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Eradicating corruption – first crush the oligarchy

The new government has vowed to take real action against corrupt officials in its first 100 days as a form of “shock therapy” in an effort to gain public trust. But properly enforcing the law against such a widespread problem, with so many involved, is nothing short of a monumental task.

The previous presidents of Indonesia have failed to eradicate corruption, although a lot of regulations have been reviewed and new laws enacted. However, corruption in this country has not been reduced, but has spread further — to every level of the government and beyond.


Policy and institutional reform

The Anticorruption Law (Law No. 31/1999) defines corruption as the abuse of power to enrich oneself, creating state financial losses. By this definition, the corruption eradication strategy should then be started by reforming the (state) power.

One of the first things that needs to be tackled is to establish regulations that limit individual power and reduce the opportunity to abuse that power. Then the strategy can continue by improving the Anticorruption Law, implementing the Anticorruption Commission, reforming the judiciary and requiring good governance programs in every government office. This strategy is known as policy and institutional reform.

It has been successfully implemented in other countries. One such success story was carried out by Roland Abaroa, the mayor of the Bolivian capital of La Paz. Similar successes have also been achieved by the Hong Kong Anticorruption Commission. That commission has since become the standard for all anticorruption commissions elsewhere.

In the Indonesian context, there actually has already been a successful corruption eradication implemented. It was done not by the central government, but by Solok Regent Gamawan Fauzi in the province of West Sumatra. Gamawan has reformed the local government bureaucracy into a more transparent, efficient and accountable entity. All government services in the regency have been made clear and measurable, particularly in terms of time and cost.

The efficiency measures carried out by Gamawan have greatly increased the local officials’ welfare and thus reduced corruption in the regency.

But in general, such policy and institutional reforms in Indonesia have never worked successfully. Dozens and dozens of serious corruption scandals have never been investigated, let alone been adjudicated upon in a court of law. The Corruption Perception Index done each year by Transparency International consistently shows Indonesia to be one of the most corrupt countries in the world. So, what is wrong with a policy and institutional reform strategy?

First, the initiative to combat corruption has not come from the government. Most of the agendas were driven by international financial institutions, especially from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), through the signing of Letters of Intent as a condition of IMF’s support for Indonesia. In this case, the ownership of the strategy is on the IMF, not the government of Indonesia.

Secondly, there is not adequate political will to eradicate corruption. And yet political will is the important factor behind a successful corruption eradication system.

So, the next important question to be raised is what is an alternative strategy to combat corruption if government political is inadequate?

To answer this question, we have to look at another definition of corruption to fully understand the situation.

Political economy of corruption

Corruption is not only caused by the state’s inability to implement tight monitoring systems, but also because there is not an integrated system of internal supervision in the public sector. That is the reason why reforming the bureaucracy and tightening internal supervision will not automatically reduce corruption.

Improving law enforcement by reforming the police, the prosecutors and the courts as is the trend here these days, will not automatically bring immediate results.

Corruption has its roots in politics and grows in a power-related environment. General definitions of corruption — described as an abuse of power for one’s personal interests — clearly shows that corruption is part of the power itself.

It has become an open secret that corruption and money politics were rife and widespread during the recent general elections. And in such a corrupt political recruitment system, it is nearly impossible to produce credible leaders. In fact, such an election, where candidates essentially “invest” huge sums of money to people that can get them elected, gives birth to corrupt leaders who almost have to be involved in corruption to recoup their “investment”.

The systemic corruption here can also be attributed in part to the strong political and economic oligarchy that continues to thrive. Paul Johnson defines oligarchy as a tiny clique of elite leaders that make the public policy to suit their own private interests, through direct subsidies, and provide facilities or protection from other business competitors (Hadiz&Robinson, 2004).

This oligarchy roots corruption in politics and spreads to all of the power dimensions. The oligarchy thus supports the corrupt political culture as well.

The fall of the New Order government was not followed by the fall of the oligarchy. The reform movement has only shifted the top of the oligarchy. Now, the oligarchy has been revived and adapted to democracy and the pro-market economy.

The failure of law enforcers in huge corruption scandals like the Central Bank Liquidity Support (BLBI) case, the release of suspects in big corruption cases and the flourishing corruption in the privatization program are proof of the continued existence of the oligarchy.

Therefore, genuine efforts to eradicate corruption in Indonesia should start with the removal of the roots of the problem. The oligarchy must be crushed.

Opportunities to eradicate corruption

The new government has some positive momentum that it can use to eradicate corruption, especially because the president and the vice president had been elected directly by the people with a mandate directly from the people. In this antigraft campaign, the new government will not be able to depend on the legislative branch for much help.

Yet, obstacles to combating corruption will likely come from the president’s own supporters. To be a president, one does not only need political support, but money as well. The president is expected to reimburse those who helped him financially, and that will make the eradication of corruption more difficult.

So, is there an opportunity to combat corruption in this situation?

First, the corruption eradication campaign can start with coordinating the existing law enforcement agencies. It is the task of Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) to deal with the big oligarchy-related corruption scandals.

The KPK should be an independent body and have no political handicaps that would prevent it from prosecuting high-profile corruption cases that involve the economic and political oligarchy. Moreover, the KPK needs extraordinary discretion.

The KPK does not need to get permission from the president to investigate high-ranking public officials. The government should only equip the KPK with adequate staff and budget to send the big corruptors to the jail.

At the same time, the Attorney General’s Office, as a part of the government, should take the small-scale cases that do not have “supreme” political handicaps to deal with, like corruption cases found in regional governments. What the Attorney General’s Office has to do is only to monitor and supervise the prosecutors to guarantee that the investigations are going well.

With the distribution of law enforcement, the President will not directly challenge the oligarchy of corruption. It is the task of the KPK to clean up the oligarchy.

The second strategy that can be done by the government is to establish an integrated system of public services. The government did not start the campaign for good governance as the initiatives had come from donors and the public.

The eradication of corruption in public service is a strategic effort because the impact will directly benefit the people. The success of eradicating corruption in public services will improve public trust in the end.

Both of the above strategies are a part of institutional and policy reform that need strong political will. The next problem is how to give birth to leaders who have high integrity and strong political commitment? The answer to this question is actually the third strategy that has its roots in civil society.

Now is the time for civil society to get deeper into politics rather than just set up monitoring bodies and become watchdogs. The presence of civil society is particularly crucial in supporting officials or leaders, who are committed to combating corruption, such as Gamawan Fauzi. The movement to tackle rotten politicians, the establishment of political contracts between politicians and their constituents must be done and supported by other stakeholders.

Support from the civil society in combating corruption is actually in line with the basic idea of good governance. Good governance assumes the balance between the state, the private sector and the civil society. In fact, most of the efforts to eradicate corruption are state-oriented and give lots of support to the government, although the government does not have enough of a political will to carry it out.

Jakarta Post, December 31st 2004

Categories: Korupsi
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