A Bittersweet Gift to Mark 20 Years of the UN Antigraft Convention

Approaching the two-decade anniversary of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) on the upcoming October 31st, the agenda for eradicating corruption in Indonesia is increasingly concerning. The 2022 Indonesian Corruption Perception Index (CPI) made history by experiencing the worst decline since 1997 or, almost twenty years after the beginning of the UNCAC regime in Indonesia.

The collapse of the CPI certainly cannot obliterate public tension, even though Indonesia has just been welcomed as a full member of the FATF. Indonesia’s score fell four points from the previous year to 34, one of the abruptest declines in the Asian region. Indonesia is currently down 14 places from the previous position of 96. Currently, the country is on the brink of being in the top 1/3 of the most corrupt countries in the world and far below some neighboring countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Timor-Leste, Vietnam, and Thailand—a heartbreaking position for the holder of the 2023 ASEAN Chairmanship baton.

Disastrous years of justice

This resentful gift implies the increasingly excessive consolidation of power in the hands of a few elites, which is accompanied by intensive restrictions on civic space. The situation results from the public repeatedly being exposed to practices of abuse of power that seem to use legitimate legal instruments, including weakening the legislature, weakening civil society, and weakening law enforcement institutions.

In the last year alone, these moves have violated constitutional morality and democratic principles through the cover of state-capture corruption. Symptoms of this legal crisis are also being worsened by the increasing blockage of the critics, the deliberative function of the House of Representatives due to the inferiority of the opposition, the problems of the Corruption Eradication Commission due to institutional, ethical and leadership complications since two years from the enactment of Law Number 19 of 2019, as well as the increasingly squeezed space for civil liberties.

Law enforcement institutions, from the Police, Prosecutor’s Office, and Courts to Correctional Institutions, never tire of showing the crisis of integrity and morals that surrounds their respective institutions. The court process also in the rock-bottom from the disparities in punishment, complemented by the widespread reduction in sentences for corruption cases. The the integrity of the court’s last bastion, the Supreme Court, was also tarnished due to an alleged bribery case involving the Supreme Court Justice, a representative of ‘God’ who is supposed to guarantee a sense of justice in society.

This collapse was accelerated by the proliferation of influence trading in the political and bureaucratic systems. At the same time, supervisory instruments, in general, have also become dysfunctional due to expanding executive discretion. The weak function of balancing power in the Indonesian democratic system also becomes complete when the independence of judges is attacked in the “Mahkamah Keluarga” sensation. It was shown to the public that there were almost no more dividing lines that respected the principle of limiting power.

These dangerous signs have been consciously breached and have the potential to continue to erode the fundamental rights of citizens ahead of the 2024 election. Today, it seems normal to see public officials who wear several hats at once: rulers and entrepreneurs, family-style political parties, overlapping positions, or even members of the military who enter civilian positions. Unfortunately, conflict of interest regulations are entirely absent to date.

The shift in the legal and political pendulum for eradicating corruption is also a contribution to the contribution of corruption prevention policies. The implementation of Presidential Regulation Number 54 of 2018, approximately four years ago, did not increase the Corruption Perception Index score. This policy appears to be “negotiating” and tends to avoid deep-rooted problems that have a significant impact on corruption in Indonesia, namely political corruption.

Redirecting the pendulum

The current legal politics of eradicating corruption is trapped in maintaining the status quo of corruption itself. The policy breakthroughs that have been made appear to only work on the fringes of small-scale corruption. However, our main fundamental problem remains political corruption, especially state-capture corruption.

Therefore, this prominent mismatch between the main problem of corruption and the technocratic solutions offered needs to be answered with a diagnosis focusing on unboxing the causes and symptoms of corruption, followed by opening up space for participatory monitoring. This corrective step must stop the illusion that digitalization, deregulation, and debureaucratization will be a panacea in eradicating corruption.

Furthermore, countries experiencing democratic relapse, such as Indonesia, need to step up structural improvements in the formal aspects of law-making immediately. This means that the policy formulation process must not only be truly transparent and accountable but also guarantee citizens’ rights to participate meaningfully. Guaranteeing meaningful public access allows monitoring of any possibility of policy being taken over for the benefit of a few parties.

Then, Indonesia needs to re-strengthen supervisory institutions, which are currently in ‘limbo’, particularly on their authority, resources, and independence. These institutions are the Corruption Eradication Commission, the National Police Commission, and the Prosecutor’s Commission. At the same time, the Government needs to continue to support the one-roof system implemented by the Supreme Court to strengthen the ends of legal reform. The principle of checks and balances will only become a figment if the institution is not given the necessary authority and its independence is disturbed at any time.

In the end, the opaque facts above need to be followed up by re-prioritizing recommendations for improving the implementation of UNCAC in Indonesia. There needs to be additional regulation for offenses not yet regulated in the current Corruption Law, including bribery of foreign public officials and officials of international organizations, bribery in the private sector, trading influence, and illicit enrichment.

Another chain that needs to be unraveled is the renewal of the Criminal Procedure Code Bill and other judicial regulations such as the Judiciary Law, General Courts Law, Supreme Court Law, and the Judicial Commission Law so that they are more harmonious. This war against corruption also requires a 76% revision of existing laws, including the Revision of the Corruption Law, the Income Tax Bill, the Asset Confiscation Bill, the Procurement of Goods and Services Bill, the Revision of the Mutual Legal Assistance Law, and the Extradition Bill.

The corruption catastrophe needs progressive leadership and breakthroughs to prevent further justice doom. The long list of homework for the 20th anniversary of UNCAC in Indonesia can be a reminder that the global community is watching whether Indonesia will increasingly turn around or return to the corridor of eradicating corruption.

Source: The Jakarta Post

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