Urgency of COVID-19 exacerbates corruption risk in Indonesia, says deputy chair of anti-graft commission

Urgency of COVID-19 exacerbates corruption risk in Indonesia, says deputy chair of anti-graft commission

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Indonesia's Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) deputy chairman Nurul Ghufron (Photo: Nivell Rayda) 

JAKARTA: The urgency of the COVID-19 pandemic in Indonesia, especially in terms of procuring medical supplies and rolling out social assistance packages, has heightened the risk of corruption, said a deputy chairman of the Corruption Eradication Commission.

In an exclusive interview with CNA, Mr Nurul Ghufron noted that COVID-19 has prompted the government to loosen regulations and bypass procedures in order to procure health equipment quickly as well as to roll out incentives and social aid in a timely manner.

“Even when the regulations and procedures were in place, corruption practices were bound to happen. We can imagine what happens if they are loosened. The risk of corruption is higher today because there are people who try to take advantage of loosened regulations,” he said on Mar 5. 

As some government officials and public workers have been allowed to work from home during the pandemic, this has also made supervision and monitoring more difficult, said Mr Ghufron who is among the four deputy chairman of the commission.

The commission, better known by its Indonesian acronym KPK, arrested then-social affairs minister Juliari Batubara on Dec 6 for allegedly receiving 17 billion rupiah (US$1.18 million) in bribes from several companies in exchange for naming them as contractors in the ministry’s social aid distribution projects to help 20 million families.

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Indonesian Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Edhy Prabowo, escorted by security officers, walks after a press conference at the Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) office in Jakarta, Indonesia on Nov 26, 2020. (Photo: AP)

The KPK has also made other high-profile arrests in the past year, including then-fisheries minister Edhy Prabowo and the governor of South Sulawesi, Nurdin Abdullah for separate cases of bribery. Mr Abdullah was the 2017 recipient of the prestigious Bung Hatta Anti Corruption Award.    

READ: Indonesia’s new Cabinet and the political transformation of Joko Widodo - a commentary


Mr Ghufrom said that the pandemic is not the cause of corruption in Indonesia. It merely worsened the situation, he said.

“Most corruption cases in Indonesia are related to procurement and embezzlement of state coffers. One key factor why this keeps occurring is because our databases are in a mess. Even before the pandemic, the databases were messy,” the graft buster said

“Various ministries have different social aid distribution programmes for affected workers and the poor. But there is no structured and integrated database on who is eligible to receive them. This causes some people to be eligible for two or three different programmes from different ministries. But there are also people who are not eligible for any kind of aid from the government.

“The absence of a structured and integrated database of potential recipients makes social aid distribution in Indonesia prone to manipulation and corruption,” he said.

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Indonesia's Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) deputy chairman Nurul Ghufron (Photo: Nivell Rayda) 

Mr Batubara is not the first Indonesian social affairs minister to be arrested for corruption. In 2011, former minister Bachtiar Chamsyah was found guilty of corruption related to several of the ministry’s community empowerment programmes which cost the state 33.7 billion rupiah in losses. He was sentenced to 20 months in jail.

Additionally, former social affairs minister Idrus Marham was sentenced to jail for two years in 2018 for receiving bribes, although his case was connected to his role as a secretary-general of Golkar, one of Indonesia’s biggest political parties.

READ: Indonesia’s new omnibus law no silver bullet for spurring investments, say experts   

Mr Ghufron said it is important for the government to employ people of high integrity for strategic posts.  

“There have been improvements in our procurement system so that corruption is limited if not eliminated. There is now more transparency through the use of an electronic bidding process. But the people running the system are human. Manipulation can still occur before a tender process begins and data is inputted into the system,” he explained.


Mr Ghufron said the KPK has been tightly monitoring government projects since the pandemic began.  

“The KPK and the Supreme Audit Agency have been scrutinising each ministry’s social aid programmes. A ministry can claim that it has distributed aid to 10 million people. We want to see who these 10 million are,” he said.

“We scrutinise every programme, make sure that they are done for the right reasons, with clear target recipients, clear and measurable goals and procedures so there is no manipulation or misuse."

All ministries and institutions are required to consult KPK when it comes to strategic programmes and those involving large sums of money, he said.

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The headquarters of KPK, Indonesia's Corruption Eradication Commission, in Jakarta. (Photo: Nivell Rayda)

Mr Ghufron said the KPK has asked several ministries to review programmes that are deemed prone to manipulation and corruption. The commission has also assigned some of its officials to supervise the implementation of various government programmes.

“We have done all we can to minimise the risk of corruption and to monitor the programmes’ implementation. Even then, there are people who are brazen enough to still commit acts of corruption,” he said when asked about Mr Batubara’s case.

“When an act of corruption occurs, the KPK will no longer deploy our graft prevention supervisors. We will deploy our criminal investigators. We have explained the risk. We have reminded them about the law. If they break the law, we will arrest them,” he stated.


The KPK has arrested 13 ministers since the independent law enforcement agency was established in 2003.

Mr Batubara was the fourth minister serving under President Joko Widodo to be arrested by the KPK. The other three were Mr Prabowo, Mr Batubara’s predecessor Mr Marham and former youth and sports minister Imam Nahrawi.

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The logo of Indonesia's Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) at its headquarters in Jakarta. (Photo: Nivell Rayda) 

The president, popularly known by his nickname Jokowi, was elected partly based on his commitment to an anti-corruption drive. He has also promised to instill integrity and the spirit of hard work through his so-called “mental revolution” programme.

Mr Ghufron noted that the president was very upset when Mr Batubara was arrested.

“Jokowi is committed to eradicating corruption, running a clean government and conducting bureaucratic reform. This commitment is shown by his speeches and addresses. He always reminded his men that every rupiah spent must be enjoyed by the people and not embezzled for personal gains,” the KPK deputy said.

“He also welcomed the KPK to scrutinise the government’s programmes and policies. What matters the most is that when the KPK came to arrest one of his men, one of his cabinet members, he never intervened or made it difficult for us.”

Mr Ghufron also noted the same commitment with Mr Batubara’s successor, the current minister for social affairs, Tri Rismaharini.

“Risma has come to our office to meet us. She wanted to know how she can minimise the risk of corruption at her ministry. The ministry is now formulating ways to create a better database of potential recipients, how social aid is supposed to be distributed while minimising the risk of manipulation and corruption,” he said.

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Source: CNA/ni