Indonesian President Joko Widodo has not lived up to hopes he would work to eradicate corruption. Photo: AFP Forum via NurPhoto / Andrew Gal

At first blush, it might appear that Indonesia was on the road to eradicating corruption from its midst. Unfortunately, that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, corruption is such an ingrained reality that it dates back even before the colonial era, and flourished under the Sukarno and Suharto regimes. 

In the wake of devastating embezzling schemes by its leaders, Indonesia began a restructuring phase that saw anti-corruption plans and reforms take place. Also, news and social-media outlets saw increased freedom, all in an effort to curtail corruption.

Thanks to the new reforms in place, Indonesia saw a slight improvement in its corruption rating. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI), Indonesia scores 40 out of 100. However, more needs to be done to overcome corruption and put Indonesia firmly on the path of democracy.

Taking measures

A prominent measure that has assisted in moving the country toward a corrupt-free democracy is the establishment of an anti-corruption court called the Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (Corruption Eradication Commission). The KPK is an institution designed to investigate, adjudicate, and prosecute corrupt individuals, especially highly influential government officials. 

In its initial stage, it worked efficiently to combat corruption, with a successful track record. However, recently the KPK has been slow to prosecute those in powerful positions, as is the case with Nurhadi Abdurrahman, a Supreme Court secretary who was found to have stashed 1.7 billion rupiah (about US$115,000) in his home.

The KPK has taken six years to prosecute Nurhadi, which is surprising considering its swift work in the past. It is also quite possible that the Supreme Court hindered the progress of this case to protect him.

Evidently, Indonesia is still mired in scandal, especially those involving high-profile individuals, both in the private sector and in the upper echelons of political power.

Ongoing scandals

One scandal saw Indonesia lose 4.6 trillion rupiah because of the Bank Indonesia Liquidity Assistance Fund’s corrupt leaders. It is alleged that the KPK was alerted to investigate the bank because of disbursement irregularities

Asabri, a state-owned insurance company, was allegedly overrun by corruption, but it was not supervised by the Financial Services Authority (OJK), and instead was under the purview of the Defense Ministry.

Examples of missteps or flat-out deception are common occurrences within various levels of bureaucracy in Indonesia and are clearly not limited to private companies. 

A few years ago, Indonesia’s new biometric ID cards were caught up in a scandal. Former House of Representatives Speaker Setya Novanto exploited the new platform by taking bribes amounting to 2.3 trillion rupiah. 

Clearly, rampant corruption is not just ongoing in Indonesia, it is deeply rooted in the political and financial culture of the country, making it extremely difficult to eliminate or even reduce. Yet it is possible.

A new promise

When President Joko Widodo was elected in 2014, it appeared as though he was free from corruption, for the most part. There was a great deal of hope for his presidency, but those hopes and dreams have not lived out in reality.

Recently, reports that the Jiwasraya Insurance Company defrauded the country of 13.7 trillion rupiah rocked the nation. It is alleged that company president Hendrisman Rahim, along with two senior executives, mismanaged investments. 

Yet instead of combating this alleged fraud, President Widodo denied the formation of a committee that would have investigated. In fact, he has previously worked vigorously to hinder anti-corruption moves. He worked to restrain the power of anti-corruption institutions and even aimed to prosecute KPK leaders, a clear effort to intimidate investigators.

It is clear by his actions that Widodo is not the champion of anti-government corruption that he appeared to be when first elected.

Ending this nightmare

It is essential that Indonesians have a clear path to a nation free of the seemingly endless corruption that has crippled it for generations. To achieve this noble goal, there must be transparent oversight of all government officials and agencies and a willingness to hold government officials accountable to their actions, regardless of party affiliation or support.

Community-based monitoring should be enacted to give the people of Indonesia an opportunity to detect cases of corruption and fraud. Only when such tools are in place will we see Indonesia on the path of freedom from graft.

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Sean Goh

Sean Goh is a Singapore-based political analyst specializing in Asian politics. He works for the George & Tan Research Center, where he conducts research and analysis on Asian domestic and foreign policy.