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Setbacks in Indonesia’s antigraft policy

by Donny Syofyan

PADANG, West Sumatra — Transparency International publishes the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) every year. Based on 13 different expert and business surveys, the CPI measures and ranks public sector corruption in 180 nations.

The 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index shows that nearly three-quarters of the 178 countries in the index score below 5 — on a scale from 10 (highly clean) to 0 (highly corrupt). These results indicate a serious corruption problem. Among ASEAN nations, only two scored above five points — Singapore at 9.3 (ranked No. 1 along with Denmark and New Zealand) and Brunei Darussalam at 5.5 (38).

The rankings of the other ASEAN countries are as follows: Malaysia 4.4 (56), Thailand 3.5 (78), Indonesia 2.8 (110), Vietnam 2.7 (116), Timor Leste 2.5 (127),the Philippines 2.4 (134), Cambodia and Laos 2.1 (154), and Myanmar 1.4 (176), second to last before Somalia at 1.1.

In Indonesia, the smaller improvement in the corruption index is closely linked to the government’s policy of granting pardons, remissions and parole for people convicted of graft.

The government’s failure to show zero tolerance for corrupt officials has turned out to be one of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s biggest mistakes in his second term. He seems lenient in the fight against corruption.

Clemency was granted to Syaukani Hasan Rais, former regent of Kutai Kartanegara, and remissions were given to a number of people convited of graft one day before Independence Day celebrations and before the Idul Fitri holiday.

Some prisoners have been granted parole, including Aulia Pohan, a former deputy governor of Bank Indonesia and an in-law of Yudhoyono.

Granting a pardon, remission, or parole does not run contrary to rules and regulation — so long as stipulations are fulfilled. Such acts are regarded, however, as ignoring people’s sense of justice.

While those convicted of corruption often recieve light punishment, frequently in luxurious correctional facilities, other inmates are compelled to stay in very poor and dangerous prison conditions.

Radical change is urgently needed concerning the sentences for people convicted of graft. A 4 1/2-year prison sentence and a small fine, for instance, are unacceptable in cases of graft. Having finished one-third of a comfortable prison sentence, those convicted of graft are often paroled.

Because those found guilty of corruption view fines and the repayment of money obtained by graft as too costly, they prefer a prison sentence so that they can enjoy life after their release with the money.

Hendra Teja, an analyst at the Public Complaint Directorate of the Corruption Eradication Commission, said that Indonesia should learn from other countries that have declared war on corruption, such as Singapore and Hong Kong. The two countries are known for their stiff sentences and heavy fines for graft offenses.

Indonesia’s corruption laws must be immediately revised to emphasize longer prison sentences and heftier fines for those convicted of graft and corruption.

In addition, a revision needs to ensure that deterrence works. Deterrence is poor because people convicted of graft are permitted to choose between prison over repayment. No wonder people convicted of corruption remain affluent after being released from prison.

Hence, a revision of corruption laws is needed to deal with the seizure or taking of the convicts’ possessions in order to pay back losses to the state. The House needs to pass the Confiscation Law, which has a legal basis to deter corruption.

Corruption is the country’s No. 1 enemy. It is an extraordinary crime that calls for extraordinary measures. Any effort to fight corruption will come to naught without the government’s strong political will. Excessive use of Government Regulation No. 12/1995 on remission goes against the spirit of corruption eradication.

The absence of a move to revise the law gives the impression that the government has no clear sense of direction and priority when it comes to eradicating corruption, while failing to show zero tolerance for corrupt officials.

The government’s priority in this regard is getting worse as it focuses on the perspectives of those convicted of corruption rather than the interest of the public.

The humanitarian grounds for releasing convicts is not on par with the people’s sense of justice. The government ignores the pain of the nation’s poor, forgetting how evil the convicts’ heart and soul must have been to steal even from the impoverished.

Last but not least, the government’s weak political will to fight corruption could make the Corruption Eradication Commission a toothless tiger as those convicted of graft can have their sentences reduced on good behavior.

This creates a big loophole to be exploited by corrupt officials with deep pockets.

Donny Syofyan is a Jakarta Post columnist and a lecturer at Andalas University, Indonesia (kokom—97@yahoo.com).