By KARIM RASLAN
JUSTICE will be an important theme in the upcoming elections. Many Malaysians feel our society is deeply unjust – with the elite (people like myself) enjoying a disproportionate share of the country’s wealth and power, whilst also shirking our responsibilities.
Needless to say, this has made many people very cynical as they watch a parade of well-connected defendants pass through our courts as if they were beyond the reach of the law.Like it or not, perceptions matter and the prognosis for Malaysia isn’t good. Interestingly – and I know many people will disagree with me – there’s a lot that we can learn from how our neighbour, Indonesia, has dealt with its elite and their transgressions. Recent events have shown the extent to which Indonesian authorities can be remarkably bold in the face of power. Last month, Anas Urbaningrum, the head of the republic’s ruling Democratic Party was formally declared a suspect in the Hambalang Sports Centre corruption scandal by the all-powerful Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). Anas was accused of accepting kickbacks (including a Toyota Harrier SUV) in return for help to secure projects. Hambalang in West Java has become synonymous with administrative mismanagement and corruption. Indeed, construction costs have mushroomed from125 billion rupiah (RM40.18mil) to 2.5 trillion rupiah (RM803mil).
The political “scalps” have also been noteworthy, including Democratic Party Treasurer M. Nazaruddin (who is currently serving a seven-year prison term) not to mention the former Youth and Sports Minister, Andi Mallarangeng. Anas’ case has plunged Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s (SBY) party ever deeper into turmoil, in part because he has hinted that the President’s son, Edhie Baskoro Yudhoyono (called “Ibas”), was also involved in Hambalang. The startling revelations have been front-page news in the republic and have got me thinking about how Indonesia and Malaysia deal with the issue of corruption respectively. Over the past decade that I’ve spent getting to know Indonesian politicians, many have ended up in court and indeed in prison for various offences. I should note here that Andi Mallarangeng is a personal friend and I’ve interviewed Anas before. In contrast, I’ve never met a Malaysian leader over the last 30 years who has ever been incarcerated for corruption – the disputable case of Anwar Ibrahim notwithstanding. Of course, some would say that this proves that Indonesia is more corrupt than Malaysia. Sadly, I’d have to disagree. Instead it shows that the judicial process in Indonesia can be more effective and influence-proof than in Malaysia. Needless to say, this is an extremely worrisome comparison. Another key factor is that Indonesia’s media is extremely lively and independent. No one political party or leader can possibly control (or intimidate) all the newspapers, websites, radio and TV stations across this nation of 240 million. Perhaps because of this, the media is unafraid of casting a light on high-level corruption. With Anas’ case, the constant coverage has been critical in maintaining pressure on the authorities – forcing them to act. In addition, Indonesia’s KPK operates entirely independently from the Executive, the Attorney-General’s Office and the Police. This has sometimes caused trouble – especially when senior police officers are suspected of corruption. Indeed, turf-wars are inevitable. Still, the KPK, which was founded in 2002 in the aftermath of the Reformasi period has statutory authority and uses it accordingly. It is empowered to investigate and prosecute corruption cases. This lends the institution with a certain credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of the public. Moreover, both the KPK and the Indonesian media have been entirely fearless in pursuing their respective investigations even if they implicate the First Family. These guys do not “wimp” out in the face of power. In fact, they seem to gain in determination, leaving no stone unturned. Ironically, while it is true that a lot of lower-level corruption is overlooked and sometimes snarled up by bureaucratic delays, the very high-profile cases are expedited and more often than not swiftly brought to justice. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, there’s a lot we can learn from our neighbour to the South. http://thestar.com.my