Sat, 21 Feb 2004

Last bastion of justice?

Two starkly contrasting images appeared on Feb. 13 in most Jakarta dailies. The first was a photo of Akbar Tandjung (currently House of Representatives speaker) bursting into tears of happiness while being hugged by his wife, as he had just been acquitted by the Supreme Court on all charges.

The other, which appeared in Kompas, was a picture of a proud and smiling Malaysian anticorruption agent who, together with a police officer, led a Malaysian minister of land and development cooperatives from a Malaysian police station.

Both images portrayed the strengths and weaknesses of the judicial system in the two countries. The Indonesian Supreme Court, which had been expected by justice-loving citizens to be the last bastion of justice, collapsed. The Malaysian court has, on the other hand, authoritatively charged the minister with involvement in five corruption cases, which will proceed to a higher court.

The editorial in The Jakarta Post on Feb. 13, titled Bulwark of justice?, as well as those in other dailies, plus lawyers, experts and ordinary people, not to mention student activists, all criticized the Supreme Court verdict as one that was far from fulfilling the public's sense of justice. Todung Mulya Lubis, a noted corporate lawyer, and Antonius Sujata, chairman of the Ombudsman Commission, said that the verdict had certainly caused a loss of public confidence in the judicial system and in the ongoing battle against corruption (the Post Feb. 13).

What is left by the verdict was deep public disappointment in the country's judicial system, as well as a failure in legal reform that should have been initiated and championed by Chief Justice Bagir Manan, whose term of office will soon be over.

The verdict was also a sign of a lack of accountability on behalf of the Supreme Court, as it is not subject to any superior agency that can supervise and oversee its activities. Therefore, Benyamin Mangkoedilaga's suggestion, that the House immediately endorse a bill on a judicial commission, is worth considering (the Post Feb. 16).

The ball is now in the House's court, and the conscience of legislators is under challenge. Malaysia's success story in all areas, including in combating corruption, should serve as an object lesson for all of us.

M. RUSDI, Jakarta