Indonesia presidential hopefuls pledge to boost troubled anti-graft agency

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia’s presidential candidates have pledged to strengthen the government’s anti-corruption agency, laying out their plans ahead of the country’s Feb. 14 election, to counter pervasive graft in Southeast Asia’s largest economy.

The candidates’ promises, made at a dialogue late on Wednesday, come as experts bemoan a slowdown in the country’s fight against graft amid an erosion of the powers of its once-vaunted Corruption Eradication Commission, known by its Indonesian initials as the KPK.

The election sees leading candidate Prabowo Subianto, the defence minister and former general, facing off against former provincial governors Ganjar Pranowo and Anies Baswedan.

Anies, the former governor of the capital Jakarta, said he would bring Indonesia’s battle against graft back on track by strengthening the KPK and revising the law governing the agency.

“We want to return the KPK as an authoritative institution in the legal sense and this means revising the KPK law,” he said at the live streamed event held by the KPK and attended by its top officials and all candidates.

The law was amended in 2019 and experts have said it weakened the KPK by curbing its freedom to wiretap suspects and by classifying its independent investigators as civil servants that report to the government. The revision, made under current President Joko Widodo, who is known as Jokowi, triggered mass protests at the time.

Prabowo said he would take a “realistic” approach to preventing corruption cases by increasing the wages of state officials entrusted with large budgets, citing the examples of judges and officials at his own ministry who are responsible for military hardware procurement.

“I have made a calculation with my expert team. We have the capability, we are not poor,” he added, without elaborating on the budget plan for the wage increase.

Ganjar, the former governor of Central Java province and the candidate of the party of President Jokowi, pledged to restore the KPK’s independence, push for audits of government agencies and ensure assets are confiscated from those convicted of graft.

Over the course of President Jokowi’s nearly decade in office, six of his ministers have been charged or jailed for graft, and the chief of the KPK, Firli Bahuri, was also named as a bribery suspect in November.

In 2022, Indonesia dropped four places on global graft watchdog Transparency International’s corruption perception index to 110 out of 180 countries.

(Reporting by Stanley Widianto and Ananda Teresia, Editing by Christian Schmollinger)