Chandra-Bibit may not be a familiar story to many Australians, but for those keeping an eye out on our neighbours to the north it is a riveting yarn.
Arguably it is also a sign the Indonesians are finally winning battles in the seemingly interminable war against corruption.
For as long as Indonesia has been its own nation, corruption and nepotism have acutely and drastically influenced pockets of society in the vast archipelago.
It has hampered economic development – despite the successes of the Suharto dictatorship – and seen millions in funding from international agencies and corporations re-routed into the bank accounts of the connected elite in the business, government and military worlds instead of to intended recipients.
But since the reformasi movement toppled Suharto in 1998 and particularly since the victory of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (or SBY as he is commonly referred to) the Indonesians have begun to experience something of a anti-corruption groundswell.
And this is largely thanks to the establishment of the well-funded, independent and potent Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (KPK), which stands for Corruption Eradication Commission.
The KPK has successfully brought cases against politicians from Aceh to Papua and also members of the Indonesian Electoral Commission for abuse of power. In fact it has a 100 per cent success rate and does not shy away from targeting big name players across the economy and society – something that has rarely occurred in the nation’s short history.
It’s members have better pay than the regular public service and they get access to some of the best training around.
Plus they are doggedly aggressive in what many people have historically seen as an un-winnable fight.
Most recently has been the fascinating case of Chandra-Bibit – KPK deputies Chandra M. Hamzah and Bibit Samad Rianto. The two are KPK workers that were surprisingly arrested by the police for alleged corruption.
In short, the saga has it that while they were incarcerated the KPK was already investigating the police for other corruption cases.
After several public outcries and demonstrations by students, the two KPK deputies were let go. Contributing to this was the fact the Constitutional Court released evidence – namely wiretappings of conversations of figures from the Indonesian attorney general’s office and the police plotting to frame the two and others within the KPK.
(Check out the Jakarta Post’s timeline: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2009/11/02/timeline-kpk-fiasco.html)
The case is remarkable not just for it’s dramatic plot twists, but also because it is being played out in public. The rambunctious Indonesian press has had a field day and the public has tuned in with passion.
In the past, these cases have been referred to popularly as Javanese shadow puppet plays. We knew something was happening but there was never really much evidence hitting the press – just rumours, denials and waiting. Waiting for the next topic to steal attention away and waiting for potential recriminations for those causing all the fuss.
And that is a key difference to past eras. Not only have individuals lost their careers and been publicly shamed as a result of the KPK and support given to it by SBY, there appears to be a serious effort at upholding justice in the courts.
For Australian and other international companies / organisations that have long-had to deal with the ingrained corruption the rise of the KPK is a welcome one that holds considerable hope for the future and the economic fortunes of the populous country.
And for the Indonesian public the KPK may just be the white knight they have long yearned for.