Mon, 21 Aug 2000

Rise of the anticorruption movement

The following is based on a presentation by lawyer and chairman of the Ethical Board of the Jakarta-based Indonesian Corruption Watch Todung Mulya Lubis at the Asia Regional Good Governance Conference from Aug. 4 to Aug. 6 in Pnom Penh, Cambodia.

PNOM PENH: Protests against corruption are not new. Since Indonesia proclaimed its independence, protests against corruption have been a theme drawing support from the vast majority of the population. Almost every year, we have witnessed a new group with a different name emerging to fight the battle against corruption.

The idea of having a clean government has long been a dream of many people. Students and social activists have always been at the forefront of the various organizations or groups that have been set up -- such as the Anticorruption Commission, the Anticorruption Movement, the Austerity Movement, Indonesian Corruption Watch and Indonesian Transparency Community.

Although most of these protest groups are based in Jakarta, similar groups have also been established in the regions.

However most anticorruption groups have not lasted long and have failed. They lacked the stamina to fight a long and hard battle. Only recently, in the aftermath of Soeharto's regime have anticorruption groups become more organized and focused. These anticorruption groups in many cases have managed to mobilize support from the community.

The most active anticorruption body is undoubtedly the Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW), set up by social activists, retired judges, practicing lawyers and journalists.

The ICW launched an anticorruption campaign by publishing its findings about corruption endemic in various governmental departments or state-owned enterprises such Pertamina, Garuda Indonesia Airlines, the State Logistics Agency (Bulog) and others.

In cooperation with media activists, ICW consciously tried to awaken people to the fact that corruption has stolen the people's wealth. A series of television and radio talk shows were organized, and interestingly, the anticorruption movement began to receive strong support from society.

ICW started to receive reports about corruption from people, though most sources were anonymous. Additionally, the reports failed to enclose supporting evidence of corruption, and if any, the supporting evidence happened to be photocopies.

Under Indonesian Law, photocopied documents are not admissible in court. Therefore, those reports can only be used as preliminary evidence subject to verification.

ICW realizes that it has limited means and ways to successfully combat corruption. Thus, its main tactic is to tirelessly campaign to embarrass both those who are corrupt and their loyal protectors such as the police, the prosecutors, the judges and others who control power.

Attacking the integrity of law enforcers is a key target of anticorruption campaigns, and interestingly, it does work. For instance, ICW succeeded in using public ridicule to force former attorney general Andi Galib, a close aide to former president B.J. Habibie, to resign from his post.

Widespread publication of Soeharto's abuses of power has also finally forced the attorney general (Marzuki Darusman) to bring Soeharto to court.

Similar tactics have also been employed by other anticorruption groups. However, it is important to mention that there have been more and more anticorruption groups established which focus more on building databases, and doing research, analysis and education.

An anticorruption network is about to emerge, linking certain groups from various cities. Significantly, this networking has managed to establish contact with various international anticorruption non-governmental organizations like Transparency International. Corrupt officials are now feeling much more uncomfortable with the new environment critical of any form of corruption.

An important prerequisite to succeeding in combating corruption is the presence of a strong and independent judiciary in addition to a committed police force, prosecutor and tax apparatus. Of course, Indonesia lacks all of these key components.

Judicial corruption in the country is the enemy number one. Therefore, a fight to combat corruption must start from the court. And the highest priority in that cleanup campaign must be the removal of corrupt judges. It is for this very reason that the government together with the legislature started to "reform" the Supreme Court by filling out vacant seats with new judges who have to pass a fit-and-proper test.

The chief justice must also be replaced by a reform-minded judge who can lead the other judges in cleaning up the Supreme Court and the lower courts.

A cleanup must also be conducted in the Attorney General's Office, as well as the police. The time has come to prosecute and punish corrupt judges, prosecutors and police officers in order to set an example to others to obey the law. Once a judiciary and other legal officers have been cleaned up, the fight to combat corruption will be much easier.

Since combating corruption is high on the government's agenda, the government has also set up some institutions that monitor and investigate corruption.

The new institutions are, first, a new ombudsman in charge of monitoring judicial corruption especially in the court; second, a Joint Investigative Team within the Attorney General's office in charge of assisting the attorney general in investigating corruption cases in general; and, third, a Commission to Investigate the Wealth of Public Officials, which is still in the process of being established.

Reports say the government also plans to eventually set up an Anticorruption Commission like the one in Hong Kong.

The 1971 law on anticorruption, amended in 1999, enables judges to severely punish corrupt officials. In addition, a new law concerning investigation of the wealth of public officials has been adopted by the House of Representatives.

Certainly, this is far from sufficient because what is also needed are laws that can protect witnesses and those who are willing to come forward with corruption reports. For anticorruption efforts to succeed, it is important to have a witness protection act, a whistle blower act and a public information act. Government sources claim that the government has already prepared draft bills like these to protect witnesses.

The Attorney General's Office is, meanwhile, preparing a "White Book on Corruption", describing state of the art of corruption as well as the strategies to fight it.

The book will be used to gain public support for the government's efforts in cleaning up the system. It is expected to spell out the level of corruption in some sectors, such as the judiciary, the civil service, forestry and state companies.

The description of corruption would give a better understanding of corruption and possible links to poverty and our crippled judiciary. Perhaps, we should be able to identify our strengths and weaknesses in the legal institutions and human resources. This identification will eventually lead us to a list of action plans such as, perhaps, organizing training programs for judges and prosecutors on asset tracing, forensic investigations and the like.

What the government has done so far is quite unsatisfactory. But it would be wrong to rely only on legal means. The government needs a strong political will, translated into action at every level of the administration in the capital as well as the regions.

Translation of an anticorruption policy should in the first place deal with the low level of salaries and welfare of civil servants. Failure to improve the quality of life of the civil servants and the people at large would hamper any anticorruption campaign by the government.

There is also a need for strict and consistent law enforcement in the sense that corrupt officials are brought to the courts and punished accordingly. People would like to see concrete steps, especially in bringing the "big fish" to court. As long as they remain untouched, skepticism and distrust toward the sincerity of the anticorruption campaign will naturally remain.

Finally, the government also needs to give teeth to anticorruption watchdogs such as the ICW and Indonesian Transparency Society. The media must also play a more active role in exposing any allegations of corruption. For this, we need skilled investigative journalism. It is for this reason that we need to underline that this is the time to have new legislation.

The time to act is now. The government carries a heavy burden mandated by the reformasi movement. The test in whether the government does indeed support reform depends on success in the battle against corruption, rather than in mere lip service.