Sat, 09 Sep 2006

When antigraft officers get involved in extortion

Dwi Atmanta, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Police officer Suparman and comic action hero Superman had one responsibility in common: to uphold justice.

An abuse of power, however, has turned Suparman into an infamous villain. The Anticorruption Court recently convicted the former Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) investigator of graft and extortion and sentenced him to eight years' jail.

The court found Adj. Comr. Suparman had extorted money and goods from Tintin Surtini, a witness in a corruption case involving Bandung textile firm PT Industri Sandang Nusantara. In return she would avoid being prosecuted in the case.

Learning from past experiences, there are many reasons to doubt the power -- or the will -- of the country's legal system to stamp out corruption. Political interests remain influential and the "spirit of the corps" is ingrained in law enforcement institutions.

Suparman's case only underlines the many opportunities for law enforcers and members of the judiciary to abuse power for personal gain as they deal with people who are willing to trade their often ill-gotten wealth in exchange for freedom.

It has been understood since the first nationwide campaign against corruption started in 1998 that efforts to root out graft will be in vain without reforming the judicial and law enforcement agencies.

"How can we clean up the house using a dirty broom?" was the argument, which remains valid today.

Unfortunately, all post-Soeharto administrations have failed to adopt a grand strategy to win the war on graft, which starts with efforts to remove this dirt.

Some internal reforms, however, are underway -- albeit at a sluggish pace -- within the National Police, Attorney General's Office and the Supreme Court.

Post-Soeharto administrations are also aware that changes are most likely if outsiders take charge; a common practice in business management. The administrations of Abdurrahman Wahid and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono gave this strategy a try when they assigned the respected Baharuddin Lopa and Abdul Rachman Saleh respectively to lead the Attorney General's Office. Lopa died before he could do much cleaning. Abdul Rachman has so far been extremely cautious, however, his decision to suspend Jakarta Prosecutor's Office chief Rusdi Taher and three prosecutors in connection with a lenient sentence demand for a drug trafficking suspect has raised some hopes for change.

National Police chief Gen. Sutanto, meanwhile, has demonstrated a commitment to reform in an institution known for a reluctance to go after its own. Recently the force brought two police generals responsible for an investigation into a major bank fraud to justice for bribery. That breakthrough, however, was enough only to satisfy the public clamor for justice at the time. It was not enough to send a signal that radical changes are in progress, as the investigation was never expanded to include a higher level of police officers. In the field, meanwhile, it is business as usual, as petty officers continue to ask or accept bribes on the streets. Bribery allowed wanted terror suspect Azahari bin Husin to slip through the police's fingers shortly after the Australian Embassy attack in 2004.

The Supreme Court won praise when it introduced a blueprint for internal reform in cooperation with the Partnership for Governance Reform. Since then it has implemented the blueprint at a snail's pace and raised more eyebrows when it successfully resisted external supervision.

Judges also sparked controversy when they united against attempts to bring Chief Justice Bagir Manan to court to testify in the trial of a lawyer charged with bribing Supreme Court officials.

Like in many other institutions, internal mechanisms to control the conduct of judges and justices are not believed by the public.

Several cases in the past have proved that disciplinary hearings do nothing to punish or even discourage judges accused of taking bribes.

Many people, meanwhile, continue to talk about the existence of the so-called "judicial mafia" in the country but only one judge so far has been prosecuted for alleged bribery.

And now the Judicial Commission has lost its powers to select, monitor and discipline the judges it was set up to police.

The KPK, dubbed a law enforcement "superbody", probably had no choice but to quickly take action against Suparman when Titin revealed the extortion. Protecting Suparman, or, in another words keeping the spirit of the corps intact, would only have cost the commission its hard-won public trust.

Until internal reforms in the police, prosecutors and the judiciary work, Indonesia cannot win the war on corruption.

Victory in a few battles is not enough.