Bengkulu bribery case sparks fresh calls for AGO reform

The Jakarta Post 12 Jun 2017,  Marguerite Afra Sapiie

A series of arrests of officials at the state prosecutors’ offices in some regions for alleged bribery in past months has put the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) back in the spotlight, prompting fresh calls for serious bureaucratic reform, which many say is still being pursued sluggishly.

Friday last week saw the arrest of Parlin Purba, the head of the intelligence unit at the Bengkulu Prosecutors’ Office, for allegedly receiving bribes related to an earlier investigation he was handling into botched irrigation projects.

The arrest, undertaken by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), came less than two months after a similar case occurred in the neighboring Jambi province when an official at the Jambi Prosecutors’ Office was apprehended by a local task force for allegedly receiving money as a gratuity in an action involving contraband items held by the state.

The arrests have shown underlying problems within the AGO of poor human resources management and a lack of accountability and transparency in its bureaucratic reform efforts that hinder that ongoing reform, which has also been pushed by a civil society coalition since a decade ago.

“There are complex and serious problems in the AGO’s human resources management, operational methods and supervision measures within the body that make them catalysts for the incidents,” said Ferdinand Andi Lolo, a commissioner at a organization tasked with keeping an eye on the AGO, the Prosecutors Commission (Komjak).

The main problems, Ferdinand said, are the promotion and transfer system for its officials, which often overlooks merit. He said even a lower-ranking prosecutor like Parlin could get off the hook for punishment despite his already bad track record and, instead, could be transferred to a higher level of a provincial prosecutors office.

Before serving in Bengkulu, Parlin was implicated in an ethical violation in a district-level prosecutors office in Purwakarta, West Java, concerning which the AGO said the wrongdoing was the reason behind his transfer.

“Promotion or transfer should be prioritized for those who have good track records, accomplishments and integrity, but the current system is not like that,” Ferdinand said, deeming the institutional reform at the AGO to be “artificial.”

Amid the AGO’s sluggish reforms, the Prosecutors Commission also continues to be a toothless AGO partner with its recommendations often being sidestepped by the AGO and with Ferdinand saying his office was not involved in the reform process.

The Prosecutors Commision has also recommended the AGO revamp the latter’s budget accountability and has even proposed for an increase in the AGO’s investigation budget after finding that the lack of funding could drive prosecutors to be corrupt, said Ferdinand.

“But the follow-up [of the commission’s recommendation] is unclear; while this budgetary problem is, in fact, a serious matter,” he added.

Late last year, a West Sumatra prosecutor Farizal was implicated in a bribery case centering a sugar import quota. While in a rather high-profile case in 2008, former prosecutor Urip Tri Gunawan was sentenced to 20 years in prison for accepting a US$660,000 bribe from a businesswoman while investigating an embezzlement case.

Transparency International Indonesia (TII) secretary-general Dadang Trisasongko questioned the AGO’s commitment to root out corruption starting with the prosecutors themselves, saying that “What we see right now is that the efforts to carry out internal reform within the AGO do not get full support even from [Attorney General] HM Prasetyo himself.”

Indonesia saw a slight improvement in TII’s 2016 Corruption Perception Index, with a score of 37, an increase from the previous year’s score of 36. The survey measured private sector perceptions of public services, recognizing a score of zero as highly corrupt and 100 as very clean.

However, Prasetyo immediately dismissed such concerns on Friday, saying that it was merely a wrongdoing by an irresponsible individual that did not represent the AGO as an institution and he later promised to take a firm action to dismiss Parlin should he be named a suspect in the case.

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