Crisis of Confidence

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono did nothing this week to bolster hopes that this corruption-riddled country is doing anything of substance to battle the ravenous disease – corruption – that blights almost every aspect of life.

It is the very institutions that are charged with upholding and protecting the Constitution and law – police, prosecutors’ offices and the courts – that are responsible for the putrid status quo that exists, one in which justice is available to whoever pays a sufficiently high amount.

It is a business, not a process of jurisprudence and certainly not one in which merit actually counts. And it is an ongoing scandal that almost no one wishes to put right, because there is too much profiting, and protection. It is indeed, as the president pointed out recently, a “judicial mafia.”

President Yudhoyono has made significant headway in fighting corruption in this country, but those efforts now are at risk of being lost – politically and as a matter of sorry fact – because the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) is in turmoil, its officers being investigated or already before the courts.

Ahead of his speech on Monday night reacting to the findings of his special fact-finding team into allegations that two senior KPK officials were involved in graft and abused their powers – and recommendations that the police chief and attorney general be called to account for pressing ahead with a flimsy case of questionable bases – Yudhoyono had vowed to make a “controversial” decision.

It was controversial all right – in what was not said.

In a fast-deteriorating situation where clear leadership is immediately required to halt the institutional in-fighting that threatens to destabilise the nation, the president – who was re-elected to a second term earlier this year largely on a platform of a continued campaign of stamping out corruption – merely said he would not interfere in legal processes.

He did, however, suggest the case against the two top KPK officials, Bibit Samad Riyanto and Chandra Hamzah, be dropped, for the sake of “social unity,” alluding to massive public disquiet over the investigation into the pair.

That lukewarm response drew the ire of anti-corruption campaigners. One of them called it “bullshit.”

The KPK is perceived as being one of the only truly clean institutions in the country, and the public believes it has come under attack by the individuals it investigates over suspected corruption. The current ferment may, it is suggested, have come to a head following the contentious bailout of Bank Century (renamed Bank Mutiara), two of whose major account holders may have put pressure on relevant authorities to protect their savings. They are depositors who were financial contributors to the president’s re-election campaign.

More than a week since the fact-finding team’s recommendations, this deep lack of confidence in the authorities – now extending to the presidential palace – lingers. The president’s speech has done nothing to dispel widely held notions of foul play. For his fledgling new administration, that could be very bad indeed.

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