Indonesia’s corruption watchdog is taking on the notoriously graft-ridden police in a confrontation that sees two law enforcement agencies facing off against each other.
Rampant corruption has crippled the public service in Indonesia, where paying bribes is routine and half the population of 240 million live below the poverty line.
The country scored 3.0 in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index for 2011, where 10 means “very clean” and zero “highly corrupt”.
But the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) has been given extraordinary powers to wiretap suspects and probe bank accounts in an effort to tackle the scourge, and is increasingly chasing Indonesia’s big fish.
In the process it is making enemies of police, prosecutors and politicians, and has won the fervent backing of ordinary Indonesians – who consistently name the police as one of the country’s two most corrupt institutions in Transparency International’s annual survey.
The current case centres on a $21 million tender for driving simulators, with the KPK accusing former traffic division chief Djoko Susilo of accepting more than $200,000 in kickbacks to favour one bidder.
The winner, metals company Citra Mandiri Metalindo Abadi, is known for producing bottle tops, and had no experience or capacity in simulators.
It subcontracted the project and by the time the deadline arrived, only 100 of the 1,200 contracted simulators – used to teach and test driving skills – were delivered, according to Indonesia’s respected Tempo magazine.
The company has not commented on the case.
The KPK has named Susilo and three other traffic division police as suspects in the tender.
The national police initially refused to hand over evidence and insisted on conducting the probe itself. It finally agreed to cooperate on the condition it could sight key evidence collected by the KPK.
But on Friday the police again questioned Susilo over the tender, even though by law it is obliged to step down once the KPK has taken on a case.
Susilo’s lawyer told reporters his client would refuse to answer the KPK’s questions because he had already been quizzed by the police.
Neta Pane, head of the INGO Indonesian Police Watch, backed the KPK in its efforts to hold the police to account, adding the traffic division had a reputation as an “ATM machine” for senior police officials.
“The KPK has the legal right to investigate the police,” he told AFP. “Allowing the police to investigate itself undermines Indonesia’s efforts to eradicate corruption.”
Popular support for the KPK was demonstrated in June, when millions of street food vendors on meagre incomes donated coins to support the watchdog’s bid for a bigger building to house its growing staff.
“Compared with other institutions, the KPK is the most organised and clean, so it is still the hope of the people,” prominent lawyer Tudung Mulya Lubis said.
The police, on the other hand, are “at the epicentre of corruption in the eyes of the people”.
Nevertheless, the KPK rarely probes the police and has never prosecuted a working police official.
“This is in part because the police controls the evidence needed for the KPK’s investigations. A lot of KPK investigators are seconded from the police. I’d like to think they’re independent, but you never know,” Lubis said.
Activists have called on President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to support the KPK in the latest feud, criticising him for backtracking on his election campaign pledge to curb corruption.
The promise was a key element in securing his second term with a landslide win at the polls in 2009.
But since then Yudhoyono has shown little action to match the rhetoric, while his government has become mired in a bank bailout scandal and members of his Democratic Party have come under investigation in several cases.
In 2009, Yudhoyono was criticised for sitting idly by in a power struggle where the national police tried to frame two KPK commissioners for corruption.
In his Independence Day speech last week, Yudhoyono made his most passionate remarks on corruption for some time, acknowledging graft still bled through his government, parliament and law enforcement agencies.
“The drum of war on corruption should not dissipate. Corruption should be completely eradicated,” he told parliament in his speech.
But he fell short of giving an instruction in the simulators case, saying only that law enforcement agencies should not intervene in each other’s investigations. -By Angela Dewan