Partyforumseasia: The corruption and embezzlement case around former house speaker Setya Novanto has come to a close. 15 years imprisonment, IDR 500 million (US$35,880) in fines and restitution of US$7.3 million, meted out by the Jakarta Corruption Court, is a landmark decision against one of the top politicians considered to be untouchable before. For many Indonesians, especially graft watchdog Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW), the punishment is disappointingly lenient. They had preferred a life sentence, arguing that the restitution of the $7.3 million he obtained was only 22.69 percent of the total state losses caused by him. The $7.3 million was only his personal share of what the conspiracy deducted from a huge 2009 project of introducing electronic identity cards for the 266 million Indonesians. Novanto hid the money transfers through several corporate accounts at home and overseas.
Is the difference in expectations the normal difference between rule of law and justice, which often results in critical views of court decisions? On one side it certainly is, but the court is also raising the benchmark against the widespread impunity of top politicians who organize the funding of their parties and election campaigns. One of the usual instruments, in Indonesia and neighboring countries alike, is the skimming or scalping of government projects, normally reducing the amount which reaches the target groups or project purpose by about 30% on average. Since the lawmakers have the discretion to decide on project funding, especially in certain financially crucial committees, secret deals with the bureaucracy and affiliated commercial enterprises are more than common. The system in Indonesia is ubiquitous and not really a secret, however, party activities and elections have become excessively expensive, and candidates must invest heavily in their election or re-election campaigns. One recent research paper on vote buying in Indonesia found that poor candidates never win a mandate.
Will the final fall of Setya Novanto, who got away with a couple of other corruption cases before, set a precedent for Indonesia and possibly some of the neighboring countries? Punishing even Politbureau members in China or Vietnam has done rather little against the daily corruption of miserably paid policemen and other civil servants. But the top level convictions in Korea, Taiwan, and now Indonesia, may contribute to the visible nervousness of the Najib– government in Malaysia which is going to the polls on 9 May. Obviously, the 1MDB scandal has not been forgotten by the voters,
Partyforumseasia: The infamous e-ID card graft case is hotting up. Golkar chairman and speaker of parliament Setya Novanto has been named as a suspect, and so far, managed to get away. He is no unknown to the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), which he fights as an enemy of the political establishment. Gresnews, a publication focusing on Indonesian legal and political issues, called his record “Setya Novanto´s Chain of Scandals” on 17 November 2016 (LINK).
Novanto who had to resign end of 2015 in a bribery scandal of epic dimensions, was eventually cleared and re-appointed as House Speaker in 2016, and was again declared a suspect by KPK in June 2017. The new case, according to KPK, investigates the theft of 170 million USD from a project to issue electronic identity cards for the 255 million Indonesians. Sums between 5,000 and 5.5 million USD, the indictment letter states, had been openly divided up in a room in Parliament, involving at least 37 beneficiaries.
The KPK has been threatened of dissolution by its many enemies within the political elite, but President Jokowi’s reform policies may prevent such a move because it would be extremely unpopular. The question now is how tight the noose around Novanto’s neck might be or become. It is probably a sign of weakness for him to protest heart problems for not showing up for KPK hearings, but his doctors have declared him fit enough in the meantime. Obviously he has tried before some politicking in the background to influence the South Jakarta District Court to order the KPK to drop its investigation. More than 80 witnesses have already testified against him in the KPK hearings, though.
The special Indonesian background: Political parties need funding for their activities, lots of funding for their election campaigns, and even more funding if they buy votes and pay the canvassers. The Indonesian party system has developed rather creative ways of raising the necessary funds by privatising the fund raising. One is the recruitment of oligarchs who can inject bigger amounts, the other one is the “scalping” of the many development and infrastructure projects which are available in the expanding economy and increasing state income of Indonesia. The mechanism is simple, in most cases the member of parliament manages to “sponsor” a project by influencing the decision making in the Parliament or a ministry, and gets a “commission”, regularly up to one third of the total cost. That method is anything but uncommon in the region in different varieties, and certainly not unknown in other parts of the world.
What sets Indonesia apart is the mindboggling size of some of the commissions paid. Since everybody knows about these procedures, many politicians have dropped any remaining reluctance to grab whatever they can get. And, no surprise, these financial skills are highly attractive for the political parties. This is one of the reasons why Setya Novanto made it back to the helm of the Golkar Party.
Partyforumseasia: “Vae victis” meant in old Rome “woe to the vanquished or the conquered (ones)“. Being caught red-handed in corruption cases in Southeast Asia these days is getting more and more unpleasant as well. And the decades when politicians could easily get away with it may come to an end after new big scandals in the Philippines and Indonesia generate a bigger public outcry then ever before.
The picture shows former police general Djoko Susilo listening to his verdict in court. With 20 houses and other assets in the names of his second and third wives he was one of the “unusually rich” persons in power. Many politicians could follow him if the anti-corruption drive gets really serious.
But in the ever creative ranks of political entrepreneurs in Indonesia, and the chief justice of the Constitutional Court being indicted in a cash for settling an electoral fraud case, the methods of greasing helpful hands get more sophisticated as well. Instead of gangster-like cash hand-overs, credit cards backed with substantial prepaid accounts or insurance policies with substantial sums for the old age seem to be more difficult to detect.