HONG KONG, China:Indonesia's Corruption Eradication Commission, known by its initials KPK, once feared for its feats in bringing criminals to justice, is now becoming famous for the scandals that have befallen its employees and leaders in the wake of the 2019 emasculation of the agency by the House of Representatives, with the acquiescence of President Joko Widodo.
The chairman Firli Bahuri is now being investigated by the police on suspicion of blackmailing former Minister of Agriculture Syahrul Yasin Limpo, who is currently involved in a corruption case, the latest scandal among several others including extortion, sexual harassment, and embezzlement involving KPK employees. There have been demands that Firli, who has been repeatedly reported for ethical issues, be immediately dismissed.
A retired three-star National Police general, Firli has long had a spotty track record before and during his tenure as chairman but has escaped punishment. In April, he was reported to the police on suspicion of leaking a corruption investigation at the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources. He was also sanctioned by the Supervisory Board, which oversees the KPK's duties and authority, for living a luxurious lifestyle. 
When he was still serving as deputy for enforcement at the KPK in 2019, he violated ethics by meeting an official under investigation. Agency supervisors are barred from having direct or indirect relations with suspects or other parties related to cases being handled by anti-corruption agencies. Violators face a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
Firli is hardly alone, a scathing indication of how much the agency has deteriorated, with stained reputations from low-level employees up to leaders. Since 2019, the KPK has been led by chairman Firli and four deputies, Alexander Marwata, Nawawi Pomolango, Nurul Ghufron, and Lili Pintauli Siregar. Siregar resigned in July 2022 over allegations of receiving gratuities. 
In May, dozens of KPK employees were questioned on suspicion of committing extortion at the KPK detention center with a value of more than Rp4 billion (US$255,610) throughout 2021-2022. At the same time, a KPK detention center officer was reported on suspicion of abusing his authority and sexually assaulting a detainee's wife. Another employee was investigated for embezzling official travel funds for shopping and traveling.
In the latest case, Firli was reported to the police by Syahrul, who reportedly carried out several meetings with Firli and gave bribes to get the KPK off his back in a probe of his agency. Syahrul had been named by the KPK as a suspect in a corruption case in his ministry in the 2020-2023 period with state losses estimated at Rp13.9 billion (US$863,000). 
Syahrul’s naming has also raised the political temperature ahead of the 2024 presidential election because his Nasdem Party has nominated opposition figure Anies Baswedan as a presidential candidate. He is also the second Nasdem minister to be caught in a corruption case in recent months although analysts say there is no indication that the KPK is abusing its power in the Syahrul case considering that the agency is said to have strong preliminary evidence.
The police have questioned Firli and Syahrul, as well as 45 other witnesses, with Syahrul admitting he met Firli five times. A photo circulated showing Firli and Syahrul also meeting on a badminton court. The police have also searched a luxury home reported to be a "safe house" where Firli often received important guests. The house is not included in the list of Firli's reported assets. 
However, he has not yet been named a suspect. Ian Iskandar, Firli's lawyer, denied that his client was blackmailing Syahrul and said the police have not yet named him, an indication the police may be having difficulty proving their accusations.
Yudi Purnomo, a former KPK investigator, said a serious and complete investigation would damage the KPK's reputation and hamper the eradication of corruption. The latest scandal, he said, will further decrease public and business confidence in the eradication of corruption in Indonesia. "If this case is not resolved, there will be greater distrust in the handling of cases at the KPK," he said.
Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) is urging the police to immediately name Firli. ICW Legal and Judicial Monitoring Division member Diky Anandya said that if Firli is named, referring to Article 32 of the KPK Law, he must automatically be removed from his position. "This also tests President Jokowi's commitment as the KPK's direct superior. Because it cannot be denied that the problematic selection of commissioners in this period cannot be separated from the President's intervention."
powerful figures are backing him. The president can no longer remain silent regarding Firli's problematic leadership, they say, and that he must use his powers in law to remove him. Otherwise, they say, the president, who came into office as a reformer, risks being remembered for turning a blind eye to the KPK chairman's crimes or even being involved in them.
ICW noted that the KPK's performance has declined sharply in some indicators, including the decreasing number of sting operations, the decrease in the number of investigations and case investigations and in the quality of leadership, and a worsening of the KPK's communication with the public. The new KPK Law mandates changing the status of KPK employees to state civil servants, which is a crucial factor in weakening the agency. 
When all of its employees have become state civil servants, the threat to its independence will be greater through executive power in the placement, promotion, and transfer of its employees. At least 38 KPK employees resigned throughout 2020 following the revision of the KPK law in 2019.
Even though KPK employees are bound by a strict code of ethics to ensure their integrity and professionalism, including not being allowed to accept bribes and gifts in any form, it was clear three years ago that the organization, which gained acclaim across Asia, had stepped on too many important toes since it came into existence in late 2003 following the deeply corrupt Suharto years. 
In the intervening 16 years, it investigated, prosecuted, and achieved a 100-percent conviction rate in 86 bribery and graft cases related to government procurements and budgets, including top members of former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s cabinet.
Due to various scandals and the KPK's poor performance, the level of public trust in this institution has decreased from 84.8 percent in September 2018 to 75.6 percent in June 2023, based on the Indonesian Political Indicators survey. Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index in 2022 ranked Indonesia 110th of 180 countries surveyed. Transparency said this situation shows that the response to corruption still tends to be slow, and even continues to worsen due to the lack of real support from stakeholders such as the president.