Anti-Corruption Czar Sees ’15 to 20 Years’ to Clean Up Indonesia

JAKARTA ~ He counts lawmakers and senior officials among his scalps but Indonesia’s anti-corruption chief says it could be 20 years before graft entrenched at all levels of government has been cleaned up.

Since its inception in 2003, the independent Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) has gained a fearsome reputation as one of the few clean institutions in a country ranked among the world’s most corrupt.

This reputation has only been boosted by a 100-percent prosecution rate at the country’s corruption court and a new plan to make defendants there wear special uniforms marking them out – before a verdict – as “KPK prisoners.”

But despite the commission’s successes, corruption is “systemic” from the top to the bottom of Indonesian society, KPK head Antasari Azhar said in an interview with the AFP newswire at its Jakarta headquarters, where TV news crews keep a constant vigil at the entrance.

“If conditions stay like this, and we keep doing everything, I think that it will take 15 to 20 years to get an Indonesia that’s nearly free of corruption,” Azhar said.

If “policies are not weakened or altered” Indonesia would be “at minimum 60 to 70 percent” free of corruption by that time, he said.

Seen as a key instrument in enforcing the anti-corruption drive of reformist President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the KPK counts among its successes a recent five-and-a-half year sentence handed down to former central Bank Indonesia (BI) chief Burhanuddin Abdullah for graft.

Two other bank officials have been sentenced to four years over the case involving Rp100 billion (US$8.4 million) in embezzled bank funds, and four BI deputy governors – including the father-in-law of Yudhoyono’s son – are on trial.

But the KPK has been criticized for failing to handle the vast majority of cases brought by the public and for easing off in its efforts in recent months.

Corruption campaigners also point to setbacks outside the KPK’s purview – such as the recent victory of the youngest son of late president Suharto, Hutomo Mandala Putra, popularly known as Tommy, in a $400-million civil corruption case brought by the Attorney General’s Office – as signs of impunity at the top of Indonesia’s elite.

But Azhar denied anyone is untouchable in Indonesia, saying the dearth of so-called “big fish” being caught was due to the difficulty of proving corruption cases.

“For example, even if I strongly suspect you’re corrupt, I just can’t arrest you as I please. The KPK doesn’t want to abuse its power,” he said.

Upcoming legislative and presidential elections this year could trigger isolated cases of graft but the country’s anti-corruption fight would go on whether or not Yudhoyono is reelected, Azhar said.

“I think there could be potential for corruption. For example, you’re a legislative candidate who is still on duty and you use state money for your election,” he said.

“I think whoever is president, as long as the laws stay the same, I think things can still go on.”

Indonesia’s anti-graft fight has seen it move up in the rankings of Berlin-based watchdog Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, to become the 126th cleanest country on Earth, from an earlier 143rd.

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