Highjacking the KPK

Kompas – May 19, 2021

Politician: Hey Mr, looks like you've been left behind?

Writing on cabin reads "Watch Out X Bribery", writing on wheels reads "Integrity, Independence".

In what anti-corruption activists are calling the final stage on the road to killing off the once formidable Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), the KPK leadership is in the process of purging the agency of some of its most experienced and committed investigators.

The revised KPK Law – rushed through parliament in 2019 in the face of widespread and often violent public opposition – mandates that all KPK employees must be reclassified as state civil servants by November – undermining their ability to act independently in the face of rampant government corruption.

In early 2021, Firli Bahuri – President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's pick for the new KPK chairperson despite his chequered past of ethical violations and links with corrupt officials – maneuvered to included a requirement that all KPK employees had to pass a so-called civil knowledge or nationalism test (TWK) in order to become civil servants.

Ridden with sexist, ideologically and politically loaded questions unrelated to their competence as employees and conducted as an interview rather than the usual written format, the test was clearly designed to weed out "troublesome" KPK employees who have been most strongly opposed to the KPK law revisions and Bahuri's leadership.

In May it was announced that 75 of the KPK's most renowned and respected investigators would lose their jobs for failing to pass the test, although 24 were later deemed eligible to become civil servants after undergoing "guidance".

Included among those considered beyond redemption was senior investigator Novel Baswedan who was heading up several high-profile and politically connected cases, investigations task force head Harun Al Rasyid, known as the "king of sting operations", KPK Employees Association Chairperson Yudi Purnomo and investigators looking into ethical violations by Bahuri.

Following the announcement and under growing public pressure to intervene, President Widodo belatedly issued a statement saying the TKW should not be used as a basis for dismissing the KPK employees and that they should be given a second chance.

The KPK leadership along with the State Civil Service Agency and the Ministry of Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform however, which assessed the test results, simply ignored him.

Widodo – who during his last two election campaigns pledged to fight corruption and strengthen the KPK – has since remained silent on the issue.