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Justice Sector Coordination is Antidote for Corruption in Indonesia

April 29, 2009

The Indonesian courts, prosecutor’s office, police, and prisons are all working on their own reform programs. Yet, lack of coordination among them leads to missed opportunities and hinders improvements in the justice sector. Often, a lack of synchronized responses and oversight fuels corruption.

There is an ongoing dispute between police and prosecutors over who has authority for certain types of investigation and certain stages of criminal investigations. (Allegedly, there are also disputes between the two forces over who has the right to collect bribes for getting suspects out of jail.) The police make the initial determination on whether a suspect should be arrested, but the prosecutors can then reverse that decision. As the case progresses, and the time of the initial detention expires, prosecutors are responsible for getting the proper papers to the prisons to release (or extend) suspects in pre-trial detention. Indonesia’s prisons are drastically overcrowded and prison officials complain that prosecutors neglect to bring the proper paperwork. Defense attorneys complain that the paperwork is not forthcoming without a bribe from the prisoners’ families.

Prosecutor–court relations are also tense. When the public complains about the acquittal of corrupt officials, both the prosecutors and the courts complain that they are blamed for it and point their fingers at the other. Courts say they have no choice but to acquit when the cases are inadequately prepared and presented, while prosecutors claim that their best efforts to convict are thwarted at the whim of a judge. In fact, the alleged incompetence or exercise of discretion may be a convenient screen for corruption.

One of the most effective justice sector institutions in Indonesia is the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), established in December 2002. The KPK demonstrates what can be achieved when the different functions of investigation and prosecution are coordinated. Moreover, it works with a specialized anti-corruption court, with appeals to an anti-corruption chamber in the Supreme Court. Both the court and the chamber are dominated by a majority of ad hoc judges whose reputation for honesty is well known.

However, in December 2006, the Constitutional Court struck down the law creating the anti-corruption court on the grounds that it was not created as part of the Law on the Courts. The Constitutional Court gave Parliament three years to amend the law and properly constitute the anti-corruption court under the Law on the Courts, but allowed the anti-corruption courts to continue to function in the meantime. The Parliament set itself a deadline of March 2009 to pass the new law. This was then extended to September. Many legislators have been arrested by the KPK and convicted in the anti-corruption court, leading some to question if the Parliament lacks motivation to pass this law.

The KPK consistently gets convictions in corruption cases, showing what can be done with clean courts, professional investigation, and effective prosecutors. But this kind of successful cooperation is certainly an exception. Their consistent convictions raise the bar for the police, the attorney general’s office, and the courts. It would be tragic for Indonesia if the anti-corruption court was weakened, and this example of anti-corruption coordination was lost.

Indonesia needs coordinated, bold leadership if it is to get out of the corruption quagmire. Better coordination between police and prosecutors is essential. They should have both the technology and the legal means to obtain wire taps and recordings the way the KPK does to obtain convictions in corruption cases.

Perhaps one day, Indonesia will no longer need a special commission like the KPK or an anti-corruption court. Until then, Indonesian civil society will be watching their fate anxiously.

Robert La Mont is The Asia Foundation’s Director of the Justice Sector Reform Program in Indonesia and Leopold Sudaryono is The Asia Foundation’s Coordinator of Law Programs in Indonesia. They can be reached at rlamont@tafindo.org and lsudaryono@tafindo.org, respectively.

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