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. 

 

 

Indonesia: The Empire Strikes Back


Partyforumseasia:                                                    The Empire versus KPK
Only a week ago, we published a post with the headline “Indonesia’s Struggle Against Political Corruption” (LINK). The saga goes on and the drama may unfold or not. Whether it will follow the patterns of antique Greek drama and end with the catharsis or cleansing as an ethical benefit for the people of Indonesia is still everybody’s guess.
Golkar chairman and speaker of parliament Setya Novanto was named as a suspect by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) in a political corruption case of exceptional dimensions. He dodged the hearings he should have attended recently by protesting heart problems but was eventually cleared by doctors to be fit enough. But buying time by being sick has helped him again to evade the KPK. On Friday, 29 September, South Jakarta District Court judge Cepi Iskandar declared that the court approved Mr Setya’s pre-trial motion challenging his status as a suspect in the case: “We declare invalid the suspect status against Setya Novanto dated July 17, 2017.” Everybody will be curious about the reasons.
However, after losing this round, the KPK is trying to find out how to proceed and possibly win the next round. If it manages to survive and can do so. Under the headline “A PLOT TO KILL KPK“, on 20 July, the influential news magazine Tempo had already suspected an attempt by powerful forces inside the parliament to weaken or crush the KPK by establishing a special “KPK Right-of-Inquiry Special Committee, or “pansus” in Indonesian
An investigation by this magazine has discovered that the pansus was established with a three-layered aim: dissolve the KPK, paralyze it by reducing its powers, or at the very least remove the main investigators who have been at the vanguard of corruption investigations.” (LINK)

The ongoing power struggle is widely seen as the transparent attempt of Novanto and many other political figures to maintain the prevailing impunity for apparent abuse of the insufficient political funding regulations in Indonesia. Marcus Mietzner, one of the leading experts on the country’s political system, called them “Dysfunction by Design” in a 2015research paper…

 

Indonesia’s Struggle Against Political Corruption


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.