Novanto: Another Scalp for the KPK

Indonesia’s largest ever corruption scandal claims more government scalps. Nothing will stop the KPK from cleaning up Indonesia’s graft problem.

By Oliver Ward

Once named as one of Indonesia’s most powerful men by President Donald Trump, the Speaker of Indonesia’s Parliament now finds himself accused of pocketing more than US$170 million of government funds. The Chief of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), Angus Rahardjo, named speaker Setya Novanto as one of 80 suspects involved in stealing state funds allotted to an identity card system in 2011 and 2012.

Novanto joins the list of Ministry of Home Affairs officials, the justice minister and a previous interior minister currently under investigation for their involvement in the US$440 million e-KTP identity card scheme. One watchdog group called the scheme “a massive robbery of the national budget”.

Novanto leads a divided party

Novanto is the leader of Indonesia’s second largest party, the Party of Functional Groups (Golkar). The party remains divided and fractured over Novanto’s decision to join Widodo’s minority government coalition in 2014.

With the party fractured, Novanto’s supporters are suggesting that the accusation aimed at Novanto is a political move by those within his own party who want to see the party move away from Widodo’s government and join the opposition. However, Golkar leaders have already announced that Novanto’s situation will not affect the party’s decision to support Widodo in the 2019 election. If the move was political, it has certainly failed.

The KPK has a strong case

Given the difficulties the KPK had in bringing the case to fruition and the confidence required to name a senior member of the government as a suspect, it is unlikely the accusation was purely a political move.

Once a case has been opened, the KPK cannot halt proceedings, so it is unlikely they would have publicly named Novanto if they did not have overwhelming evidence to support their claim.

The KPK had plenty of obstacles to contend with to bring the case to light. in April, Novel Baswedan, a leading corruption investigator investigating the case, was badly injured when an unknown attacker threw hydrochloric acid in his face. Doctors have transferred him to a hospital in Singapore to save his eyesight. It is still unclear if he will fully recover from the injuries.

It is not Novanto’s first graft investigation

Novanto also has a history of corruption allegations. In 1999 he was embroiled in the Bank Bali scandal, which involved the transfer of US$70 million in funds from the bank to a private firm linked to the Golkar Party.

Also, in 2003 Novanto and Golkar Secretary General, Idrus Maham were accused of taking 60,000 tons of imported rice from a warehouse without paying the Rp122.5 billion (US$9.2 million) in customs duties.

His most recent scandal was in 2015 when he was forced to temporarily resign from the speakership after collaborating with Raza Chalid, a mafia kingpin, to extort a stake from US company, Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold for their right to operate in Indonesia.

All of the accusations were dropped and nothing came from any of the enquiries into Novanto’s involvement in corruption and collusion.

Where does this leave Widodo?

As the accusations creep closer and closer to Jokowi’s inner circle, it will undoubtedly test his leadership. Members of his own Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) have been implicated. He will have to choose whether to stand by his potentially tainted ministers or taking a tough stance against corruption.

Joko Widodo ran on a ticket of honesty and transparency during his 2014 campaign. He is trusted and popular amongst Indonesians and for that reason, he is unlikely to go against any KPK investigation.

He reassured reporters that he had faith in the KPK and said that it was operating within its authority. While the KPK maintains high levels of public trust, Jokowi will need to cooperate with its investigations and honour any verdict it reaches on those implicated in the e-KTP identity card scandal.

The legacy of the scandal will define the KPK as an organization. Their decision to publicly name senior members of government demonstrates their determination to tackle government graft at the highest level. Their message to officials is clear: if you are involved in graft and corruption, the KPK is coming for you.