President Risks Backlash Over Wavering Graft Fight

WASHINGTON ~ President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono risks political backlash for failing to go after “big fish” under a promised anti-graft drive that propelled him to office, local and international experts say.

Yudhoyono was elected in September 2004 in large part because of his promises to improve governance and fight graft, and appears to have designated the independent commission for the eradication of corruption, or KPK, as his proxy in the battle against the scourge.

But a soon-to-be-released stocktaking report by US, European and Indonesian experts on Yudhoyono’s anti-graft initiatives questions whether they could produce a significant and lasting decline in the level of graft in Indonesia.

“There also is a risk that the government and KPK’s anti-corruption initiatives will provoke a political backlash or public disappointment – or both,” warned the report.

Part of its findings were cited at a conference organized by the United States-Indonesia Society (USINDO) in Washington.

“On KPK, questions (have been) raised recently by almost everyone in the civil society because when it comes to corruption in high-ranking officials, it stops there,” Indonesian legal expert Frans Winarta told the conference.

“It’s workable only for those who have no political power. This is really disappointing and I call this situation discriminating law enforcement,” he said. “This has to be changed.”

Bivitri Susanti of the Center for Indonesian Law and Policy Studies told participants that foreign donors should help empower civil society in cracking down on corruption.

She said donors channeled funds directly to state institutions “without empowering the civil society, which actually has a very big role in monitoring the reform process.”

The report evaluating Yudhoyono’s anti-corruption efforts, to be released in full next month, said “the credibility” of anti-corruption efforts in Indonesia “could be undermined by the appearance of partisanship and/or selectivity.”

It warned that “the failure of anti-corruption efforts to punish ‘big fish’ or to improve the availability or quality of public services could fuel public frustration and cynicism.”

The report acknowledges that the number of anti-corruption prosecutions have increased under Yudhoyono, continuing a trend since 2001, and that these punitive measures sent the message that “corruption is not risk-free.”

But “to date, there has been only limited action taken against those at the apex of power in Indonesia, namely politicians and generals who currently hold high-level positions in the national government, political parties or military,” the report said.

It questioned the “notable” absence of any explicit emphasis on investigating and prosecuting corruption by former president Suharto and his family and close associates – despite continued calls to do so from civil society.

Indonesia has an endemic corruption problem and was this week ranked 130 – together with Zimbabwe – out of 163 nations on anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International’s global corruption perception index for 2006.

Last year, it was ranked 137 out of 158 nations.

Indonesia’s judicial system also has been tarnished by several high-profile cases, including the early release last month from jail of a son of former president Suharto convicted for paying a hitman to kill a judge.

In another controversial decision last month, a three-member Supreme Court panel overturned a guilty verdict on a pilot, linked to influential figures, convicted of murdering a leading human rights activist.

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