ASIA NEWS NETWORK
WE KNOW ASIA BETTER
Victory for Indonesia's anti-corruption agency
Publication Date : 02-01-2014
Indonesia's anti-graft agency KPK has scored a victory with its successful first attempt at blocking the installation of a local official held on graft allegations.
The regent-elect of Gunung Mas in Central Kalimantan, Hambit Bintih, is languishing in a KPK lock-up, having failed to be sworn into office on Tuesday.
In his stead, regency secretary Kamiar was installed as regent through a decree from Central Kalimantan governor Teras Narang.
The failed inauguration of Hambit is significant because previously, at least two regents and a deputy regent in other parts of Indonesia had been sworn in despite being detained for graft.
Local election laws bar the swearing in of officials only after their trials have begun.
But this time, the rules have changed, with the KPK pushing ahead to prevent the swearing in of those accused of corruption.
Defending the move, KPK deputy chairman Bambang Widjojanto told reporters a jailed person has no capacity to carry out duties as a public official but is still entitled to a salary and other benefits.
In Hambit's case, Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi tried to intervene on his behalf, saying the law allows him to be sworn in and removed later if he is indicted. Hambit is accused of graft related to his election campaign.
Tuesday's decision ended weeks of altercation between the KPK and the government.
Kamiar will remain as regent until there is certainty on Hambit's status, said Narang.
"If allegations against Hambit are later refuted, the government would then inaugurate him. But if his trial goes ahead, his running mate will be installed as the regent (for the full term)," he told The Straits Times by phone on Tuesday, the day Hambit's first five-year term as regent ended.
"This is a good move, which protects the public of Gunung Mas and at the same time it also serves as a warning to other leaders to stay clean," said Ade Irawan, a political corruption researcher at Indonesian Corruption Watch.
A month after Hambit's re-election last September 4, he was arrested during one of two raids by KPK in Jakarta that also netted a senior judge with the authority to rule on election disputes.
During the first raid on October 2 at the official residence of the then constitutional court Chief Justice Akil Mochtar, KPK arrested the judge and two persons who were handing him 2 billion rupiah (US$164,000) worth of Singapore dollar bills.
That same night, KPK caught Hambit and his assistant in a Jakarta hotel. Hambit and the Banten province governor were alleged to be bribing Akil in return for his help in local election disputes.
State administrative law expert Irman Putra said Hambit's legal problem and his re-election are separate issues that should not affect each other.
"By law, he must be sworn in. It is just a technical matter whether the venue is inside or outside the jail. He would then face the law after the inauguration for his legal problem," said Irman.
He pointed out several cases where local leaders were sworn in while in jail, which KPK did not intervene. Other critics have questioned KPK's inconsistency and accused it of being discriminatory.
For instance, Lampung province's Mesuji vice-regent Ismail Ishak was inaugurated in April 2012 while serving a one-year jail term for corruption committed in 2006 when he was a local MP.
On Jan 7, 2011, Jefferson Rumajar, who had been re-elected as mayor of Tomohon district in North Sulawesi province, was sworn in although he was a suspect in a corruption case involving misuse of state funds during his first term in office.
The next day, he appointed relatives and cronies to key posts. He was fired from office a few days later and sentenced to nine years' jail in May that year.
But Bambang refuted criticism that KPK has a discriminatory policy. "We are learning from experience. Jefferson was sworn in although he was already a corruption suspect. After the inauguration he appointed people to office, and corruption was committed again," he said.