Oei Eng Goan
The uncongenial relations between the House of Representatives and the Corruption Eradication Commission have again been in the spotlight over the last two weeks, this time concerning a funding request by the antigraft agency to build a new headquarters, which the House rejected.
Plans for the new building, estimated to cost around Rp 225 billion ($24 million), were submitted to the House in 2008, but lawmakers failed to offer their seal of approval despite repeated appeals from the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), prompting Bambang Widjojanto, the deputy chairman of the antigraft body, to float the idea of raising the money through public donations.
A state institution set up in 2003 and granted extraordinary authority, the KPK has the right to question people, search the houses and offices of suspects and bug their phones as part of its crusade against corruption.
Since its establishment, the KPK has saved trillions of rupiah from being stolen and arrested a number of high-ranking officials and lawmakers and brought them to trial, resulting in numerous convictions. The KPK has earned the trust of the public and a reputation for integrity.
This explains why streams of people — from street vendors and elementary school students to intellectuals and cabinet ministers — support the fund-raising idea, donating money to help finance the building of the KPK’s new office.
The public support for the KPK is also a show of contempt for lawmakers who readily approved trillions of rupiah for the construction of a sports center in Hambalang, Bogor, that turned out to be tainted with irregularities, but would not give the go-ahead for the KPK’s new headquarters.
At the moment the KPK has around 730 employees and its current office, designed for just 350 people, already accommodates more than 600 people, forcing the institution to rent space in nearby buildings. To improve its performance, the KPK wants to hire more people, up to 1,300, still below the size of a similar anticorruption agency in Hong Kong.
It is no secret that relations between the House and the anticorruption body are strained, the result of lawmakers being summoned by the KPK and questioned over a seemingly never-ending stream of graft cases.
Not only have House members tried to dilute the authority of the antigraft body, but Speaker Marzuki Alie last year suggested the dissolution of the KPK, following bribery allegations against two of the antigraft body’s executives.
In a debate on tvOne’s “Indonesia Lawyers’ Club” program aired last Tuesday, Abdullah Hehamahua, a KPK adviser, said the institution needed a new office with a special layout to train its “ninja-like” investigators and rooms equipped with bugging apparatus commensurate with its function and duties.
Addressing concerns raised by lawmakers that the KPK was allocated up to Rp 125 million per investigation, far higher than the Rp 40 million for the police and Rp 75 million for the Attorney General’s Office, Abdullah said the money was given to the KPK on an “at-cost” basis, meaning that any unspent money is returned to the state treasury.
He also said that Bambang’s appeal for public funding was just a slip of the tongue. As a state institution, the KPK cannot accept private financial assistance. Accepting such donations would be against the law, he said, because all of the needs of the antigraft body should be financed entirely by the government.
Meanwhile, the fund-raising drive for the new KPK headquarters has expanded to several cities in Java and Sumatra. The total amount of money collected as of Sunday evening was nearly Rp 100 million and counting.
All this shows that the people sincerely and strongly support the KPK and its operations. As for the money? There are plenty of ways to distribute it to the poor.
Oei Eng Goan, a former literature lecturer at the National University (UNAS) in Jakarta, is a freelance journalist.