Home Asia-Pacific How the (Once) Most Corrupt Country in the World Got Clean(er)

How the (Once) Most Corrupt Country in the World Got Clean(er)


Indonesia is a lesson on how to handle political corruption. This has been a bane worldwide and is quite difficult to regulate, if not minimize. However, there have been fewer countries to engage in such a murky dance with corrupt politicians in all directions as Indonesia.

In Transparency International’s 1995 rankings of perceived corruption among nations, Indonesia came last. Last year, it was 89 out of 180 and this says a lot about the progress Indonesia has made in over 20 years.

One must look at the history of the country. After Suharto was deposed in 1998 after 31 years of authoritarian rule, corruption remained within every crevice of Indonesia’s political system. In three decades, a total of $35 billion was stolen from the nation’s coffers, making him the world’s most corrupt leader.

Ministers followed this example by pulling out funds from projects to their offices. A culture of corruption was transmitted to every level of society. This came to the point that police barely bothered investigating obvious graft cases, which were rarely taken by prosecutors even when some were winnable. .

It was the establishment of the Corruption Eradication Commission in 2002 that changed things for Indonesian politics. The Commission, better known as the KPK, was responsible for investigating many of the cases left untouched by authorities and prosecuted those who were evidently guilty of corruption. The organization was efficient. It convicted over a thousand officials and had them sentenced accordingly.

However, anti-corruption work was dangerous, as proven when men like Ferdian Nugroho caught Fuad Amin Imron, regent (a position between mayor and governor) of the island of Madura, for stealing over $42 million worth of funds. The man he caught was the grandson of a revered Muslim spiritual mentor and was feared.

Madura was equally infamous for many violent occurrences, with assassinations made against those who opposed Fuad Amin. However, when the regent retired, the people got over their fear and informed the KPK of his misdeeds. Fuad Amin was caught in 2017 and would face 13 years of imprisonment for his crimes.

There was also the case of KPK investigation Novel Baswedan who was blinded by acid thrown at his face by a motorcycle driver. The incident provoked an outrage from the organization, counting to the days when they will catch the attacker.

When asked about the KPK’s success, Nugroho pointed out that the organization was independent of government interference and had incredible supervision over the activities of suspects. Since judges were quite corrupt as well, the increased power was necessary. Furthermore, in spite of Indonesia’s tense political environment, the KPK would go after any target, regardless of where they were affiliated with.

In spite of its record, the organization is not without its blind spots, as in 2010, its chairman was arrested for ordering the murder of a business associate that blackmailed him over an affair he had. Questions are raised with regards to the due process involved in the proceedings the KPK undertake, and the kingpins are barely touched in some cases. In spite of these, the KPK has helped Indonesia reach its recent ranks in terms of transparency and will continue to viciously pursue corruption in whatever way it can.


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