there were certain periods where it stagnated, the country has never seen its CPI score drop significantly as in 2020. Unfortunately, the fall in Indonesia’s CPI score is compounded with the decline of its Democracy Index. They are both interrelated, but are often not taken into consideration in public policy scenarios. 

If the scenario to rid KPK of its role models comes to fruition, then the public will have to swallow another bitter pill, that the political commitment to eradicate corruption in a just, earnest and indiscriminate manner has never been in the best interests of the incumbent regime. We may see a repeat of history, as what happened to the State Apparatus Retooling Committee (PARAN) in the Old Order era, the Corruption Eradication Team (TPK) and Discipline Operation in the New Order era, and the Joint Team for Corruption Crime Eradication (TGPTPK) during the post-Soeharto transition era. They all met their end, disbanded by the regime in power. It seems that Indonesian public will soon witness not the defeat of corruptors, but instead corruption fighters as embodied by the KPK. 

Before it’s all too late, there is still one hope left, namely wielding of firm and decisive national leadership by those who are committed to saving the KPK. President Jokowi’s response to TWK controversy a few weeks ago was lacking in preventing the dismissal of KPK employees, even though in principle what the President said was in lockstep with the Constitutional Court’s decision. 

So to push the President to take firmer action, the public must continue to speak out via various channels, especially on social media. As we still in the midst of a pandemic, there may be restriction in place for street demonstration so little chance of this. Public intellectuals – academics, community leaders, professional workers, activists, students – whose voices are often regarded as barometers of public conscience, must be louder and more intense, so that the message can resonate in the corridor of power. Vox populi, Vox Dei. The voice of the people is the voice of God. 

The public can also urge their representatives in the House to issue a clear statement, especially the House’s Committee III to clear up the matter, instead of muddying the water. Indeed, Committee III has the authority to seek information about the TWK by conducting a hearing. Its members have a moral responsibility to clarify everything that happened with the KPK in the most transparent manner possible. 

Perhaps many have lost confidence in the House and the President because they were the ones who gave their “blessing” on the KPK law amendment. 

However, in a crisis situation like today, the President still has a central role to play in saving the fate of graft buster. Without concrete action from Jokowi, corruption eradication efforts in Indonesia will be back to zero. 

However, as the saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining. Even if the KPK rescue is not carried out by President Jokowi, Indonesians who are fed up of corruption and care about the fate of KPK still have time and opportunity to negotiate with Jokowi’s successor. While awaiting the presidential election in 2024, the civil society can begin to reflect and consolidate the people’s bargaining position so that it can emerge stronger post-2024. The history of corruption eradication in Indonesia is one of public aspiration and demand, not political will of the ruling elite. This is where efforts to amplify the voice and demands of the people for corruption eradication to be taken seriously by the government in power will always find a context and relevance. (Adnan Topan Husodo)

Adnan Topan Husodo is an alumnus of the Faculty of Economic Education from the University of Muhammadiyah Dr. Hamka, Jakarta. He joined ICW in 2001 and started his work as a volunteer. His main interest is in investigating corruption cases, as he succeeded in disclosing and reporting several corruption cases to law enforcers, including the KPK while in ICW. In addition, various studies on corruption issues have been carried out, ranging from military business in Indonesia, corruption mapping in the procurement of goods and services, corruption issues and governance of housing policies for the people, and so on. During his time in ICW, Adnan was Head of the Investigation Division, Head of the Political Corruption Division, and Head of the Public Information Division, later he was trusted to be the Deputy Coordinator of ICW. In 2012, he continued his education at the University of Melbourne, Australia, taking a Master’s program majoring in Development Studies. Throughout his work at ICW, Adnan has written extensively on corruption issues in various mass media, has been a facilitator and speaker in various training, seminars, and discussions, both domestically and abroad. Currently, he is the ICW Coordinator as well as a permanent lecturer for the Anti-Corruption Education course at PKN STAN. He is also one of the founders of PT Visi Integritas, a startup company that dedicates its role to encouraging improvements in organizational governance, both in the public and private sectors.