A public donation campaign shames the national legislature into supporting Indonesia’s premier anti-corruption agency
Sofie Arjon Schütte
Raising money outside the KPK building, July 2012 Sofie Arjon Schütte
In July and August 2012, the attentive observer stuck in Jakarta traffic would have been able to witness street hawkers and students collecting money for an unlikely cause: a new office building for a state institution. In fact, they were raising money not for any state institution, but for the independent Corruption Eradication Commission (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi, or KPK).
The KPK was established by law in 2002 with a broad mandate in both prevention and repression of corruption; it started operations in 2004. Initially spread over two old buildings near the Presidential Palace, in 2007 the KPK moved into its current office building, a renovated bank building in the central Jakarta district of Kuningan. The office in Kuningan was meant to host about 350 staff but the KPK has been growing and to date it has more than 700 employees. They simply no longer fit in the building. The administration has been moved to rental premises, a 15-minute drive away – if the traffic flows well, which it often does not in Jakarta.
No place to go
By 2008, the KPK had already applied to construct its own building on vacant land next to its current premises. The new building was planned to house up to 1,300 staff at a total cost of Rp. 225 billion (approx. A$ 22.5 million). The plans were for a 16-story building, including a purpose-built detention centre. The first tranche of the proposal had already been approved by the Ministry of Finance in 2008 but was then stalled by Indonesian’s national parliament, the People’s Representative Council (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat, DPR).
The DPR was required to approve the budget for the new building, but refused to do so. It seems fair to note that the DPR’s plans for its own Rp 1.1 trillion (A$ 110 million), 36-story building with a pool and health spa were stalled in 2010 after drawing intense public criticism.
The legislature was of the opinion that the KPK should rent existing, vacant government offices, but the KPK was unable to locate adequate space. In late 2011, the KPK proposed again a budget of Rp. 70 billion (A$7 million) to start construction of the building as part of its total annual budget. The DPR did not approve it.
Anti-corruption activists saw the DPR’s attitude, not as an exercise in fiscal prudence, but as an attempt by legislators to weaken the KPK, by withholding resources and support for it.
Although renting vacant government office space has some plausibility, if suitable space was indeed available, the dispute over the building budget became a symbol of official hostility toward the KPK.
Members of the legislature are among the biggest group of defendants that the KPK has brought to justice since it started operations in 2004. By the end of January 2013, the KPK had indicted 33 members of the national legislature from parties of all colours. The KPK’s record in indicting members of the elite who were previously untouchable has brought it public support but also enemies. Anti-corruption activists claim that this enmity and the fear of an even stronger KPK was the DPR’s reason for stalling of the budget for the new building. After all, there have been other signs of hostility to the KPK from DPR members such as recurring attempts to strip the KPK of its interception and prosecutorial powers and questionable preferences in the appointment of KPK commissioners.
In July 2012, under the lead of Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW), non-governmental organisations and student groups started collecting money for the construction of a new KPK building. Individual donations of up to Rp. 1 million were accepted and the total raised was regularly published by ICW on Twitter (@koinKPK and @saweranKPK). A total of A$ 39,200 had been gathered when the DPR gave in to public pressure and finally approved the budget for the building in October 2012. In kind contributions such as bags of cement, bricks, wood, and iron bars for future prison cells of the KPK were also deposited in front of the current KPK office.
The question emerged of whether the KPK was able to accept the donations. The NGO coalition reviewed relevant regulations, especially Government Regulation 10 of 2011 on Procedures for Loans and Grants. According to this Regulation, a government agency is allowed to receive grants – money or in kind – for operations or capital, as long as it is reported to the Ministry of Finance and accounted for in the agency’s books.
The KPK case would not be the first time that a state agency has been granted a donation from private individuals. In July last year, Tempo reported that two local entrepreneurs had made a donation of land and a new office building, valued at Rp 1.8 billion, to the police in Tamalate district (Makassar). Such donations to the police are highly problematic if they are made with the hope of gaining preferential treatment in return. The main difference to the collection for the KPK is that the KPK donations were made by numerous people and limited in amount to avoid accusations of undue influence.
By the start of this year, the acceptance of the donation was approved by the Ministry of Finance. Now, it remains to be decided what the money will be used for. Some have suggested a monument symbolising the public support for the KPK and its anti-corruption cause. It would be the first of its kind, most likely not only in Indonesia but world-wide. The fervour with which Indonesia’s anti-corruption NGOs and many members of the general public are willing to protect and support the KPK is outstanding and ultimately deserves much more than a monument.
The high public expectations and – by now it seems fair to say – trust in the KPK are helping to keep the agency on track. It must perform well to maintain its most important ally, the Indonesian people, whose willingness to take to the streets, and in this case make donations, has regularly been decisive when the agency is being threatened. To achieve sustainable change, this spirit needs to evolve beyond protecting the KPK and transform Indonesian politics more broadly.
Sofie Arjon Schütte (Sofie.Schuette@cmi.no) is an advisor at the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, Chr. Michelsen Institute, in Bergen (Norway). She wrote her PhD thesis on the Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission at the University of Melbourne.
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