JAKARTA: The shock arrest of one of Indonesia’s top judges for alleged bribery has highlighted the failure of efforts to clean up the country’s corruption-riddled public institutions and prevent graft at the highest levels, analysts say.
Anti-corruption officials arrested Akil Mochtar, the constitutional court’s chief justice, on Wednesday after allegedly catching him being handed a bribe by a businessman and a lawmaker at his Jakarta home.
The businessman and MP and three other people have been detained alongside Mochtar, 52, in a case that the country’s anti-graft agency says is linked to a disputed local poll. Mochtar is alleged to have received more than $300,000 in bribes.
It is just the latest high-profile graft case in Indonesia after the recent arrest of the chief energy regulator on suspicion of bribery and the jailing of the former top traffic police officer for 10 years for corruption.
But Mochtar’s case has raised the greatest concerns as it involves the constitutional court, which along with the anti-graft agency was considered one of the country’s cleanest and most incorruptible public institutions.
It has provoked deep soul-searching in Indonesia, with the Jakarta Globe newspaper lamenting that Mochtar’s arrest “threatens to bring down the very foundation of the country’s legal system and democracy”.
“This arrest is sad because Indonesians have had a lot of trust in this court,” Danang Widoyoko, from NGO Indonesia Corruption Watch, told AFP.
“Indonesia has failed to clean up public institutions, we’ve failed to put them in order.”
One of the court’s main roles is to rule on electoral disputes. It also hears cases about the constitution and rules on any attempt to impeach the president.
Indonesia is consistently ranked one of the most corrupt countries in the world.
In Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index, Indonesia last year came 118th out of 176 countries and territories. A number one ranking means the least corrupt.
And it is not just high-ranking officials who are accused of taking kickbacks—corruption is endemic at all levels and is widely viewed as having crippled the public sector.
From paying police small amounts for minor traffic offences to immigration officials extorting bribes from foreigners at airports, graft is part of everyday life in Indonesia, critics say.
Indonesia has made efforts to tackle the problem over the past decade, in particular with the establishment of powerful anti-graft agency the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).
The KPK, which has been operating since 2003, has been granted extraordinary powers, including wire tapping suspects and probing bank accounts, and has succeeded in sending top officials and businesspeople to prison.
Time for tougher punishments
But the arrest of Mochtar has triggered a flood of complaints that this is not enough, and that punishments need to be harsher.
“This corruption case involving the chief of the constitutional court is proof once again that current punishments are doing nothing to deter the corrupt,” said newspaper Media Indonesia in an editorial.
“It is time for new methods of deterrence. Law enforcement agencies must give the maximum sentence to Akil Mochtar,” it said.
The first chief judge of the constitutional court, which was established in 2001, even went as far as to say Mochtar should face death by firing squad.
“Under the law, corruption is not punishable by death, but the (prosecutors) should still recommend it,” said Jimly Asshiddiqqie.
The bribe that Mochtar is accused of receiving is allegedly linked to a disputed election in the Gunung Mas district of Borneo island on September 4. The district head was detained at a Jakarta hotel shortly after the Mochtar’s arrest.
Adding another dimension to the case, investigators also say they found illegal drugs during a search of Mochtar’s office after he was detained. A KPK source said that it was marijuana.
The drip-feed of new corruption cases has led to increased criticism of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for not doing enough, despite having won two terms on a corruption-fighting platform.
Corruption Watch’s Widoyoko said the failure to tackle rampant graft in public life was “the president’s responsibility”.
Critics argue that his authority to lead the fight against graft effectively has been diminished by a string of corruption cases within his own Democratic Party, which have dented its chances at elections next year.
While many bemoan the authorities’ failings, others are more sympathetic, stressing that Mochtar’s arrest simply serves to underline the huge challenge of tackling Indonesia’s corruption crisis.
“It’s very difficult to know how to fix the problem — if everyone’s corrupt, where do you start?” said Keith Loveard, head of risk analysis at Jakarta-based Concord Consulting.
“The KPK is doing a very good job in tracking these people down, but it’s so widespread— the number of governors, regional administrators, let alone lawmakers, convicted of corruption is enormous.”