Indonesia: Top politician Azis’ arrest spotlights persistent graft culture in political parties

Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) investigators bring in House of Representatives deputy speaker Azis Syamsuddin from the Golkar Party for a questioning at KPK headquarters on Sept. 24, 2021. - Jakarta Post/ANN

JAKARTA, Sept 27 (Jakarta Post/ANN): The recent arrest of House of Representatives deputy speaker and senior Golkar Party politician Azis Syamsuddin by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) has put a spotlight on the systemic failure of political parties to root out the plague of corruption within their ranks.

Azis was arrested by KPK investigators at his residence in South Jakarta on Friday night (Sept 24) after refusing to answer a summons for questioning in an investigation into an alleged bribery.

He cited being in home isolation after having been in close contact with a person infected with coronavirus as a reason to request a postponement of the summons earlier that day.

But a KPK team discovered that he had tested negative for Covid-19 and brought him in for questioning.

He was named suspect for allegedly paying Rp 3.1 billion (US$216,371) in bribes to then investigator Stepanus Robin Pattuju and lawyer Maskur Husain last year to prevent his name and another Golkar cadre from showing up in a KPK investigation into a graft case in Central Lampung.

According to the KPK, some of the bribes were wired several times by Azis to the lawyer, who allegedly also acted as a middleman, while some, in United States and Singaporean dollars, were handed directly by Azis to Stepanus in the former’s official residence in several batches.

The bribery plot is believed to have started in August last year when Azis contacted Stepanus to help him evade investigation. Both Stepanus and the lawyer currently stand trial for their involvement in the case.

“Our investigations have found ample evidence to name [Azis] as suspect,” KPK chairman Firli Bahuri said early morning on Saturday. “As a representative of the people, he should have not done that [the bribery].”

Plague of corruption

Gadjah Mada University’s Center for Anticorruption Studies (Pukat UGM) researcher Zaenur Rochman said that Azis' case showed that political parties had not been free from corruption.

“The Indonesian political system is not truly clean yet especially as illicit money can still seep into politics,” Zaenur said.

Before Azis' case, other government officials who were also senior politicians had recently been found guilty of corruption.

Last month, former social affairs minister and Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) politician Juliari P. Batubara was sentenced to 12 years in prison for accepting up to Rp 32.48 billion in bribes from private vendors that supplied Covid-19 food aid.

In July, former maritime affairs and fisheries minister and Gerindra Party politician Edhy Prabowo was sentenced to five years in prison for accepting bribes related to the lobster larvae export scandal.

Azis was also the third in House leadership to be named graft suspect in the past four years, after then House speaker Setya Novanto, also from Golkar, and then deputy speaker Taufik Kurniawan from the National Mandate Party (PAN).

Setya and Taufik are now serving prison sentences for rigging the e-ID project that caused more than Rp 2 trillion in state losses and for accepting bribes, respectively.

Lawmakers and regional councillors were the third-most investigated individuals by the KPK since its establishment in 2004, with 281 individuals, after businesspeople and government officials, with 334 and 280 respectively, as of March.

This was followed by governors, mayors and regents with 152 individuals. Bribery is also the most prevalent case handled by the antigraft body, with 750 cases, followed by botched procurements at 250 cases.

Prosecuting political parties?

Zaenur of Pukat UGM said that when politicians were named graft suspects, the political parties they belonged to should remove the persons from party membership to deter corruption.

"Parties should be the role models of the anticorruption drive for their own cadres," he said, calling for a reform in their management system.

Activist Egi Primayogha from Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) said that law enforcement agencies like the KPK should look into whether any alleged corruption cases involving politicians had anything to do with the political parties.

“This is important because political parties can actually be held responsible for corruption if the parties were beneficiaries of the illicit money, conspired to help corrupt practices to take place or did not stop their members from committing corrupt practices," he said.

Egi said prevailing Corruption Law paved the way for law enforcement agencies to name any political party a suspect in corruption cases and that political parties also fitted the definition of a corporation that could be charged with corruption, regulated under a 2016 Supreme Court regulation.

The law and the Supreme Court regulation on procedures for handling corporate crime define a corporation as a group of organized people and wealth, whether it has been registered as a legal entity or not.

Adopting an integrity system The KPK had been pushing political parties to initiate reform by adopting an integrity system to prevent their members from embarking on corrupt practices and to improve party financial transparency since 2019, spokesperson Ipi Maryati Kuding said.

The system was a result of a 2018 study by the KPK and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) that found five main factors behind why political parties lack integrity, for example, the absence of ethical standards, poor recruitment system, non-transparent funding and its poor accountability.

"This year, we continue asking political parties to implement an integrity system," Ipi said, adding that seven out of nine political parties with representation in the House had attended a series of workshops on how to implement the system.

While many political parties have expressed their support for the system that was developed by the KPK, experts continued to cast doubts. - Jakarta Post/ANN

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