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Yudhoyono's legacy an ever more corrupt police force

Publication Date : 27-09-2012


For most Indonesian police generals, reservations about public outcry over their blatant display of excessive wealth, which is suspiciously derived from illicit sources, are no longer sufficiently ingrained to detract from a shameful way of living.

A police general, for example, has a luxurious house in a posh section of the Bintaro housing compound in South Jakarta, while another high-ranking officer has a passion for collecting Harley Davidson motorcycles. A police general closely linked with the counterterrorism agency even has an apartment unit at the Ritz Carlton in the Sudirman Central Business District, South Jakarta.

Former National Police traffic chief Insp. Gen. Djoko Susilo, a suspect in a graft case handled by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), owns several luxurious houses in Jakarta and Yogyakarta.

And how much exactly do they earn as police generals to be able to afford these kinds of luxuries? They earn less than 20 million rupiah (US$2,100) a month. Logically, with such a salary, it could take more than 15 years of saving for one of the generals to be able to afford his Bintaro mansion, at his current rank and position. The generals have always claimed that businesses run by their family members support their lavish lifestyles, or to have received a windfall inherited from their rich parents or in-laws. These claims have often degraded public rationale and intelligence.

Integrity and transparency have increasingly become rare ideals within the police force, more than a decade after policymakers decided to expand their law enforcement mandate – a decision that aimed to end 35 years of military domination of security affairs.

Stories of a pervasive culture of kickbacks emanate from the earliest stages of recruitment and permeate the entire process until an officer receives his or her posting. The classic tales of extortion and kickbacks in dealing with the police have not slightly abated. The force is literally a haven for the practice of corruption.

Hundreds of seminars on graft within the police force have been organised, countless amounts of foreign aid for capacity building and reform have also been accepted and spent, and blueprints and research papers on reform have been completed. However, no concrete efforts have been nailed down to start an overhaul of the police force.

A recent effort by the KPK to kick-start the reform process by taking down Susilo and several high-ranking officers in the graft case involving the procurement of driving simulators, has been stiffly opposed by the police chief himself.

Amid an all-out fight by the KPK to root out corruptors, Susilo and his officers went against the tide last year by allegedly inflating the purchase price of the simulators by fivefold to the tune of more than 198 billion rupiah (US$20.8 million) – an amount equal to the construction cost of around 2,000 police posts.

Many analysts have said this method of corruption is unsophisticated and that the police may have been overly confident that they would remain untouchable. But amid all these scandals, what has President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono done to end corruption within the police force? Aside from the repetition of empty promises, very little.

If the President is committed to reform, there is no other acceptable token of seriousness other than to summon the courage required to revise Law No. 2/2002 on National Police by inserting a set of articles to establish an independent and rigorous supervision institution with the authority to discharge or to demote errant police officers. The absence of such external supervision, amid the police’s overwhelming authority, is the root of all evil plaguing the force.

Unlike in developed democracies, violations committed by a police officer here are dealt internally without any independent institution to verify the process or to conduct an independently investigation. Due to the strong esprit de corps, the police have regularly protected their own, particularly the top brass, despite gross violations.

The National Police Commission, or Kompolnas, which is supposed to function as an independent watchdog, has been legislatively restricted by the police law to merely serve an advisory role. Without the slightest authority to summon a recalcitrant police officer, Kompolnas is basically a toothless institution.

The independence of the Kompolnas has also been undermined with the recent selection of its new members, who mostly have personal ties with police generals.

If so moved, the House of Representatives could actually initiate a revision to the police law without having to wait for Yudhoyono. However, as many top legislators have allegedly conspired with recalcitrant generals to ensure their dirty laundry remains hidden from public view in exchange for maintaining the current corrupt establishment, there is little hope that they will initiate any changes, or throw their supports behind the KPK in its fight against the police force.

Given such complexity, all hope for change remains on Yudhoyono, who still has around two years left in office. Will he have the courage and determination to reform the police and leave behind a legacy, albeit a last-minute one, as an antigraft hero? It is easy to imagine otherwise.

There seems to be a more sinister reason behind Yudhoyono’s refusal to rock the boat. Speculation is rife that the president's inner circle may have a few skeletons that would be best kept in the police's closet.

Whatever the reason to forestall the process of reform, Yudhoyono is likely to leave behind a legacy of nurturing an ever more corrupt police force, unless he immediately shifts stances and boosts the KPK's efforts to root out graft in the force.

The author is a staff writer at The Jakarta Post.


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