A veteran journalist's take on such diverse subjects as religion and religious violence, democracy, freedom of expression, sociology, journalism, criticism, travel, philosophy, Southeast Asia, politics,economics, and even parenthood, the supernatural, film criticism, and cooking. Please don't hesitate to participate by starting a comment thread if you have an interest in any of these subjects...or anything else, for that matter...

The Curious Case of the KPK Chief

As Indonesia’s head of the Corruption Eradication Committee becomes further embroiled in a sordid melodrama involving a love triangle, a murder, and a female golf caddie, the Members of Parliament have suddenly decided that the KPK ought to cease eradicating corruption until the matter is all cleared up. The absolutely shameless self-serving nature of the demand is the only transparent aspect of the DPR. An edited version of the following piece was run by The Jakarta Globe.

The DPR contributes to the affair
Patrick Guntensperger

As the Antasari Azhar affair deepens, it becomes more and more like a bad melodrama; unfortunately, given the positions of the characters involved, we who live here can’t just sit back, eat our popcorn, and be amused at the overblown sordidness of it all as the tale unfolds. As much as we’d all like to watch with detached amusement as unexpected plot twists leap onto the morning’s headlines, and rich and powerful adults posture, declaim, and pose for the cameras, we have to recognise that these are real people and these are people with the power to affect our lives very profoundly.

One of the reasons the tangled, messy, and sleazy business seems like a bad movie is that, for a movie to work, one has to suspend disbelief. That is to say, you really don’t believe that what’s up there on the screen is true, but you go along for the entertainment value. And as we watched the members of the House’s Commission III for legal affairs challenge the DPR’s current status and the validity of any decisions it might make, we would have to suspend our disbelief were we to accept their justifications for their position.

As Antasari is suspended from his position as chief of the graftbusters, a legal requirement as he has been detained for his alleged role in a contract murder, the DPR’s Commission III members are naturally concerned. Their big concern? That the KPK won’t be very effective if run by four deputies in the interim. As well, there is, of course, the fact that the KPK’s charter says that it is to have one chief; having four people even temporarily in charge is not actually legal, you see. This, too, is a matter of deep concern to the DPR.

If we weren’t willing to suspend disbelief – a habit we have gotten into whenever an honourable member explains anything – that wouldn’t even pass the laugh test.

Let’s break it down. Every freshman is familiar with Occam’s Razor. To refresh our memories, that is the principle of informal logic that asserts that the simplest solution to a problem is the most likely to be correct. Medical students are familiar with this principle in diagnostics; every doctor has had a professor remind the class that, if you hear hoof beats, it’s likely that there is a horse somewhere nearby…don’t start by looking for zebras.

The DPR is widely perceived as being the most corrupt institution in the country, followed by the police and the judiciary. The DPR is a frequent target of KPK inquiries and many former DPR members are doing time or about to do some as the result of KPK investigations.

Perhaps more significant is the fact that a good number of DPR members have been voted out of office and will be replaced as the new parliament is formed. These honourable members therefore have only a short time to build up their retirement funds before they have to give up their places at the trough. These retirement preparations would proceed far more smoothly if the KPK was hamstrung.

Nevertheless, we are expected to believe that the DPR members are so profoundly concerned about the efficiency of their nemesis that they would prefer to have it shut down than operate at less than peak effectiveness. This from members of a body that is unable to meet 25% of its legislative responsibilities in the time allotted.

We are also expected to buy the proposition that these honourable members have just developed such an abiding interest in the strict letter of the law that they must – regretfully, no doubt – insist that the Corruption Eradication Commission stop its work until the “i”s are dotted and the “t”s crossed. Or the outgoing DPR members have retired with their “pensions”, whichever comes first.

Or we could apply Occam’s Razor.

Antasari is not the KPK. He is not even Elliott Ness, to whom he has often been likened, and who, incidentally, died an alcoholic after making his name as a bootleg-booze busting Prohibition era law enforcer.

Whether Antasari had a hand in the sordid and ugly murder of which he is accused is utterly irrelevant to the work the KPK has done and ought to continue doing. The transparent rationalisations employed by the DPR members lobbying to shut down the KPK should be acknowledged for what they are: an effort by the mice to send the cat on vacation.

The KPK has a one hundred percent conviction rate. The commission has done a remarkable job in the face of deeply entrenched opposing interests and a political culture and history stacked up in favour of the status quo and solidly against any real change. Far from shutting it down, what our lawmakers ought to be doing is lobbying for more funding and an expanded and more powerful KPK.

But then the KPK would lay more charges and make more arrests and more corrupt bureaucrats would go to jail and return more stolen money to the people of Indonesia.

Hmm. Maybe not. Never mind.



Hire Patrick

Want to hire Patrick for a speaking engagement, as a teacher or for a writing project? Send him a message here:



Your Message

To use CAPTCHA, you need Really Simple CAPTCHA plugin installed.

Speak Your Mind