By Luky Djan (Executive Director, Institute for Strategic Initiatives (ISI) and jury member for the 2013 Bung Hatta Anti-Corruption Award)
The endeavor to eradicate corruption will always travel a rocky road. Indeed it is necessary for anyone acting against corruption to face off directly against criminals working together in an organized group. Criminal corruption is almost certain to be perpetrated as a conspiracy jointly in conjunction with others and in a way that is highly organized. Organized criminal corruption has a stronger staying power than other forms of organized crime because the group of perpetrators involved typically occupy positions of formal authority and inevitably command considerable resources.
For this reason, anyone going up against so called “uniformed criminals” must steel him- or herself with both ingenuity and resilience. He or she must also not be surprised at the range of strategies deployed to weaken the agenda and institutions endeavoring to eradicate corruption which will vary from the intervention of those in power to the use of physical violence.
Is the anti-corruption agenda in this country driving towards a yellow light? Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi or KPK) is the front line vanguard and driving force in the fight against corruption and is once again now facing strong headwinds. The institution has weathered past tests successfully. Hopefully the current crisis will likewise result in the strengthening of efforts to defeat corruption. The experience of South Korea and Thailand can provide lessons in the conditions under which institutions are tamed and those under which anti-corruption efforts are successful. The fate of anti-corruption bodies in these places is quite tragic.
Thailand’s National Counter-Corruption Commission (NCCC) and the Korean Independent Commission Against Corruption (KICAC)
Prospects for the fight against corruption in Asia are currently entering their twilight years. Anti-corruption institutions are collapsing. The anti-corruption agenda in South Korea commenced when the leader of the opposition to the military regime Kim Dae Jung became President in February 1998. Kim’s main strategy was spearheaded by an initiative to pass legislation establishing an anti-corruption commission in August 1999. Kim’s idea produced resistance from politicians and legislators with the result that anti-corruption legislation took two years to produce, passing finally on 24 July 2001. Following the enactment of this legislation, opposition emerged to the establishment of an anti-corruption commission from the public prosecutor’s office as well as the police. The Korean Independent Commission Against Corruption (KICAC) was finally formed six months later in January 2002.
The breakthrough of the KICAC shook the corrupt relations between those in power and the chaebol business conglomerates and caught in its wake senior government officials and businessmen. The breakthrough began to unsettle the corrupt even though the KICAC was in fact not as powerful as its other Asian counterparts such as Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption, Thailand’s NCCC or Indonesia’s KPK because the KICAC was not given investigation or prosecution functions. Efforts to shake the KICAC gained momentum after the 25 February 2008 when the government changed, following two periods of progressive leadership under Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, to the conservative government of President Lee Myung-bak.
After only three days in office, on 29 February 2008, President Lee merged the KICAC with two other institutions, the Ombudsman and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, an administrative decisions court like Indonesia’s Public Administration Court (Pengadilan Tata Usaha Negara or PTUN), to form the Anti-Corruption Civil Rights Commission (ACRC). The sway of the KICAC declined, with the new body becoming more of a think tank with the primary function of preventing corruption. The major reason for the reduction in the power of the KICAC was the view that its breakthroughs in this period hampered economic growth. President Lee’s background as an executive of one of the chaebol conglomerates meant he viewed the fight against corruption as a hindrance to economic growth.
Of course the public reacted and opposed the merger. Transparency International Korea Chairman Geo-Sung Kim believes that economic growth is driven by a clean business environment and that an organization like the KICAC is necessary to achieve this. While ACRC commissioners are selected by and responsible to the president, KICAC commissioners were selected by the Supreme Court, legislature and president. There are now valid concerns over the ACRC’s loss of independence.
In Thailand following the establishment of the People’s Constitution in 1997, the National Counter Corruption Commission (NCCC) was formed in November 1999. This agency represented a strengthening of the previous anti-corruption institution, the Counter Corruption Commission or CCC, which had possessed limited functions and been less independent. The NCCC was responsible to the Senate and its nine commissioners were nominated by the Thai Senate and confirmed by the King. The NCCC took direct action by revealing the embezzlement of assets by Deputy Prime Minister Sanan Kachornprasart which led to his resignation. Two months later the NCCC uncovered a 30 million baht bribery scandal which led to the dismissal of Deputy Finance Minister Nibhat Bhukkanasut.
