MANILA, Philippines—As tracker teams scour the Philippines and other countries in search of pork barrel scam suspect Janet Lim-Napoles, Indonesia’s corruption buster has scored big fish and is going after more.
Indonesia’s Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (KPK), or Corruption Eradication Commission, this month arrested a former energy official on charges that he took bribes amounting to $700,000, or P29 million, 0.3 percent of the P10 billion in pork barrel allegedly pocketed by Napoles.
The KPK has also began to prosecute two top politicians on separate corruption charges.
“We determined that the two heads of big political parties are suspects. Maybe later they will be in our detention center, because that is in the pipeline. They are awaiting to go to jail,” said KPK Vice Chair and Commissioner Adnan Pandu Praja.
Such confidence arises from KPK’s track record that is impressive in this corner of the world: Of some 322 high-profile corruption cases in the last decade, 169 have proceeded to trial with a startling 100-percent conviction rate.
The successes have led to recovery of $80 million (P3.3 billion) in stolen state assets.
“Our mission is written in our law. The KPK was established due to a situation where prosecutors were seen as not professional, they were part of corruption. Secondly, it was proven during Suharto era that he fell because of corruption. So people really need to have a commission to eradicate corruption,” Praja said in an interview with the Inquirer.
Behind the Philippines
The establishment of the KPK in Indonesia and its Philippine counterpart, the Presidential Commission on Good Government, show how far cleansing has gone in the two countries, neighbors perceived to be some of the world’s corrupt: Transparency International rates the Philippines as the 105th most corrupt country out of 176 on its list, with Indonesia farther down at 118.
Both countries are introducing reforms, with Indonesia, though coming behind the Philippines in ousting a strongman from political power, scoring tangible gains, from arrests and prosecutions to integrity audits and honesty drives.
One of this year’s five recipients of the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award, the KPK has been at the head of the Indonesian government’s campaign against corruption for 11 years, a decade that has seen its impact on the gradual turnaround of the country from 32 years of oppressive rule under the late strongman Suharto.
The historic parallel between Jakarta and Manila is not lost on Praja, a lawyer who had worked on government efforts for law enforcement and judicial reform.
“It is like [the late dictator Ferdinand] Marcos. During the Suharto era, there was corruption everywhere. His family members are also corrupt, [he had] cronies so on and so forth. So that’s how it snowballed,” Praja said.
Suharto was ousted in 1998, 12 years after Marcos was toppled from power in the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution.
“That’s the beginning of reformation, like People Power here. And at the time, parliament members considered that we should have a strong independent anticorruption body. That’s a clear mandate for them,” Praja said.
Good at investigation
Created in 2002 following a strong lobby from civil society groups and international organizations, the KPK has risen as Indonesia’s frontline agency for reform, bearing wide-ranging powers that include investigation, prosecution and prevention.
The KPK exercises law enforcement and judicial powers—arrests, search and seizure, freezing of assets, imposing travel bans, intercepting communication and compelling government agencies to cooperate in investigations—all without prior judicial approval.
To some extent, the KPK wield the powers of several Philippine agencies, including the Commission on Audit, Office of the Ombudsman, Sandiganbayan, Philippine National Police and National Bureau of Investigation.
“Our strong point is we are good in investigation. The commission consists of prosecutors, police and auditors. If we can find two pieces of strong evidence, then we can move the case into investigation. And once we decide to investigate, it has to be directed to the court. Trial is in the Supreme Court,” Praja said.
Based in Jakarta, the commission is composed of more than 600 officials—prosecutors, police officers and auditors on loan from other government agencies—all carefully selected through Indonesia’s tedious civil service screening process.
A critical part of the process is an integrity test, where candidates are tested for vulnerability to corruption.
Candidates must also have a proven record of good character, performance and community involvement—requirements aimed at giving the KPK the most dignified personnel in the government.
With those strict criteria, it is “very hard” to find the right fit, Praja conceded. One time, only one applicant out of 130 police officers who had been recommended for secondment to the commission passed the test.
“It is very important. If they had good past performance, so the future looks and sounds good even though it’s not guaranteed,” Praja said.
Expanding the integrity test beyond its walls, the KPK two years ago introduced the concept of integrity zones to other governmental agencies as part of its corruption prevention program.
Under the program, departments hoping to be known as integrity or corruption-free zones must pass a financial audit and performance assessment. Less than 10 agencies have passed the test, Praja said.
“If an agency passes all these requirements, it means it is good in personnel and systems. And integrity [for a government agency] is a combination of people and systems,” he said.
The KPK has also brought its integrity campaign into the public sphere, establishing some 7,000 “honesty shops” across Indonesia in hopes of initiating value reform.
“They put all the products in one corner and the buyers will take [what they want] and pay by themselves, no cashier. It is growing in our country,” Praja said.
“When people see there’s a benefit in this concept, then they follow. The goal is to develop sincerity [in people],” he added.
As the program is in its early stages, there are failures, mostly people taking goods without paying.
But for Praja, “that’s part of the risk” the KPK is willing to face.
“It works but it can still be improved. Maybe in the future, we will have CCTVs (closed-circuit television cameras) [in the shops],” Praja said, laughing at his own idea.
Being bestowed the Ramon Magsaysay Award this year is a boost for the KPK, an affirmation of the good work that it has so far done.
“It means that the international community, especially the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), endorses our activities. What we have been doing so far is good. And secondly, we hope that we can inspire another anticorruption agency in the region,” Praja said.
“We are a big brotherhood so we should learn from each other,” he said.