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Buying justice in Indonesia
Publication Date : 30-07-2013
Few Indonesians would feel surprised by last week’s arrest of a lawyer and a Supreme Court staff member for alleged bribery as the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) had sent shockwaves in its attempts to unveil corruption within the judiciary.
The KPK caught an advocate from Hotma Sitompul’s legal practice, Mario C. Bernardo, who was reportedly about to hand over a 80 million rupiah (US$8,000) bribe to Supreme Court staff member Djodi Supratman on Thursday. The next day KPK investigators searched the law office in Menteng Central Jakarta for more evidence that would help the antigraft body build a strong case.
The latest arrest only confirmed public suspicion that justice can be bought and the judiciary is just as corrupt as the other two branches of power, the executive and legislative. At least the repeated phenomena of light sentences, or perhaps acquittals, handed down to certain suspects have triggered speculation about the role of money in our justice system.
Congress of Indonesian Advocates (KAI) deputy chairman Tommy Sihotang, who is also representing Mario, does not deny that lawyers often resort to bribery to win cases because the system forces them to do so. Lawyers, he says, are dealing with a corrupt judicial system.
Public perception about the country’s judicial power indeed remains negative, despite internal reforms — including salary increases — which involved foreign donors. In its study conducted recently, the Indonesian Legal Roundtable (ILR) found that 60 per cent of a total of 1,200 respondents nationwide believed judges were susceptible to bribery, with 23 per cent believing otherwise.
Another study by the Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) in 2012 showed that at least 10 judges had allegedly received bribes from graft defendants.
Those studies may not represent the general state of the 9,000-strong judiciary corps of the country, but even so this nation cannot let a few corrupt judges spoil the public trust in the judicial system. A number of judges, including corruption court judges, had been brought to justice, convicted of graft and dishonourably dismissed, but the latest KPK move indicates that judicial corruption has not been adequately addressed.
One of the reasons behind the failure to discourage corruption involving judges is perhaps the spirit of the corps among the judges, as evident in their reluctance to hand down maximum punishments for their convicted colleagues. As the last bastion of integrity for justice, judges cannot be compromised. In the absence of deterrence, temptation for judges to sell justice in exchange for money will go unbridled.
Internal supervision is another sticking point, due to the weakened powers of the Judicial Commission as the only outside institution allowed to monitor judges, but unfortunately excluding Supreme Court justices.
The KPK believes that Mario and Djodi are just middlemen who may lead investigators to higher officials, including Supreme Court justices. Therefore the public can expect surprises this time around.