The NCCC’s next target was a tax evasion scandal and dishonesty in the public wealth declaration filed by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. This case put Thaksin’s political career at stake. However, after the legislative elections in 2001, which handed control of the Senate to Thai Rak Thai, Thaksin soon gained control of the Supreme Court, leading to the asset embezzlement case being frozen. As payback, allegations were made against the nine NCCC commissioners alleging criminal conduct and accusations of involvement in a conflict of interests by increasing their monthly salary of 45,000 baht (approximately Rp25 million). The ensuing investigation eventually forced the commissioners to resign in May 2005.
Having control of the majority in parliament, Thaksin had no difficulty installing ‘puppet commissioners’ (Pasuk and Baker, 2004). Following a power shift in a military coup, the military junta replaced the NCCC on 15 July 2008 with the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC). The NACC became an instrument for the removal of political opponents of the Thai military regime.
Every leader possesses a legacy which becomes a monument to his or her success. President Sukarno created magnificent landmark sites ranging from Gelora Bung Karno Stadium (GBK) to Istiqlal Mosque and the statues which adorn the capital. Times, however, change and monuments today no longer take the form of urban architectural landmarks. On the contrary they now represent elements of constitutional architecture. President Habibie left monuments in the form of the rights of freedom of assembly and association, multi-party elections, freedom of the press and regional autonomy. President Abdurrahman Wahid reorganized the function and position of the Indonesian Armed Forces, respect for pluralism and human rights.
Megawati carved out important milestones in the nation’s efforts against corruption. Probably not many people remember that on 27 December 2002 Megawati signed into force Law No. 30/2002 concerning the Corruption Eradication Commission. This institution represented the spearhead and hope of the nation for the elimination of the misuse of power in the form of looting public resources by organized criminal groups who possess political power and financial strength.
So the commitment of President Megawati to try to remove all forms of criminal corruption could not be doubted. A year later the Corruption Eradication Commission was officially established. This writer’s experience ranges from the drafting of the Commission bill to the establishment of the Commission itself which was at the time appropriately resourced by the government. If the commitment to the eradication of corruption had not been strong it would have been simple to abort the drafting of the bill or to stall for time over the establishment of the Commission. Likewise, when on a number of occasions the Commission investigated cases of corruption involving senior politicians from her Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), Megawati did not intervene in the Commission.
Unfortunately, in the middle of the Commission’s efforts to strengthen measures aimed at combating corruption, a wave of attacks have emerged from all directions, including the PDIP. Reports by a member of the House of Representatives related to legal action launched over the disputed election of the head of West Kotawaringin Regency have resulted in a storm of crisis over the very existence of the institution of the Commission and the entire effort to combat corruption. This writer believes these reports have destabilized the Commission because they have led to an institutional crisis as a result of a Commissioner of the anti-corruption agency being named as a suspect in a criminal investigation.
It is regrettable that this has happened because as noted above President Megawati both as head of state while in power and today as party chairwomen has not taken action to weaken the Commission. As a mother Megawati fully understands that the Corruption Eradication Commission is a child of her government to oppose the phantom of corruption that has taken root and become entrenched.
The experience of South Korea and Thailand show that anti-corruption commissions will be stunted and even amputated by subsequent regimes. President Jokowi himself has a real track record in promoting an anti-corruption agenda. He is a recipient of the Bung Hatta Anti-Corruption Award (BHACA) which clearly demonstrates he possesses a strong commitment to the eradication of corruption. The current crisis should be resolved with prudence and expedition. Now the community is waiting for action from President Jokowi as “party official” to strengthen both efforts to eradicate corruption and the Commission, an institution which is an important legacy of Megawati’s.
Published in Kompas daily, Thursday 29 January 2015 (Retrieved from http://youthproactive.com/expert-says/megawati-dan-kpk/ Accessed 8 April 2015.)