Mon, 07 Mar 2005

Monitoring court officials could wipe out corruption

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

"Thieves for their robbery have authority when judges steal themselves," Shakespeare, the famous English bard, once said.

The words, which were expressed by a man who lived more than 400 years ago, still ring true in Indonesia today, with the judicial system widely regarded as one of the most corrupt institutions in the country.

"The courts have been one of the government institutions that have given rise to the most complaints from the public. The complaints are still coming in thick and fast," Masdar Farid Mas'udi of the National Ombudsman Commission (KON) told The Jakarta Post on Saturday.

The recently published Asian Development Bank (ADB)'s Government Assessment Report 2005-Indonesia states that almost 36 percent of the complaints received by the KON in its first year of operation were related to judicial corruption.

The KON was established on March 20, 2000, based on Presidential Decree No.44/2000 for the purpose of monitoring the performance of state institutions in providing services to the public.

According to the report, the rampant corruption in the country's judicial system involves both judges, the ultimate decision makers in the judicial system, and clerks. Inadequate funding is often cited as the main excuse.

The multinational lender said that Indonesia spent only around 0.3 percent of its annual state budget on funding the country's more than 700 courts, 2,910 judges and 10,000 clerks. Many other countries typically devoted about 2 percent of their budgetary spending to the courts.

"It is normal for officials of the courts to demand illicit payments to expedite the hearing and adjudication of cases. More worrisome for the cause of justice is the extent of corruption that affects the decisions of the court," the ADB report said.

The country's weak and corrupt judicial system has been one of the main factors seen to be hampering badly needed new investment in the country.

A young lawyer who requested anonymity confirmed the findings and said that the rampant corruption involved lawyers, prosecutors, and court clerks, collectively known as the "court mafia".

"There are several modes of corruption involving the judges. I know of several famous lawyers who pay monthly allowances to a number of judges in the administrative courts," the lawyer told the Post.

He said there were two typical ways in which judges were bribed. First was to negotiate the verdict, or what lawyers called a "bombing" or "auction", while the second most common way was to give the judges gifts after winning the case.

The ADB report also mentioned other practices such as the paying off of a court president to influence the selection of the judges who would hear a case. The payoff could take the form, for example, of a payment toward the judge's son's or daughter's wedding or for the purchase of a car or a house.

The young lawyer also shared his experiences of paying off clerks to get legal documentation for his client.

"If I want to get a document declaring that your clients is not involved in a trial process, which is really needed by companies, I have to pay them Rp 500,000 for each document. This is a non-negotiable fee," he said.

He said that both the judges and clerks then shared the illicit money with other officials working in the court system.

A clerk in the South Jakarta District Court denied the allegations, arguing that the clerks' duties were only to support the work of the judges and that therefore they had no power to influence decisions.

Masdar suggested that effective monitoring should be conducted by the Supreme Court or a Judicial Commission to stop the rampant bribery and that the public should report all incidences of illegal conduct in the courts. (006)