Corruption is a social cancer. It undermines development, erodes public trust in government, weakens the state, and infects the morals of society. It is an urgent concern, particularly in developing nations that can ill afford its cost. One such nation is Indonesia, for many years ranked among “the most corrupt countries in the world.” Today, however, Indonesia is embarked on one of the world’s most admired campaigns against corruption.
Rampant and systemic corruption has long been a festering issue in Indonesia. Since the 1950s, the Indonesian government formed different anti-corruption bodies, but these were mostly short-lived showcase pieces, sabotaged by the lack of serious political will. Then, amid the collapse of the thirty-two year Soeharto regime, Indonesians decided they had had enough, and resolved to take the problem by the horns. With the initiative of civil society and pressure from international organizations, the Indonesian government passed a law in 2002 creating KOMISI PEMBERANTASAN KORUPSI (KPK), or the Corruption Eradication Commission.
An independent government body, KPK is enabled by a strongly-crafted law premised on the conviction that corruption is an extraordinary problem that needs to be tackled by extraordinary means. Thus KPK has a far-reaching mandate, exercising exceptional powers that range from investigation and prosecution to prevention and the coordination of agencies authorized to combat corruption. It can conduct searches and seizures, freeze assets, impose travel bans, compel cooperation from government agencies, and even intercept communications without prior judicial approval. Its powers are such that a civic leader remarked, upon the law’s passage, that politicians were “inviting a tiger into their house.” But KPK’s powers are not just prosecutorial; they are preventive as well. It carries out audits on officials, undertakes public awareness campaigns, and studies government management systems to reduce the potential for corruption. Collectively governed by five commissioners and with selected non-government representation, KPK has undergone a process of institutional strengthening that has produced a highly professional workforce, capacitated with cutting-edge technologies, and governed by a strong internal code of ethics.
Its accomplishments have been impressive. From 2003 to 2012, KPK has handled 332 high-profile cases involving top government officials; of these, 169 cases have been processed in court, and KPK has chalked up an amazing one-hundred percent conviction rate. From 2004 to 2010, KPK has returned to the state treasury recovered assets worth Rp. 805.6 billion, or more than US$80 million. Less spectacular but exceedingly important are KPK’s preventive programs. It has undertaken civil service reforms for greater accountability and transparency, tightening rules on wealth reporting by public officials, closing opportunities for corruption through changes in management and operational systems, and setting up “integrity zones” in the bureaucracy as a way of monitoring and grading government agencies. For the Indonesian public, anti-corruption education has been introduced at all educational levels, and innovative campaigns have been undertaken, such as the “honesty shops”—where customers pay for what they get by simply depositing the appropriate amount in a box.
KPK has had its crises, including harassment and intimidation, interagency feuds, slashed budgets—and it is subject to the higher powers of the president and the parliament. But KPK has also built up a formidable base of public support. When it locked horns with the national police, thousands staged public demonstrations supporting KPK. When the parliament refused to allocate money for a much-needed KPK building, Indonesian citizens voluntarily donated money for the building construction. Now on its tenth year, KPK has become a symbol of reform and hope for Indonesians, and is hailed as one of the few effective anti-corruption agencies in the world.
In electing KOMISI PEMBERANTASAN KORUPSI to receive the 2013 Ramon Magsaysay Award, the board of trustees recognizes its fiercely independent and successful campaign against corruption in Indonesia, combining the uncompromising prosecution of erring powerful officials with farsighted reforms in governance systems, and the educative promotion of vigilance, honesty and active citizenship among all Indonesians.