Policy Shift on Graft Prevention Is a Joke

Joko Widodo’s plan to issue a regulation focusing more on graft prevention rather than enforcement — meaning investigation, arrest and prosecution — is a troubling shift of the country’s graft eradication policy in the wrong direction.

In an ideal world, prevention and prosecution are equally important. Indonesia is far from ideal. The term “corruption” was only introduced here less than 12 years ago. Corruption is so pervasive in almost all levels of society that punishing those who engage in it should be at the forefront of graft eradication efforts. Public punishment is a particularly powerful educational tool and deters future crimes.

Prevention is a long-term, gradual effort. But fixing the system and enhancing good governance cannot happen without first changing officials’ mindset — in Joko’s words, effecting a “mental revolution” — if you fail to demonstrate that breaking the law, whoever you are, carries consequences.

Significantly curbing investigations, arrests and prosecutions when we know that there are so many people purloining taxpayers’ money sends the wrong message. It’s like saying: Those who have stolen state money can get away with it, since we’re now focusing only on those with future intent.

As the head of state, Joko can’t dictate what the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) can or can’t do. However, he has used extraordinary circumstances to justify directly appointing three of the current five KPK commissioners — positions usually selected from the public by an independent team and agreed upon by the House of Representatives, the KPK is already under the president.

Curbing prosecutions effectively kills the KPK as we know it: Arrests and prosecutions have been why we love and trust the KPK — and why Indonesia’s most dangerous criminals fear and despise it.