Police Chief Tackles Trust Deficit as Graft Rife: Southeast Asia

Relations between Indonesia’s police and its corruption fighters have been so marred by acrimony that dozens of officers once barged into the anti-graft agency to try and arrest an agent investigating the chief traffic cop.

Now the new police chief, Sutarman, promises to work with the Corruption Eradication Commission, or KPK, to tackle graft within his force of almost 400,000, described as the nation’s most corrupt institution by Transparency International. Sutarman, 56, who started work on Oct. 28, said police can’t fight corruption alone. “Given that it’s massive in our society we must deal with this together,” he said after being sworn in.

Just seven weeks ago, former traffic police chief Djoko Susilo was sentenced to 10 years in jail after being found guilty of colluding to inflate the budget of a driving simulator procurement project, according to the Jakarta Post. In October 2012, policemen tried to arrest an agent investigating Susilo at the KPK’s office and ordered 20 officers seconded to the agency to return to the force in protest. Sutarman felt the police should oversee the case, the Post reported.

Sutarman, who like many people in Indonesia goes by one name, faces an uphill task to boost trust in the police amid a broader culture of graft that undermines the appeal of Southeast Asia’s biggest economy as an investment destination. Indonesia ranked 118 among 176 countries on Transparency International’s 2012 corruption perceptions index.

“We are very pessimistic,” said Neta S. Pane, chairman of Indonesia Police Watch, a Jakarta-based non-government organization. “The relationship with the KPK will remain rocky even though it may not be as tense as before, as Sutarman will be concerned about a public backlash.”

System Stacked

The police force is “riddled” with corruption and the system stacked against officers staying clean, given there are often payments required to get into the force and then to secure a promotion, according to Keith Loveard, head of risk analysis at Jakarta-based security company Concord Consulting.

Sutarman replaced Timur Pradopo, after serving as the police force’s chief of investigations. He graduated from the police academy in 1981 and in 2000 served as adjutant, or assistant, to then-president Abdurrahman Wahid.

“We will fix internally the things the public has been demanding us to do,” Sutarman told reporters last week. Reports from the police’s general supervision inspectorate “and complaints from the public will be followed up on so that the public is being served.”

He was the head of the police detective unit when the KPK raid occurred, according to the police force website. He was also in the role in July 2012 when KPK officials were temporarily barred from leaving a police office where they were searching for documents related to the case against Susilo.

KPK Standoff

Sutarman was cited as saying by the Jakarta Post in August 2012 that he would not hand over to the KPK four suspects that the police detained in relation to the case.

The standoff between the two organizations ended only when President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono intervened. “The case should be handled by one institution alone and that is the KPK,” Yudhoyono told reporters that October. Coordination between the police and KPK “isn’t working well,” he added.

“There was indeed a dispute concerning the handling of the driving simulator case which made our relationship with the police look bad, but that’s over,” Johan Budi, a KPK spokesman, said by phone yesterday. “I’m optimistic the relationship between the police and KPK will improve.”

Police are providing the KPK with investigators and this has been working well, Budi said.

Presidential Election

Indonesia Police Watch’s Pane said Sutarman reaches retirement age in 23 months, which further raises questions over his appointment, coming ahead of next year’s presidential election, which Yudhoyono cannot contest, having served two terms. “The police has strong discretion in the legal process,” Pane said. “This can be used by the ones in power.”

Boy Rafli Amar, the national police spokesman, didn’t answer four calls to his mobile phone.

To improve its corruption standing Indonesia must boost the independence of the prosecutors’ office, the police and courts in handling graft cases while stopping any efforts to weaken the KPK, Transparency International said in its 2012 report.

“It takes courage to clean up this organization,” said Bambang Widodo Umar, a police observer who teaches at the University of Indonesia. “Furthermore the structure and organization and how it’s divided and the working relations still provide opportunities to do corruption.”

Poorly Paid

Police earn a minimum base salary of 1.39 million rupiah ($123) a month for a new recruit and a maximum of 5.03 million rupiah a month for a police general with 32 years in service, according to government regulations. That compares with workers’ regional minimum monthly wage of 2.2 million rupiah set by the Jakarta administration.

In Thailand, police salaries start at about 6,000 baht ($192) a month and rise to as much as 70,000 baht, excluding allowances for expenses that are based on an officer’s rank, Deputy Police spokesman Anucha Romyanan said yesterday.

The police can use enforcement of rules as an opportunity to bolster their salary. Motorist Adhika Ganesha recently drove his car into a lane reserved for buses in the capital, an offense incurring a fine of one million rupiah, and was stopped by a police officer only to negotiate and pay 20,000 rupiah, the Jakarta Post reported yesterday.

At a higher level, a Papua-based policeman allegedly made almost $1 million in money transfers to senior police officials to protect illegal logging and fuel smuggling businesses, an investigation by Indonesia Police Watch found.

“It is very difficult to see how any leader, well-intentioned or otherwise, can turn around and say this has to stop,” Concord’s Loveard said by e-mail. “Efforts to reform the police will take a lot of time but it is essential that Sutarman does make a start on this process.”

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