Although trade, investment and economic cooperation talk dominated the APEC forums in Nusa Dua, Bali, one of the most important and relevant issues in the Indonesian context is corruption eradication.
Coinciding with APEC ministers’ support for Indonesia’s proposal to establish the APEC Anti-Corruption and Transparency Network (ACT-NET), the nation is witnessing probably the most shameful corruption scandal in national history with the arrest of chief justice Akil Mochtar, the chairman of the Indonesian Constitutional Court, in an alleged bribery case.
ACT-NET will enable law-enforcement officials of the 21-nation grouping to collaborate in the process of graft investigation and prosecution, aside from sharing intelligence and experience for the anti-corruption drive to be effective.
According to Yuri O. Thamrin, host at APEC’s Senior Officals Meeting, the network will also facilitate Indonesian graft busters to chase after and arrest Indonesian corruptors seeking safe haven in APEC countries.
Eradication of corruption has long been discussed at APEC forums since the 2004 APEC gathering in Santiago, Chile, and the latest, the 2012 APEC in Vladivostok, Russia.
Most agree that corruption causes legal uncertainty, hampers investment, infrastructure building and economic growth. A Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California research presented to APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) showed that some APEC countries are facing corruption as a threat especially to the investment process.
But as far as international cooperation is concerned, ACT-NET would be difficult to implement. Each country has its own policy and approach in corruption eradication. Each country also has different success stories in anti-corruption drive. Not much has been achieved such as in cementing extradition treaties, even in the smaller Association Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) context.
Pundits believe bilateral cooperation in getting rid of corruption could be more effective and appropriate rather than the wider scale 21-nation proposal. For instance, cooperation between Indonesia and Singapore, Indonesia and Australia or Indonesia and the United States.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who spoke at the APEC CEO Summit in Bali, said corruption is like cancer that must be eradicated deep down to its roots. But that can only be achieved through a systematic engagement and intensive coordination by APEC leaders and officials.
Transparency International last year ranked Singapore the country with the fifth lowest corruption level in the world after Denmark, Finland, New Zealand and Sweden. Although difficult to prove, some Indonesian fugitives are believed to have holed up in Singapore, New Guinea and Australia.
The magnitude of the damage caused by the corruption scandal involving Ail Mochtar dealt Indonesia a heavy blow. It casts doubts and raises concerns about the country’s legal certainty. In institutional terms, Akil stands as high as the president. If the highest institution can be involved in corruption, what about the rest of the bureaucracy?
Corruption at the highest level of the justice system represents a grave threat to democracy and Akil’s arrest suggests corruption may have played a large part in the determination of disputed regional election cases. Akil was suspected of allegedly accepting bribes in two cases regarding the election of the district heads of Gunung Mas in Central Kalimantan and Lebak in Banten province.
The KPK also arrested Tubagus Chaeri Wardana, brother of Banten Governor Ratu Atut Chosiyah, and the husband of South Tangerang mayor, Airin Rachmi Diany. Tubagus, along with lawyer Susi Tur Andayani, are suspected of giving Rp 1 billion ($87,000) worth of kickbacks to Akil to persuade him to scrap the results of the Lebak district election.
Indonesia provides lucrative investment opportunities but the country needs strong national leadership to defeat corruption, collusion and nepotism before it’s too late.