Rule Makers Playing a Dangerous Game
The Anti-Corruption Court was established to give the Corruption Eradication Commission the jurisdiction to bring cases of corruption to trial. Both the commission, also known as the KPK, and the Anti-Corruption Court have been outstanding successes, with the KPK maintaining a 100 percent conviction rate and the court being perceived as an impartial and fair entity within a corrupt larger legal system. Unfortunately, our elected representatives have made it clear that they have little tolerance for such success.
The House of Representatives has been sniping at the KPK and the work it does for some time now. If anybody doubted the public perception of the House as one of the most corrupt institutions in Indonesia, lawmakers have now done more than enough to cement that reputation.
Possibly the House’s most counterproductive idea was the suggestion that the KPK’s work be suspended pending the outcome of the Antasari investigation and trials. This was bolstered by an appeal to its own obscure interpretation of the legal language defining the terms of reference for the KPK. Legislators took the view that since the law requires that the KPK has a chairman, the commission’s decision to rotate the chair among the deputies was a breach. In a sudden desire for the strict adherence to the letter of the law, lawmakers communicated their desire to stop tracking down corrupt officials until at least this session had wound up and their retiring members had gone home. Fortunately, the ploy was seen for what it was.
But it wasn’t through proactive efforts that the House has been so efficient at undermining the KPK; it has triumphed through the power of procrastination. The House has been largely successful in giving its members opportunity to accept bribes, embezzle and peddle their influence with impunity. They’ve been able to do this simply by ignoring their duty to legislate. For a corrupt politician, this is the ultimate win-win.
The Anti-Corruption Court will have to be dissolved in early 2010 if the House doesn’t pass the anticorruption bill that is currently on the agenda. The law also requires that the debate in the legislature be completed by the sitting house before it is dissolved, or else the new legislature that will be formed in October will have to go back to square one and restart the process. That the debate won’t be completed by the current House is almost a foregone conclusion.
A cynic might admire lawmakers’ sheer doggedness in avoiding substantial work. Of the 284 bills placed on their agenda since 2004, the House has only managed to endorse about half of them, and about 54 haven’t been touched.
The foot dragging over the Anti-Corruption Court bill stands as their greatest attempt to block an inconvenient law. Since lawmakers managed to spend weeks desultorily discussing the name and title of the bill and to date haven’t addressed any of its substance, it would take a virtual miracle to finalize it by session’s end. The most likely scenario now: The new legislature will have to start the debate all over in October, all but ensuring there will be no bill before the Anti-Corruption Court’s mandate is withdrawn in January.
Our legislators are perfectly aware that the dissolution of the Anti-Corruption Court will effectively put an end to the successful efforts of the KPK. It could be years before any elected new government will be able to establish a similarly effective means for combating the most pervasive problem in the nation. There needs to be some mechanism for dealing with their recalcitrance.
House members should be required to attend a minimum number of sessions or lose their seats to second place candidates; their allowances and salaries should be reduced proportionally by the number of absences from the House. Having someone sign the attendance record for an absent lawmaker should carry criminal fraud charges. There are dozens of possible remedies to the abuse of privilege that seems endemic in our legislature, but none of them will have any effect on the current House.
As things stand, these members have accomplished their aims; they will go home secure in the knowledge that their strenuous lack of effort has borne fruit. All we can do is hope that the next batch sees their function as representatives of the people as something more than their turn at the trough or a cash cow that must be protected from the interference of Indonesian citizens.
Patrick Guntensperger is a Jakarta-based journalist and teacher of journalism.