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Corrupt corruption judges

Publication Date : 22-08-2012


"I told you so" is the simple message the Indonesia's Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) is trying to deliver to politicians at the House of Representatives when its investigators arrested two ad hoc judges serving at regional corruption courts, shortly after attending a ceremony to mark the 67th anniversary of the country's Independence last week.

When revising the Corruption Court Law back in 2009, the House insisted on the formation of regional corruption courts on the grounds that the Jakarta Corruption Court had too-heavy a burden to hear the dozens of graft cases investigated by the KPK. The commission, however, resisted the move due to its fears about poor supervision on the part of the Supreme Court and the Judicial Commission.

The lawmakers passed the decentralisation of corruption courts anyway, which many perceived as a trade-off with the House agreeing to allow the KPK to retain its additional powers, like phone tapping.

We see now that the KPK’s cause for concern was fully justified, if not a self-fulfilling prophecy, as a number of regional corruption courts have acquitted graft suspects en masse since their establishment in October 2011. In cases that these courts handed down prison sentences to graft convicts, they tended to be between one and two years only.

A watchdog Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) has recorded at least 70 graft suspects who stood trial at regional corruption courts were found not guilty due to a lack of evidence. It specifically zeroed-in on the Semarang Corruption Court which as of August had exonerated five of the seven defendants it had tried.

It was only a matter of time, therefore, until KPK investigators arrested Semarang Corruption Court ad hoc judge Kartini Juliana Magdalena Marpaung and Pontianak Corruption Court judge Heru Kisbandono, naming them suspects in a bribery case.

The two were apprehended in the parking lot at the Semarang Corruption Court accepting bribe money, to the tune of 150 million rupiah (US$15,806), from the sister of non-active Grobogan Legislative Council speaker M. Yaeni, who is currently being tried for allegedly embezzling regional budget funds that had been allocated for the maintenance of the council's official cars.

Marpaung is one of a panel of three judges hearing Yaeni's graft case, prompting KPK investigators to follow the bribery money, while hoping the case will lead them to other players responsible for this "not-guilty verdict" trend that has come to characterise the Semarang Corruption Court.

Although the law has not as yet run its full course on these two judges, the Supreme Court and the Judicial Commission have already decided to dismiss them in a bid to save the judiciary's face.

But for House lawmakers and the government to now call for the dissolution of regional corruption courts is a grossly irresponsible act. Disbanding the courts will not only signal inconsistency from the country’s policymakers regarding the nation’s anticorruption campaign, it will also create a bureaucratic mess at the expense of hundreds or perhaps thousands of people serving at 30 regional corruption courts nationwide.

For better or worse, the courts should stay but they should be subject to a stricter selection process for judges and more stringent supervision through, for example, the cultivation of an internal whistle-blowing culture. Public awareness of and animosity toward corrupt practices can also play a major role, as evident in the latest arrest of these corruption court judges, which came following the submission of a report from a local corruption watchdog.

What is crucial is the will of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to combat graft. Despite the national agreement that corruption be treated as an extraordinary crime, remission remains available to graft convicts, as seen with former tax officer Gayus Tambunan, who had his six-year prison term cut by four months on the recent Independence Day and Idul Fitri Islamic festival (or known as Eid).

Tambunan's remission could be sanctioned only with the full knowledge of the President as required by the law. The scandal involving judges will continue as long as the President does not fully uphold the people's mandate.


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