The irony of anti-corruption performance improvement

Ilustrasi (Kompas)

Ahmad Khoirul Umam

The 2019 Corruption Perception Index (IPK) of Transparency International Indonesia (TII) last week (the end of January 2020) presented a significant dilemma among workers and anti-corruption activists in Indonesia.

The increase of two points from score 38 (scale 0-100) in 2018 to 40 in 2019 certainly brings excitement and appreciation for corruption eradication and prevention endeavors.

Indonesia has long been diagnosed with ‘treadmill effects’ syndrome, where while various anti-corruption strategies and implementations are running, the CPI score is not significantly better off. It seems that all have run fast, but in an actual fact, do not move an inch. Therefore, the Increase of the 2019 CPI should be considered a worthy achievement.

At the same time, many parties regret the increase in the CPI that came up when national anti-corruption political dynamics tend to systematically weaken the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). The survey for the 2019 CPI took place in August – mid-October 2019, so it did not capture the perspective of respondents after the squabble weakening KPK.

Therefore, it is less relevant if any parties attempt to exploit the argument of the 2019 CPI increase as a tool justifying that the Amendment of the KPK law gains public reception. It seems that there was no correction of the public against the weakening of the existing anti-corruption machines. In fact, learning from the handling of the KPU’s commissioner’s bribery case, Wahyu Setiawan, that allegedly involved the ruling party elites, changes in the KPK Law gravely implicates the performance effectiveness of KPK.

Therefore, maintaining the quality and quantity of the performance of KPK becomes very important. Because, if referring to almost any type of index or instrument of governance quality measurement, democracy, to anti-corruption, KPK’s performance almost always contributes significantly to the perception of betterment, stagnation, to decline in those pertinent scores.

Alongside political support

It was confirmed by the Transparency International’s CPI data from 1995 to 2019, that the Indonesian CPI rising trend is supported by the KPK’s period of gaining political support from the president of the top political leader.

The increase CPI in the era of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) reached 14 points in two periods of administration (2004-2014). At that time, the President gave freedom for KPK to run anti-corruption works. Thus, the anti-corruption engine runs effectively and can become a tool for monitoring political power.

The Increase of CPI in the first period of Joko Widodo’s presidency is around 6 points (2014-2019). The increase is still lower than the average increase rate of CPI during the era of SBY. However, any rising trend of CPI is still worth to be considered as a positive signal.

Unfortunately, the positive signal is potentially weakened if soon, the KPK’s performance effectiveness keeps on declining due to the Amendment of the KPK Law, which highly gravely implicates the agency’s prosecuting function.

However, the potential decrease in Indonesia’s CPI after the weakening of KPK’s law was also potentially lost from the next TII’s surveys’ radar. If that happens, there are at least a few factors that affect it.

First, the controversy of the KPK’s weakening is covered by the incoming news, so it disappears from the public memory. This is represented by the respondent views in the CPI survey. This situation aligns with the opinions of Howard Dick and Simon Butt (2013) and Wijayanto (2012), who argue that the CPI survey is vulnerable to being influenced by the dynamics of media coverage. The ups and downs of the CPI scores are often considered not a reflection of the real political dynamics of anti-corruption.

Secondly, the CPI survey is less sensitive to the political dynamics of anti-corruption in Indonesia. The CPI survey instruments, developed by the Berlin-based Transparency International (TI), are used to survey around 180 countries. The instruments are to assess the corruption of the public sector with the respondents of business actors, which of course, represent the private sector. That is to say, the sensitivity of the CPI survey respondents tends to differ from those of activists, observers, and civil society groups that are relatively more concerned with the anti-corruption dynamics.

The second argument is in line with the opinions of Maria Bensacon (2003), Andrew Williams and Abu Siddiqie (2008), who criticize the difference between the respondent’s segmentation, methodology, and analysis of the index components compiled by CPI survey instruments. However, while there are several weak points in the instrument set, there are not yet more valid counter-measuring instruments for measuring the public governance index and the anti-corruption machinery of countries.

Daniel Kaufman, Aart Kray, and Masimo Mastruzzi (2011) and a number of other governance researchers continue to consider CPI as an instrument of measurement of quality for anti-corruption and governance.

Thirdly, there is a significant change in the performance of anti-corruption machinery in Indonesia, mainly in the Police and the Attorney General’s Office, that have been considered stagnant in combating practices of corruption. This means that if there is a change in behavior and the aggressiveness of the institutions’ performance in eradicating and preventing corruption, the degrading CPI will not occur. Conversely, the increase in performance will, of course, contribute to the significant increase in the score of the CPI.

Still assuming

However, all these arguments are based solely on assumptions. Of how likely those changes can occur, the public can estimate the possibilities.

Therefore, regarding the Increase of 2019 CPI that now reaches the score 40, we should be grateful, although at the same time, the increase in performance that occurred is in times of the weakening of the anti-corruption pillars. This situation should be anticipated altogether.

The president as supreme commander of the eradication of corruption, which has a great authority to orchestrate anti-corruption machinery, must again present its anti-correction commitment.

At the same time, the forces of the later civil society that recently tend to be polarized due to the current political identity game, have to re-focus on the hands-on works as an active reminder (watch dog) to initiate a capable anti-corruption engine. (*)

Umam is Managing Director of Paramadina Public Policy Institute (PPPI), Lecturer of Political Science and International Studies at Paramadina University. 

This article first appeared on Kompas. This is translated with permission from the writer.