15 Years Not Enough? Setya Novanto Finally Sentenced

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. Novanto 1

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, 


Corruption in Southeast Asia

Partyforumseasia: Transparency International has published its newest Global Corruption Barometer (GCB), based on interviews with 21,861 people in 16 countries, regions and territories across the Asia Pacific region between July 2015 and January 2017. (Link)

Here are the most important results for Southeast Asia:

Among the ASEAN countries, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam seem to have the biggest corruption problems in the perception of their citizens. Malaysia obviously because of the festering and unresolved 1MDB scandal with a major involvement of Prime Minister Najib Razak who is also chairman of the ruling UMNO party, and Vietnam with the rampant daily petty corruption which tarnishes the ruling Communist Party though it tries to reduce it. Asked whether corruption has recently increased, the Indonesian respondents are even more critical than the Malaysians and Vietnamese, probably because of the ongoing corruption saga with the Golkar party and its chairman Setya Novanto.

The low rating for Thailand seems to be one of the positive points in favor of the military regime which is otherwise heavily criticized for its lack of democratic credentials, especially on the international scene.

Looking into the perception of the citizens vis-a-vis the institutions, the ratings for the police are on top. In most countries of the region, the rank and file police officers are not well or not sufficiently paid, which is a root cause for their constant attempts to solicit bribes as petty as they may be. Much more frightening, however, is the image of legislators and government officials who come immediately behind the police on top of the ratings. These assessments are certainly not conducive for the consolidation of the different democratic experiments in Southeast Asia.

NB: Laos, known for high corruption, and Singapore, known for very low corruption, are not covered by the GCB.

Political corruption and the funding of political parties and election campaigns
is indirectly highlighted in the table on institutions above but is not treated in more details in this GCB report. The answers of the respondents, though, are visibly influenced by their  perception of the political scene. While 59% of the Malaysians see an increase in corruption, only 23% say that they have paid bribes for basic services in their country.

The Political Partyforum Southeast Asia is working on a comprehensive survey on political party and campaign financing in the ten ASEAN countries minus Brunei Darussalam. We will inform our readers once it is published. 



Election Casualties in Indonesia and Elsewhere

Partyforumseasia: Gratitude is not the most outstanding quality of voters. From Themistocles, the Athenian general Themistocleswho led the city-state against the Persian invasions and was later exiled by ostracism for perceived arrogance in 471 BC, to Winston Churchill who was voted out after the allied victory in 1945, many top politicians have been ousted by their electorate. Sometimes they were just around for too long and the voters were simply bored by their faces.
The tradition in Southeast Asia used to be more respectful of outstanding political leaders. Mahathir in Malaysia is still influential, Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore is still around but behind the scene, survivor Hun Sen in Cambodia fends of all attempts to topple him, and in Indonesia it took three decades to end the authoritarian rule of Suharto. But there are signs that awe and respect seem to soften or fade:
The April 2014 election in Indonesia saw quite a number of prominent and incumbent casualties, among them the law minister and the sports minister, both from the shrinking Democratic Party. The chairman of the Consultative Assembly (PDI-P) as well as the House Speaker (DP) and his deputy (Golkar) were also voted out. Practically half of the incumbent MP’s  are out, and among the “new blood” winners taking over as members of parliament now are colorful figures from sports and the arts scene like former movie star Dede Yusuf (DP) and racing car driver Moreno Suprapto (Gerindra). Whether they are the best candidates for real change, e.g. against corruption, is an open question, but media attention in the complex Indonesian environment is the most valuable asset.

Enrile & co.Another but related development in the Philippines is the indictment of until now “untouchables” on the political stage like political fossil Juan Ponce Enrile (90), former president Estrada’s son Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, and senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla for graft and corruption. The latter is accused of diverting 224 m Pesos (approx. 5 m US$) through bogus NGO’s into huge kickbacks. Senator Revilla has been detained yesterday, 20 June, Estrada and Enrile may follow soon. President Aquino’s government is delivering on election promises to end corruption, the Philippines moved 11 levels up to 94th among 177 countries in the Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International, but, unfortunately, some of his close allies are also under investigation…


One of Southeast Asia’s Most “Successful” Political Godfathers?!

Partyforumseasia: Transition of power is not a particularly characteristic political feature in Southeast Asia, and even less so for Malaysia. TaibThe continuing influence of former long-term Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, the “culling” (by a another dubious sodomy conviction) of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim before he threatened to win the governorship of the country’s most important federal state in March are two examples. The third scandalous case in point is located in Sarawak, the huge East Malaysian federal state on the island of Kalimantan (Borneo).
After thirty-three (33!) years as Chief Minister in this resource rich state with a poor population, Tan Sri (a Malaysian title) Taib Mahmud steps down at the age of 77 on Friday 28 February, only to be sworn in as governor of the same federal state a day later, on 1 March. The succession is “very orderly” and also safe for the retiree, the new Chief Minister being a loyalist of the old one and a former brother in law. And it is nearly close to bringing in new blood, the successor is 70 years young…

It looks more than probable that Taib Mahmood had a lot of good reasons to protect his “retirement” so carefully. He has been attacked as one of the most corrupt politicians in the region, his personal assets being openly estimated at 15 billion $, that of his extended family at over 21! After his three decades at the helm and being responsible for all logging and land related issues, only 5% of Sarawak’s original rain forests are still untouched, but threatened by Taib’s blueprint for the next level of “development”.
See more details in Luke Hunt’s analysis in the (link here) The Diplomat
Godfather Taib’s role on the federal level was also important and has contributed to his long-term hold on power: He practically guaranteed Sarawak’s usefulness as a fixed deposit vote bank for the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN). Without his contribution of 25 federal parliamentary seats in 2013 the BN had lost an election which it won with a minority of the popular vote, heavy gerrymandering and … Sarawak. But increasing accusations for corruption have made Taib a growing liability as well, so an “orderly transition of power” had become necessary.

Indonesia: “Creative” Money Politics…

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. caught
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.