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Ramon Magsaysay Awards: Indonesia’s KPK fights corruption without fear

Habiba Sarabi of Afghanistan, left, receives the 2013 Ramon Magsaysay award from Philippine Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, center, in a ceremony Saturday Aug. 31, 2013 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Manila. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

MANILA, Philippines - Indonesia, once mired in massive corruption, has won admiration for fighting the scourge in the past few years.

Leading the charge is a single powerful government institution, the Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (KPK) or Corruption Eradication Commission, an agency that confronted head-on the rampant and systemic corruption that remains as a legacy of President Suharto’s three decade-long kleptocracy.

The modest progress Indonesia has made against corruption in the past few years has resulted from KPK’s investigations and reforms in the most corrupt institutions in the country.

Under KPK’s watch, more than 360 corrupt Indonesians were put to jail and assets worth $80 million were returned over to the state treasury in the last ten years since it was established.

“The commission has investigated, prosecuted and achieved a 100 percent conviction rate in cases of bribery and graft related to government procurements and budgets. We have jailed more than 360 persons, most of them Parliament members, police officials, bureaucrats, bankers, governors, ambassadors, judges, mayors and other untouchable members of Indonesia’s society. We have proved that if they’re proven corrupt, they are not beyond the law’s reach, we will go after them and we will make them pay,” Pak Adnan Pandu Praja, one of the commissioners of KPK, told The STAR yesterday.

The KPK is one of this year’s recipients of the Ramon Magsaysay award for its successful and brave campaign against corruption in Indonesia.

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Praja said the strength of KPK lies in its draconian measures to arrest and prosecute people who are guilty of graft.

“The KPK can conduct searches and seizures, freeze assets. We can impose travel bans, compel cooperation from government agencies, and even intercept communications without prior judicial approval,” Praja said, referring to the agency’s warantless wiretaps.

“We changed the system, we implemented reforms and we showed we have the tenacity and determination to curb corruption and prosecute corrupt officials,” he said.

In 2002, the Indonesian government, through the initiative of civil society, passed a law establishing the KPK. It has a far-reaching mandate, exercising exceptional powers that range from investigation and prosecution to prevention and the coordination of agencies authorized to combat corruption.

It strictly monitors the activities of the politicians and once investigated, they have no choice but to submit to the audit and investigation of KPK, Praja said.

He stressed KPK’s powers are not just prosecutorial but preventive as well.

“The KPK carries out audits on officials, undertakes public awareness campaigns, and studies government management systems to reduce the potential for corruption,” he said.

In five years, the KPK, which was governed by five people, helped transform the political landscape in the country.

“The KPK has undergone a process of institutional strengthening that has produced a highly professional workforce, capacitated with cutting-edge technologies, and governed by a strong internal code of ethics. We are very proud that our commissioners are all men of integrity,” he said.

What is noteworthy about the commission is their preventive programs, which closed opportunities for corruption, Praja said.

KPK has undertaken civil service reforms for accountability and transparency. They have also implemented stricter rules on wealth reporting by public officials, changing management and operational systems for more transparency.

They have also set up integrity zones in the bureaucracy which aims to monitor and grade various government agencies.

Knowing that the Indonesian public plays a big role in the eradication of corruption, the KPK  introduced anti-corruption awareness programs from elementary to college.

The KPK has opened honesty shops all over Indonesia where customers pay for what they get by depositing money in a box – no cashiers, no personnel to man the store. 

Today, there are more than 7,000 honesty shops all over Indonesia.

However, the KPK has faced opposition from different groups in Indonesia, most especially from Parliament and the police institution.

Praja said they have been threatened and attacked for the ways they police corrupt officials.

“We have experienced harassment and intimidation, we’ve had threats, we’ve had interagency feuds and slashed budgets – all these were geared to stop the agency from its function,” Praja said.

“We are sometimes even at the mercy of the president and the parliament,” he added.

“But we are unbowed, we will never give up, knowing we have the support of the Indonesian public,” he said.

When it locked horns with the national police, thousands staged public demonstrations supporting KPK. When the parliament refused to allocate money for a much-needed KPK building, Indonesian citizens voluntarily donated money for the building construction.

“The people are our defenders. When the police were attacking us and threatening to close our building, Indonesians built human chains around us to protect us. We have the support of the public,” he said.

Asked if their system can work in the Philippines, which is also known for being one of the most corrupt in the world, Praja said yes.

“Of course, if you are determined to change the system and you have the support of the public, you can effectively fight corruption too,” he said.

For 10 years, KPK has become a symbol of reform and hope for Indonesians, and is hailed as one of the few effective anti-corruption agencies in the world.

In electing KPK to receive the 2013 Ramon Magsaysay Award, the board of trustees recognizes its fiercely independent and successful campaign against corruption in Indonesia, combining the uncompromising prosecution of erring powerful officials with farsighted reforms in governance systems, and the educative promotion of vigilance, honesty and active citizenship among all Indonesians.

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