Back in October, Fikrul Hanif, a history professor at a teacher’s college in Padang, West Sumatra, trudged to his local district office to renew his resident ID. He was expecting to get the revamped electronic version – one that promised to be harder to duplicate, easier to update and with fewer run-ins with crooked government workers. Instead he was sent to another office to pick up a letter that was in effect an IOU.
“They didn’t have the plastic cards,” the 37-year-old explained. “I must wait months and months.”
Chances are he will need to wait longer still. Indonesia is in the grips of a Rp.2.6 trillion (US$195 million) scandal involving the revamp of the country’s residential IDs. Though not Indonesia’s biggest potential theft of public funds, the affair packs the biggest punch. It touches the lives of every Indonesian adult and underscores that some elites are more interested in serving themselves than the public.
“It’s not the amount of money, it’s the impact,” said Adnan Husodo, a coordinator with Indonesia Corruption Watch. “This impacts every citizen.”
At the heart of the issue is a sky-blue, wallet-sized ID. Known as a KTP, short for kartu tanda penduduk, the national identification card is a must-carry for every Indonesian aged 17 and above.
Back in 2009, the government of the previous president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono wanted to put the whole service online to streamline getting one and keeping them up-to-date. Known as e-KTP, the revamped cards would be harder for fraudsters and tax evaders to duplicate.
Indonesia’s Parliament budgeted about Rp.5.2 trillion, after tax, for a new system that would make renewals a thing of the past. Under the new system, one ID number would follow the holder for life. Address updates and other changes could also be done online.
It didn’t happen.
Instead, according to KPK allegations made earlier in March, roughly half the budgeted amount was stolen. The rollout was haphazard. The cards are easy enough to get in the bigger cities on Java, especially around Jakarta, but less so in further flung places of the archipelago.
Roughly 4.5 million people are like Fikrul. They have no card but instead a government-issued letter stating they are entitled to one – at some point.
As for benefits of the revamped cards? Online updates are unavailable and renewals are still mandatory every five years. In many cases, the plastic cards themselves that replaced the laminated originals were so flimsy that they disintegrated well before their expiry. A nuisance anywhere, but in Indonesia an expensive problem if like many, the holder has moved to the big city for work.
The administration of President Joko Widodo yanked the e-KTP contract from the original consortium charged with delivering the service. A second bidding process failed to attract sufficient interest in 2016. Home Affairs Minister Tjahjo Kumolo has said a new consortium will secure the contract by next month.
“Corruption here is like a vicious circle,” said Fikrul. “It’s like the public domain is just a meal for government officials.”
But an extensive investigation from the country’s graft watchdog, the KPK, promises to put a wide number of officials on diets.
In early March, the KPK said it is following up on a list of 38 names, so far, including current and former cabinet ministers and the speaker of Parliament for taking kickbacks from the programme. That list may grow to as many as 70 in the coming months, the KPK has said.
In the KPK’s sites are potentially the current law and human rights minister, Yasonna Laoly, and Parliament’s speaker, Golkar’s chairman, Setya Novanto. Gamawan Fauzi, the former home affairs minister overseeing the development and contracting of the e-KTP initiative also faces an investigation. The men and the other 35 have not been charged with any crimes yet, though two mid-ranking officials from the ministry of home affairs are already facing trial.
Even so, announcing that the senior officials were targets of the investigation tightens the noose in the eye of the public, Husodo said.
Novanto is an interesting example. He may face another challenge to his party leadership and, as a consequence, his position as speaker. In November of 2015, he was alleged to have attempted to extort shares from the Indonesian unit of mining giant Freeport, forcing him to give up his seat, which he resumed a year later. While his connections may help him avoid another sacking – at least for now – there is no denying that the world of Indonesian politics shifted on its axis this month.
Coming a month before Jakarta returns to the polls in a runoff election for governor, the issue of corruption promises to be the big galvanizing issue – a boon to reformers such as Jakarta Governor Basuki Purnama.
Better known as Ahok, the governor has faced blasphemy charges for allegedly insulting the Quran in late September of 2016. Religious conservatives have made much of the charges to oppose his candidacy. In early December, at least half a million filled the streets in what was thought to be the country’s biggest ever rallies.
But Ahok, who served on the parliamentary committee that provided funding for the e-KTP, is on the record as opposing the plan because of the potential for abuse. Golkar officials campaigned to have the ethnic-Chinese Christian thrown off the committee for making waves, according to the weekly newsletter Reformasi. He left Parliament in 2011 to be Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo’s running mate for Jakarta governor. That suggests, according to the Reformasi report, Ahok left Parliament before the kickbacks were distributed.
What’s more, given the sheer size of the potential charge sheet and the names on it, the snowballing scandal will be a news staple for the rest of Jokowi’s five-year term in office. Corruption may well be the defining issue when voters elect their president in 2019.
The question remains whether the KPK will be able to carry the case and catch so many big fish all in one go.
Two years ago, the KPK nearly came undone when it levelled corruption charges aimed at derailing Jokowi’s then-nominee for police chief Budi Gunawan. Though successful, the KPK was unprepared for the backlash. The resulting tit-for-tat war saw most senior investigators in jail and forced the KPK to back down.
It also faces challenges from Parliament to water down its authority to independently investigate and prosecute corruption cases. Facing down the threat will hinge on support from the president, something Jokowi has been surprisingly slow to offer in the past.
But nothing wins support like success. The KPK says it’s more prepared this time to avoid a repeat of the Gunawan case. It has interviewed more than 280 witnesses over three years. Agus Rahardjo, KPK’s chairman, said his agency is going for the small fry officials first to build momentum as it moves up the food chain.
There’s reason for optimism. Since the KPK’s inception in 2002 it has won convictions for all of the 608 cases it has brought to trial – a total that excludes Gunawan.
Husodo says that the spectre of the KPK confronting the country’s most powerful is both inspiring and dispiriting. By all accounts, the agency has been a success, but it is achingly alone in the struggle against Indonesia’s epidemic of graft.
“The public trusts the KPK but this is the weakness of Indonesia,” says Husodo. “The KPK wants to fight corruption, our politicians don’t.”