Business must improve integrity in antigraft drive

Corruption is always the nemesis of good governance, which all governments require to be able to govern effectively. “Power tends to corrupt absolutely,” as Lord Action said, and governance is a matter of the use of power.

On Dec. 9 the world marks the annual International Anticorruption Day. In Indonesia, the historical upheaval that reset the nation’s governance in 1998 was brought about a strong desire toward upholding ethical conduct in the management of the country and businesses.

While throughout the Reform movement democratization and decentralization were the highlight of the political scene, similiar watershed changes occured in the anticorruption and integrity landscape. Impotent law enforcement, as a result of the compromised integrity of law enforcement agnecies – the police and the prosecutors – was expected to end through the creation of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). Extraordinary power was entrusted to the KPK to remove the boulder blocking the way to achieving high integrity in governance.

The boulder to be shifted was a heavy as could be. Further, imposed democratization posed a new challenge. “Power corrupts absolutely” suddenly became “distributed power corrupts widely”, and the task given to the KPK multiplied in both in variety of targets and severity of graft.

Faster decision-making to boost investment and economic growth at the national and local levels, particularly because of decentralization, heightened the risks of corruption. This was compounded by poorly prepared measures to inject integrity into local democratization through local elections that instead became known for “money politics” and vote buying. Regional autonomy simply opened up the Pandora’s Box of corruption, as evident in the KPK investigation into about 120 regional heads for alleged graft so far.

Along with those challenges the KPK’s performance was exemplary, with an increasing number of cases. As The Jakarta Postreported in December 2018 that cases handled by the KPK increased from 44 in 2011 to 99 (216), 121 (2017) and 178 (2018). Actually thousands more cases were reported, reflecting the limited capacity and or willingness of the government to expand the strength of KPK vis-à-vis the enormity of the challenge at hand. It is just like having one “lightsaber” to fight endless corrupt clones.

Now see continued political developments trying to bring the KPK to heel, and to at least partially shift the handling of corruption back to the police and prosecutors. Following President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s speech on focusing his second term on boosting much-needed investment, while reminding of the need for firm action against officials involved in extortion, the new National Police chief, Gen. Idham Azis, invited regional leaders to report attempts at extortion by members of the police force. Likewise, the new Attorney General, Sanitiar Burhanuddin, said he would “wipe out” underlings involved in extortion if he had to.

In 2016 a Supreme Court regulation provided the courts with the needed technical regulations to deal with corporate crime in earnest, further encouraging the business community to get involved in the anticorruption movement.

The 2018 KPK report showed that out of 178 cases, 50 involved businesses. Thus the business community will be more and more exposed to the risk of facing criminal charges if their members are suspected of being involved in compromising integrity.

This would be highly unfortunate but highly likely given the grey are of “common practices” in the past such as bribing officials, contributing to the lack of knowledge and lack of sensitivity in the business community to the expectations of ethical conduct.

Therefore regardless of the stops and starts in the government’s anticorruption drive, the business sector needs to gear up its knowledge, sensitivity and capacity regarding ethical conduct in every step of business practices, to enable sustainable, consistent integrity.

The substance of the warnings of the police chief and attorney general against extortion by their members can be a starting point to follow up with proactive steps, including in the business community, who either individually or collectively, as the KPK data show, are often part of the web of corruption and targets of extortion.

Only when all economic actors work together to combat corruption will this nemesis of development be significantly reduced.


By: Heru Prasetyo, Cofounder of Indonesia Business Links and former country managing director of Accenture Indonesia

This article has been published on The Jakarta Post, December 9, 2019