Last week, an unknown attacker threw acid in the face of Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) senior investigator Novel Baswedan. He is handling the investigation into the massive Rp 2.3 trillion (AU$230 million) electronic identity card (e-KTP) corruption case. This is arguably the largest case ever handled by the KPK and has implicated dozens of lawmakers, including House of Representatives Speaker Setya Novanto. Baswedan is an icon of the anti-graft institution, and has handled many of its biggest and most controversial cases. An attack on Baswedan is an attack on the KPK.
It would be wrong, however, to assume that this crude attack will make Baswedan falter, or the KPK back down. Baswedan might appear calm, but beneath the surface he is fierce. He does not buckle under pressure. He has doggedly pursued corruptors, in cases like the procurement of driving simulators, the Bank Indonesia bribery case involving Miranda Goeltom, and the Southeast Asian Games athletes village. He has repeatedly been the target of attacks from opponents within the National Police, facing ‘criminalisation’ (prosecution on trumped up charges) in 2012 and again in 2015. Yet he has stood his ground again and again.
So too, has the KPK. If one counts from the passage of Law No. 30 of 2002 on the Corruption Eradication Commission, passed in December that year, the KPK will be 15 this year. It has outlasted all previously formed anti-corruption bodies, such as the Corruption Eradication Team (which only survived three years, from 1967 to 1970), Commission Four (which lasted only four months in 1970), and the Joint Team for the Eradication of Corruption Crime (which was around for a year, from 2000 to 2001).
KPK leaders and staff are now accustomed to being on the receiving end of attacks. These have sometimes taken the form of legal challenges, such as in the Constitutional Court, or the repeated attempts to revise the law in the DPR, the national legislature. In fact, the Law on the KPK has been challenged in the Constitutional Court more than any other piece of legislation – there have been at least 20 applications for its review. Opponents have questioned the KPK’s authority to wiretap, to prosecute cases, and the rules preventing it from dropping prosecutions once they are in motion.
Fortunately, the Constitutional Court has mostly upheld the strategic authority of the KPK. This includes the court’s recent decision to uphold the KPK’s right to recruit its own investigators, which should finally put an end to debates about the presence of independent investigators in the anti-corruption institution.
The Constitutional Court’s past decisions on the KPK should, in theory, be enough to put an end to plans for revisions to the Law on the KPK. These include amendments that aim to limit the institution’s ability to conduct wiretapping, to provide it with the authority to drop investigations, or to strengthen supervision over the body. They could end up conflicting with past Constitutional Court rulings, which have consistently found that the KPK’s strategic authority is constitutional.
The solution to these repeated judicial attacks is to strengthen the KPK in the Constitution. The KPK, whose existence is based only on a national statute, is clearly much more vulnerable than if an article on the body were inserted into the Constitution. This is a step that has already been taken in at least 30 other countries. Even in the ASEAN region, Indonesia is the only country with an anti-corruption institution that is not regulated in the Constitution.
Fortunately, judicial attacks on the KPK have thus far been ineffective in weakening the institution. Other attacks on the KPK have targeted individuals, both the KPK leadership and other staff, and have comprised both legal and physical attacks.
The legal cases brought by police against KPK commissioners Chandra Hamzah, Bibit Samad Rianto, Abraham Samad and Bambang Widjojanto are of course still fresh in our minds. No doubt the public still remember the efforts to criminalise Baswedan, too, over allegations of torture from when he was still working as a police officer back in 2004. Despite the personal nature of these attacks, they were all clearly designed to weaken the KPK.
The solution to these criminal attacks is to adopt a rule on limited legal immunity for the leaders and staff of the KPK. It is critical to stress that immunity is not the same as impunity. It does not mean that KPK staff should not be subject to legal action if they violate the law. Rather, KPK leaders and staff should be immune from counter-attacks and criminalisation resulting from their duties in the KPK. This concept of immunity is the same as that enjoyed by members of the legislature, who cannot be charged in civil or criminal cases as a result of actions performed to complete their legislative functions.
To prevent physical attacks, which may result in wounds or even disability, standard operating procedures for security clearly must be improved. There must also be firm legal action against perpetrators of violence.
Despite the attacker’s intentions, the KPK will remain strong as long as Baswedan is around. There are few people as committed to the anti-corruption cause, as fearless, or determined. This is where the attacker miscalculated. His face may end up scarred and there is a risk of damage to his eyesight but I have no doubt this attack will only make Baswedan stronger.
We all know that Baswedan cannot be left out alone in efforts to eliminate corruption. The efforts I have described above – strengthening the KPK in the Constitution, putting an end to efforts to revise the law on the KPK, or strengthening legal immunity for KPK leaders and staff – all require a political class that is also committed to anti-corruption. How will the government, leaders in the DPR, or political party chiefs feel about a stronger KPK?
It is fair to say that Indonesian politics is too chaotic to hope that political leaders will act to protect the KPK. Hopes for the commission are ultimately in the hands of the Indonesian people. May the acid that has scarred Baswedan’s face serve as a reminder for Indonesians to be even more caustic in their defence of the KPK.