(JG Graphics/Josep Tri Ronggo)

Johannes Nugroho: Out-of-the-Box Measures Needed for Police Reform


JANUARY 19, 2015

Adrianus Meliala, a commissioner at the National Police Commission (Kompolnas), admitted last week that none of the nine candidates for chief of National Police presented to President Joko Widodo were “squeaky clean.” He then tried to dilute the statement by resorting to a cliche, adding, that “as human beings, no one can be expected to be perfect.”

The statement of a member of the commission directly answerable to the president on matters of the police force was illuminating, and no doubt had first been cleared with the presidential office. By implying that no high-ranking police officers were completely free from the taint of corruption, he may have meant that Comr. Gen. Budi Gunawan was no worse than any other candidate for the top job within the force.

Later, Kompolnas commissioner Syafriadi Cut Ali also telingly urged the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) to “investigate thoroughly” the corruption allegations against Comr. Gen. Badrodin Haiti, who was appointed as interim police chief by the president.

Possible rivalries between Kompolnas and KPK aside, it is obvious corruption within the Indonesian police is rife, to the extent that finding a “clean” high-ranking officer is difficult. In its condemnation of police corruption, NGO Defenders of the Indonesian Democracy (TPDI) has also published a list of police generals who have allegedly amassed great wealth, with one former general having the staggering amount of 1.2 trillion rupiah ($95 million).

TPDI claimed the list had come from the Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Center (PPATK), the government agency responsible for the prevention of money laundering. Yet, as PPATK has never made such a list public, it can only be concluded that the list was leaked.

The intense political maneuvers and jostling surrounding the appointment of the new police chief reinforce the notion that reforming the Indonesian police should be top priority for the government. Assuming that all police generals have been tainted with corruption in one way or another, any new police chief will have too much baggage to be able to implement a thorough clean-up.

So ordinary measures are likely to fail in bringing a change towards a more professional police force in Indonesia. Only an extraordinary and far-reaching set of policies can be sharp enough an axe to break the continuous and endemic cycle of misconduct within the force.

To reduce the size and extent of corruption in the police, the government should reduce the political eminence of the National Police by placing it under a ministry, rather than directly under the president as it stands now. Lowering the stakes involved by relegating the police to a department under either the Ministry of Home Affairs or the Coordinating Ministry for Political, Legal and Security Affairs is an option the government should pursue to avoid future high-risk scandals involving the police.

In response to the Kompolnas insinuation that Indonesia lacks in incorruptible police generals, the government should consider a drastic measure in combating police corruption. By allowing the existing cycle of rank succession to continue, the government may be sheltering corrupt officers within.

If Jokowi is serious in reforming the police, he should consider bringing outsiders of unimpeachable record into the police top hierarchy as a way of breaking the traditional cycle of corrupt behavior. It may sound like an unorthodox idea but it is not entirely implausible.

The best candidate for an outsider police chief arguably would be a retired top police officer from another country known for its professional police force. Hong Kong and Singaporean police forces are known for their professionalism in Asia. Alternatively, European countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium and the Scandinavian countries may be able to provide us with candidates.

A police chief appointed from outside the force would be able to work unhindered by possible scandals an Indonesian police general may have been involved in in the past. He or she would be impartial due to not having personal emotional attachment to subordinates. In short, such a person will represent a clean break from the prevalent police practices.

Jokowi has mentioned the possibility of replacing local state-owned enterprises bosses with foreign professionals to boost efficiency and to maximize performance. Although the idea is anathema to the country’s right-wing forces, it is in fact a sound idea which the private sector has put in practice for a number of years. The only opposition against the idea being extended to a government institution like the police will come from the self-proclaimed nationalists. But such objections could only be based on paranoia, since a foreigner police chief will have all eyes on him or her so that it will be almost impossible to contemplate any act of treachery.

If the idea of foreigners proves too politically difficult for the government, at least it should consider bringing outsider civilians into the police hierarchy. Technically, this is possible as, ever since its detachment from the military, the National Police have been a civilian, albeit armed, institution. Jokowi recently said he was supportive of Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Minister Susi Pudjiastuti because she demonstrated “out-of-the-box” thinking in tackling problems. Perhaps it is time similarly unorthodox reform measures were enacted for the police.

Johannes Nugroho, a writer from Surabaya, can be contacted at johannes@nonacris.com.