The national antigraft agency on Wednesday (08/02) summoned Justice and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly to be questioned as a witness in an investigation over e-KTP, or electronic ID cards, corruption case. (Antara Photo/Yudhi Mahatma)

Justice Minister Blasted for Bid to Go Easy on Graft Convicts

MARCH 17, 2015

Jakarta. Antigraft officials have greeted with dismay a plan by the justice minister to make it easier for corruption convicts to qualify for sentence reductions, in what is shaping up to be the latest concession by the administration of President Joko Widodo in the fight against graft.

The Corruption Eradication Commission, or KPK, said on Monday that it had never been consulted by Justice Minister Yasonna Laoly on the proposal to revise the regulation for sentence cuts. Johan Budi, an interim chairman of the KPK, said that if anything, the process should be tightened up, not loosened.

“We at the KPK of course hope that the government won’t make it easier for corruption convicts to receive remissions” — sentence cuts — “and that the process is instead made more stringent,” Johan told reporters at State Palace in Central Jakarta on Monday, after a meeting between KPK commissioners and the president.

“The regulation was drawn up to make it harder for those convicted of extraordinary crimes to get remissions,” Johan said.

“And no matter the crime, be it corruption, drug offenses or terrorism, I feel it would be a step backward if we were to ignore the spirit of the regulation. It will go against efforts to eradicate corruption, in which we’re trying to create a deterrent effect” through long prison sentences.

Yasonna, a politician from Joko’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P, announced last Friday that his office would “correct” the 2012 regulation on remissions because, according to him, it gave the KPK greater say than the Justice Ministry in deciding whether a corruption convict qualified for a sentence cut.

“The criminal law process sees the police investigate, the Attorney General’s Office prosecute, and the courts rule. After that, the responsibility for corrections is the Justice Ministry’s task. It can’t be allowed to hinge on another institution because then it would be discriminatory,” the minister said.

The involvement of the KPK in approving sentence cuts for corruption convicts — and the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) in the case of terror convicts — was formulated in the regulation precisely because the state, under the previous administration of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, viewed these offenses as extraordinary crimes and sought to punish them as such.

The Yudhoyono administration drew up the regulation a year after it drew the ire of the PDI-P for denying parole to a PDI-P politician convicted of taking bribes to vote for a top central bank official.

The PDI-P, which has long appeared to champion the rights of graft convicts, is the top-ranked party in Indonesia in terms of the number of its members convicted and jailed in corruption cases investigated and prosecuted by the KPK.

Discriminatory approach

Antigraft activists have balked at Yasonna’s bid to go easy on graft convicts, calling it yet another sign of the Joko administration’s lack of commitment to fighting corruption.

“It’s strange if the government claims to be committed to ending corruption yet acts permissively by selling off sentence cuts for these big-time criminals,” said Busyro Muqoddas, a former deputy chairman of the KPK.

“The facts show that certain crimes, in our case corruption, terrorism and drug crimes, are extraordinary crimes. And for these crimes we need to discriminate [against the offenders] as a form of positive discrimination.”

Any effort to water down the terms of the 2012 regulation, Busyro warned, would go against the public’s sense of justice.

“There is no justification whatsoever for treating corruption convicts as ordinary criminals. The discriminatory approach is the right one if we want to build a justice system that provides a deterrent against corruption,” he said.

Indonesia Corruption Watch, the country’s leading independent antigraft group, agreed that making it easier for corruption convicts to receive sentence cuts could not be justified.

“We’re questioning the anti-corruption commitment of the Joko Widodo-Jusuf Kalla administration,” Emerson Yuntho, an ICW coordinator, said as quoted by Tempo.

He added it was “strange” that Yasonna wanted to “go against the regulation,” and denied that the minister had invited ICW to talks on the issue.

Johan said separately that the KPK had also been left out of the discussions, even as Yasonna claimed to have sought input from both the KPK and ICW.

Going limp on graft

Sentence cuts typically range from 15 to 90 days, and are handed out during major national holidays. To qualify, a convict must have served at least six months of their sentence, and exhibited good behavior for at least the same period.

Under the 2012 regulation, though, corruption convicts must pay all fines and damages imposed by a court before they can qualify. They must also cooperate with law enforcement authorities investigating others implicated in the same case, and must have approval from the KPK on whether they deserve a sentence cut.

Yasonna’s bid, if it goes through, will be the latest apparent move by the Joko administration to cede ground in the fight against corruption, after the president earlier this year allowed the KPK to be severely undermined by a police force universally perceived as corrupt.

Joko suspended two of the KPK’s commissioners in March after they were charged by the police in cases widely seen as fabricated, following the KPK’s naming of Joko’s nominee for police chief, Budi Gunawan, a bribery and money-laundering suspect.