What challenges does Indonesia’s new anti-graft chief face in light of the alleged extortion scandal?

Indonesia’s anti-corruption agency, the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), has appointed Nawawi Pomolango as interim commissioner after the suspension of the previous chief over allegations of extortion. Nawawi takes over after police named ex-commissioner Firli Bahuri as a suspect in a corruption case involving the former agriculture minister, who was detained on graft charges last month.

The reshuffle is seen as a blow to the credibility of the anti-graft watchdog, which has traditionally been considered one of the most effective and independent institutions in a country struggling with corruption. Nawawi aims to improve the KPK’s internal governance and restore public trust. He expressed hope that all KPK employees can work together to carry out the mandate and duties of the KPK. Firli is the first KPK chairman to face criminal charges since the agency was established in 2002.

The KPK’s independent reputation has been damaged by a 2019 law that aimed to reform the agency. The law, passed by Parliament under Jokowi’s supervision, established a supervisory board to limit investigative powers and required employees to take a civics test. In 2021, dozens of employees and senior investigators were sacked after failing the National Outlook Test, which critics compared to an ideological purity test. The commission has also faced hostility from politicians and government officials, who accuse it of being biased and politicized.

Firli, the KPK chairman, has been accused of several ethical and disciplinary violations, including using a private helicopter for personal trips and meeting with corruption suspects. His suspension has raised hopes among anti-corruption advocates that the agency can regain its credibility and independence. Anti-corruption activist Yudi Purnomo praised Nawawi as the right person to lead the commission, stating that he has to consolidate the KPK internally and address the declining public trust.

Indonesia ranks 110th out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s 2022 Corruption Perception Index, despite its strong anti-graft agency, the KPK. Established in 1998, the agency has the power to investigate, prosecute, and freeze assets of corruption suspects. Professor of law at Andalas University, Feri Amsari, argues that the president faces a daunting task in restoring the agency’s credibility and morale. He notes that the KPK’s decisions are made collectively, not just by the president. Despite criticism from civil society groups, Indonesia’s president, Jokowi, extended the term of Firli and his colleagues by one year to the end of 2024. Amsari believes the president is the root cause of the damage caused by corruption.

Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK)IndonesiaIndonesia's anti-corruption agencyKPKWhat challenges does Indonesia's new anti-graft chief face in light of the alleged extortion scandal?