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Death becomes them

Publication Date : 24-07-2012


A pair of government officials, convicted of embezzling state funds and accepting bribes, was executed before a firing squad after their appeals were turned down. Fortunately, it did not happen here in Indonesia, but in China, where corruption is equally entrenched.

But the death penalties meted out last year against Xu Maiyong and Jiang Renjie, respectively former vice mayor of Hangzhou and former vice mayor of Suzhou in China, may someday be handed down to Indonesian graft convicts in a bid to inject new energy into the country’s fight against corruption.

There is a clear sense of desperation among members of the presidential advisory team who are now discussing the possibility of introducing capital punishment into the national judiciary in the matter of corruption eradication. Political reforms that swept across the country in 1998 marked a start to the war on corruption, collusion and nepotism, but graft has appeared to escalate and involves all branches of power, both in the capital and the regions.

Tougher anticorruption actions, the inception of an independent Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) and a freer media seem to have had little impact on the nationwide drive against corruption. Indonesia remains one of the most corrupt countries in the world, at least according to respected global corruption watchdog Transparency International, despite all the hard work.

The one flaw in the country’s law enforcement against corruption is undoubtedly its failure to deter people from committing the crime, billed as an extraordinary felony as it can deprive millions of impoverished people of healthcare and education or people in remote areas of basic infrastructure.

Punishments for graft convicts remain too lenient and barely indicate a sense of justice, as evinced in generous remissions and conditional releases awarded to graft convicts based on non-measurable factors, like good behaviour or humanitarian reasons. Perhaps only in Indonesia a corrupt politician is not liable to serve his entire jail term, even though he may have been found guilty of accepting bribes three times.

Worse, the past few months has seen some regional corruption courts acquit dozens of graft suspects for lack of evidence; verdicts which are rarely if ever issued by the Jakarta Corruption Court. This only indicates dissention within the judiciary in combating graft.

Such a lacklustre approach, not to mention the apparent disharmony in the national anticorruption drive, only mirrors the country’s half-hearted move to uproot corruption.

The presidential advisory team must be fully aware that the death penalty for either corruption convicts or other criminals remains highly controversial; one that is difficult to administer, despite the fact that the Constitutional Court has justified its implementation. Both international and domestic human rights groups have endlessly urged Indonesia to revoke capital punishment as not only does it fail to deter the commission of crimes, but it also trigger acts of reprisal, as evident in the fight against terror.

It’s quite clear that the aim of a maximum punishment like the death sentence is to reinforce a deterrent effect regarding the Anticorruption Law. But we don’t necessarily need to follow in China's footsteps. China's corruption rating has lain stagnant in the middle of the rankings during the last four years, despite the execution of hundreds of graft convicts every year.

Should there be an amendment to the existing Anticorruption Law, the government and lawmakers could shift the burden of proof to the suspects, as happens in money-laundering cases, as part of extraordinary measures to address graft.

Indonesia has to avoid complacency resulting from death sentences, which may disrupt corruption eradication itself. What we need above all is law enforcement that will make a graft convict regret his/her actions for the remainder of his/her life.


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