Politics behind anti-graft drive
Winning votes is the motive for going after three ex-civil servants while bigger culprits are said to get away scot-free.
A witch-hunt is on for the corrupt and crooked in Indonesia.
Within a period of a week, several formerly high-profile individuals who used to hold key positions in state agencies have been arrested or hauled up by the police for multimillion-dollar scams.
What is behind the crackdown? Is there a newfound zeal to slay the demon called corruption which has been all-pervasive in Indonesia the last 30 years?
Not entirely. There are strong political overtones.
President Megawati Sukarnoputri will want to go to the polls exorcised of the corruption demon. It has been a shadow looming over her administration and her Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle.
In recent months, she has lashed out at party cadres, accusing them of corruption and calling them ‘thugs’ who were out
of touch with voters.
Now, Jakarta appears to have raised the stakes – by going after former government officials for graft.
On the hit list is Beddu Amang, former chief of the State Logistics Agency.
He has been accused of siphoning off more than US$100 million (S$170 million) when he was in charge.
Beddu, who is staring at a two-year jail term for another graft case, initially failed to answer a police summons last week.
He then sent a letter saying that he needed a two-week rest because of poor health.
Two others on the list are former Bank Indonesia governor Sjahril Sabirin and the former chairman of the Indonesian Bank Restructuring Agency, I Putu Ary Suta.
Police are investigating them for allegedly misusing government funds worth US$2.25 billion. In 1999, the government issued bonds worth billions of dollars with a 15-year maturity period. The funds were meant to cover the financial obligations of banks that were shut down during the height of the economic crisis.
But an investigation last August by the Supreme Audit Agency revealed widespread irregularities which suggested that a large chunk of the money did not go to the banks.
Jakarta is getting tough, or appears to be doing so at least.
The reality is that the three individuals are ‘sacrificial lambs’ in the grand scheme of things.
There are bigger fish out there who are evading the clutches of the law in a country where corruption continues to be deeply rooted and widespread.
An example is the Indonesian judiciary, which was rocked by a scandal last week after public revelations that frauds were posing as high-ranking Supreme Court officials to secure bribes as high as US$10,000.
Ms Megawati’s detractors accuse her of double standards in this latest anti-corruption drive. Why pick on party members and former officials when some of her close associates have been accused of corruption?
Her fight against graft can open up a can of worms that might come back to bite her, even if she wins international approval for her efforts, albeit against the less politically significant.
The President might be drinking from a poisoned chalice. But this is election year in Indonesia. The short-term interest of winning over the ground supersedes all other considerations.
Certainly, the forces are growing against the corrupt. Hundreds of students and activists have joined hands to increase voter awareness of corruption and ‘rotten politicians’.
The President and her rivals have jumped on this bandwagon in a pre-election campaign to win crucial votes. It is all about image-building.
The real test is to see whether the anti-corruption drive will continue when a new government is sworn into power later this year.