In front of the headquarters of the Corruption Eradication Commission in central Jakarta sits a table with a glass bowl and a sign appealing for donations to help construct a new building for the government anti-graft agency. Activists coordinated by Indonesian Corruption Watch, a nongovernmental organisation, staff the table, counting the money periodically and keeping a close tally of the funds. Bags of cement, a metal gate and other building materials have also been contributed. Street vendors, socialites, human rights advocates, government officials and even Indonesians living overseas have given to the campaign since it began in late June. On a recent Friday, a member of Parliament made a public display of his and his aides’ donation of 465,000 rupiahs, or $50, waving crisp bills in the air and calling the movement a necessary show of support for one of Asia’s most aggressive graft-busting bodies, also known locally as the K.P.K.
The 331 million rupiahs raised so far fall well short of construction needs, but organisers hope their Coins for K.P.K. campaign will pressure a parliamentary commission to release the 225 billion rupiahs the agency says it needs to accommodate a greatly expanded staff. The finance ministry has endorsed the budget, but the commission in the House of Representatives required to approve the funds has blocked their disbursement.
The commission says it is simply trying to control public spending and has recommended that the K.P.K. rent additional space elsewhere. “It’s not necessary to build a new building,” said Eva Sundari, a commission member.
Anti-corruption activists, however, see the legislators’ rebuff as political payback – just the latest punch in a continuing battle between the K.P.K. and the country’s lawmakers, many of whom have been caught up in its dragnet.
Since it began operations in 2003, the K.P.K. has investigated and prosecuted dozens of governors, judges and members of Parliament. More than 30 legislators have been convicted of accepting bribes in return for voting to elect Miranda Goeltom as deputy governor of Indonesia’s central bank, in 2004. Goeltom herself is on trial on suspicion of vote-buying.
“They don’t want the K.P.K. to become bigger and stronger,” said Danang Widoyoko, chair of Indonesian Corruption Watch. “They’re afraid the K.P.K. will go after their colleagues and friends,” he said, adding, “The building is only one of the battles.”
In a country where corruption seems to pervade government institutions and where corrupt police officials, judges and prosecutors lord over the legal system, anti-graft campaigners say the K.P.K. has become a single line of defense for ordinary Indonesians seeking justice.
“People don’t trust prosecutors, the police. They put their trust in this institution,” said Ratna Dasahasta, who manages an anti-corruption forum at Transparency International Indonesia.
The K.P.K. has the power to investigate suspects using wiretaps, which it can install without a warrant. It can also prosecute, although a separate corruption court issues sentences. One of its biggest claims to fame: a 100 percent conviction rate.
It can also point to Indonesia’s latest ranking on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. Although the 2011 survey ranks it a low 100 among 183 countries, below India and China, it has improved consistently since 2007, when it was at 147.
While K.P.K. officials are not involved in the fund-raising drive, many have voiced support. They say their current headquarters, a 31-year-old former bank building, was designed to hold 350 employees. The K.P.K. now has more than 700 people on staff and has announced plans to recruit an additional 500 to energise the fight against corruption in a country of 240 million.
“The K.P.K. is a state institution, where all the needs of the budget come from state funds,” said a K.P.K. spokesman, Johan Budi. “However, it’s the right of people to play an active role in helping eradicate corruption by giving to the K.P.K. building.” Iliana Deta Sari, a researcher with Indonesia Corruption Watch, said the fund-raisers had set a limit of 10 million rupiahs for individual donations because “we don’t want anyone to dominate this social movement.”
“It’s better to have small donations so everyone can participate,” she said.
The fund-raising campaign comes amid a number of recent efforts by the K.P.K. and anti-corruption activists to build up the agency’s public standing. Although the institution is rated as among the country’s most trusted in opinion polls, it has also been criticised by citizens for not taking on bigger cases, for demanding lenient sentences or for moving too slowly on investigations that implicate high-profile politicians.
There has also been whispering by analysts about divisions among K.P.K. officials over which suspects to go after. With a limited staff to investigate the hundreds of cases brought to the agency each year, it has to be selective. But some experts say the cases it chooses create the perception that the K.P.K. may be singling out certain individuals and ignoring others.
“The K.P.K. can’t be seen as regarding some corruption as corruption that matters and some that doesn’t,” said Bertrand de Speville, a British anti-corruption consultant and former commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption in Hong Kong.
Corruption’s omnipresence in Indonesia can, at times, seem overwhelming. Almost daily, details about new or continuing investigations by the K.P.K. splash across television screens and the pages of newspapers. On Tuesday, the K.P.K. named two duty police generals as suspects in a graft case that allegedly cost the state 199 billion rupiahs. The move comes on the heels of another scandal – the alleged misuse of funds by the Religious Affairs Ministry in the procurement of 57 billion rupiahs’ worth of Korans.
Some analysts liken the public’s fascination with the K.P.K. and its inquiries, some of which are televised, to a soap opera, with viewers tuning in to see how certain officials will perform under questioning, what luxury handbag a suspect will carry or what illness one might devise to avoid trial. When Goeltom appeared in court last month, a local newspaper described her as looking “immaculate” in her K.P.K.-issued court jacket and matching gray skirt.
To promote the fight against corruption, Transparency International Indonesia helped set up a Web site that seeks to track cases and publicise the names of people convicted of crimes. Although it has been running for just two months, it already receives about 10,000 visitors a day, said Dasahasta, who said the site provided a way of holding the guilty up for shame.
But to really go after graft, de Speville said, the K.P.K. needs to expand its staff and operations. And that, he said, requires “hard-earned taxpayer money.”
Effendi Choirie, a lawmaker who supports the K.P.K.’s budget request, agreed. “If we have the spirit to combat corruption and make the K.P.K. the main locomotive in corruption eradication,” he said. “We must provide any facilities requested by the K.P.K.”