Rizky Amelia& Markus Junianto Sihaloho
“Let’s say you have someone who goes on trial for embezzling Rp 10 billion through corruption,” says Uchok Sky Khadafi, coordinator of the Indonesian Forum for Budget Transparency (Fitra).
“The value of his assets seized by the state plus the legal fees he incurs will only be somewhere around Rp 5 billion. So once he gets out of prison in a few years, he can still live large.”
This frequently played-out scenario, says Uchok, explains succinctly why the nation’s fight against corruption is taking a heavy economic toll even as more and more people are convicted of graft.
Rimawan Pradiptyo, a financial crimes expert contracted by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) to evaluate the cost of the antigraft campaign, sums up the situation with an eye-opening number.
Even after seizing graft offenders’ assets and recovering stolen funds, the state is still running a Rp 67.7 trillion ($7.1 billion) deficit because of the sheer amount of money being embezzled, he says.
“The public is effectively being made to subsidize these corruptors’ wealth,” Rimawan says.
“We need to consider both the explicit and implicit costs of corruption. It would be an extraordinarily large figure if we imposed it on corruptors as fines.”
Impoverish the corrupt
That’s precisely the idea of a proposal currently being considered for the KPK to adopt in its antigraft campaign.
Gandjar Laksana, a criminal law expert from the University of Indonesia and also a KPK consultant, says the aim is to “impoverish the corrupt” to provide a more potent deterrent against corruption than the prescribed prison sentences.
He says this is in keeping with Article 25(c) of the revised Anti-Corruption Law, which states that other punishment in addition to incarceration may be meted out to fully recover the value of the losses experienced by the state as a consequence of the corruption.
Bambang Widjojanto, a deputy chairman of the KPK, stresses the need to be able to calculate and recover the true cost of corruption to ensure that once graft offenders leave prison, they will not be able to enjoy their ill-gotten riches.
“Corruption is a crime of calculation. People who commit corruption are always calculating whether the amount of money they’re getting is worth the potential risk that they run,” he says.
He argues that there needs to be another form of punishment, outside of incarceration and fining, that a court can hand down to strip corruption offenders of their dirty money.
Bambang says the combined cost of corruption and for mounting antigraft investigations since the KPK’s founding in 2003 is Rp 73 trillion. The amount recovered and seized through fines is just Rp 5.3 trillion.
“We’re losing almost 92 percent of all the money. That’s why the KPK needs a new way to calculate the true cost of corruption in detail,” Bambang says.
Fears of opposition
Some legislators have sided with the antigraft body on this issue.
Syarifuddin Sudding, a member of the House of Representatives’ Commission III, which oversees legal affairs, agrees that new legislation is needed to prevent corruption convicts from enjoying the fruit of their crimes once they get out of prison.
“There need to be rules on impoverishing corruptors,” he says.
He adds that what makes the current system particularly egregious is the fact that because of their intact wealth, the ex-convicts command a high degree of respect and admiration once they rejoin society.
Sudding, from the People’s Conscience Party (Hanura), says he fears that any attempt to pass legislation to the detriment of the corrupt will meet with opposition from a small but politically influential and economically powerful elite.
“But that’s the choice that we must make,” he says.
Saan Mustopa, a House Commission III member from the ruling Democratic Party, says his party will fully support a planned bill on corruption-asset recovery and any other legislation designed to crack down harder on graft offenders.
“This bill is clearly necessary in order to restore to the state all the assets stolen through corruption,” he says.
But Saan points out that the draft of the bill is still being drawn up by the government and has not yet been submitted to the House for deliberation.
Roll back graft
The draft bill was proposed by the Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Center (PPATK), the government’s anti-money-laundering watchdog.
Uchok says that the sooner it is submitted to the House and passed, the more effectively authorities can fight corruption and roll back its spread across all layers of the government.
He also says that the bill should go one step further and mandate not just the seizure of ill-gotten wealth, but also the offenders’ legitimately earned assets, in an effort to make an example out of them.
“The rules that we have now still give graft offenders plenty of breathing room,” he says.
He argues that this room needs to be narrowed down so that graft convicts will never be able to enjoy the proceeds of their crimes or be able to stash the money away out of the reach of law enforcement.