Indonesia: New Anti-Graft Chief Sworn In Amid Alleged Extortion Scandal


By Pizaro Gozali Idrus

Nawawi Pomolango was sworn in as the interim commissioner of Indonesia’s anti-corruption agency on Monday, after the previous chief was suspended over allegations of extortion.

Nawawi takes the reins of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) after police named ex-commissioner Firli Bahuri as a suspect in a corruption case involving the former agriculture minister, who was detained on graft charges last month.

The reshuffle is a blow to the credibility of the anti-graft watchdog, which has traditionally been regarded as one of most effective and independent institutions in a country that has long struggled with corruption.

Nawawi, a former deputy commissioner, said he would focus on improving the KPK’s internal governance and restoring public trust.

“I hope that all KPK employees can work together to carry out the mandate and duties of the KPK,” he said after being sworn in by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo. “We will continue to work hard to eradicate corruption in this country.”

On Thursday, police named Firli in a corruption case involving Syahrul Yasin Limpo, who served as the agriculture minister under Jokowi until he resigned last month.

Investigators suspect that Firli demanded money from Syahrul in exchange for leniency in his corruption case. The police did not disclose the amount of money involved, but local media reported it was about U.S. $200,000.

Firli, who has denied any wrongdoing, is the first KPK chairman to face criminal charges since the agency was established in 2002.

Credibility in question

The independent reputation of the KPK has been tarnished in recent years following the passage of a 2019 law to reform the agency.

The law, passed by Parliament under Jokowi’s watch, included the establishment of a supervisory board that curbed the agency’s investigative powers, as well as a requirement for employees to take a civics test.

In 2021, dozens of employees and senior investigators were sackedafter failing the so-called National Outlook Test, which was required for them to keep their jobs. Critics likened the exam to an ideological purity test, alleging it was designed to get rid of the agency’s most veteran graft investigators.

The commission has also faced hostility from some politicians and government officials, who have accused it of being biased and politicized.

Firli had been accused of several ethical and disciplinary violations before and during his tenure as KPK chairman, including using a private helicopter for personal trips and meeting with corruption suspects.

His suspension has raised hopes among some anti-corruption advocates that the agency can regain its credibility and independence.

Yudi Purnomo, an anti-corruption activist who worked for the KPK until 2021, praised Nawawi as the right person to lead the commission. 

“Nawawi is highly competent and is accepted and trusted by all parties,” Yudi told BenarNews. “He is far from being a controversial figure and he rarely appears in public.”

But he said that Nawawi had a lot of homework to do.

“He has to consolidate the KPK internally, and answer the doubts and declining public trust,” he said.

‘A dirty broom’

Corruption remains a major problem for Indonesia, which ranked 110th out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s 2022 Corruption Perception Index.

The index measures how corrupt each country’s public sector is perceived to be, according to experts and businesspeople.

The KPK was established as part of wide-ranging reforms to promote good governance following the fall in 1998 of Indonesia’s authoritarian leader Suharto, who has been accused of massive corruption.

The agency has the power to investigate, prosecute and freeze the assets of corruption suspects.

Feri Amsari, a professor of law at Andalas University in Padang, said Nawawi faced a daunting task of restoring the credibility and morale of the embattled anti-graft agency. 

“Firli is not the only one who is potentially involved, because the KPK’s decisions are made collectively and collegially, not just by him,” Feri told BenarNews. 

“It is unrealistic to expect that a dirty broom can sweep a dirty house,” he said.

Feri also noted that Jokowi had extended the term of Firli and his colleagues by one year to the end of 2024, despite widespread criticism from civil society groups.

“The president is the root cause of this damage,” Feri said.


BenarNews’ mission is to provide readers with accurate news and information that reflects the complex and ever-changing world around them. With homepages in Bengali, Thai, Bahasa Malaysia, Bahasa Indonesia and English, BenarNews brings timely news to its diverse audience. Copyright BenarNews. Used with the permission of BenarNews

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