Do Not Stop at the Minister
The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) should not allow investigation into the case of embezzlement in the social assistance program to only stop at former Social Affairs Minister Juliari Peter Batubara.
TESTIMONIES by perpetrators and other evidence show that Juliari was not alone in enjoying the fruits of the corrupt act amounting to hundreds of billions of rupiah. There are strong indications several top brasses of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) were instrumental in channeling the ill-gotten gains, to help assure the wins of several candidates who ran for office in the recent regional heads elections.
With this in mind, Juliari’s arrest on December 6 should be used as an entry point to reveal the wide network of actors involved in the abuse of the social assistance program. The KPK cannot be faint-hearted despite having to face the political party currently in power. Abuse of the social assistance aimed at people thrown into economic crisis as a result of the pandemic surely is a crime of the highest order. Not only did the perpetrators cause monetary losses to the state, their action endangered the lives of many people.
Initial investigations have revealed proof that Juliari abused his position as social affairs minister to collect at least Rp10,000 from each social assistance package for victims of the pandemic in Jakarta, Bogor, Depok, Tangerang and Bekasi. A portion of the monies was used to fund his many needs, including renting a private jet for his working visits to various regions.
The government allocated Rp300,000 per social assistance package amounting to 21.6 million packages distributed in 12 stages. This means the minister embezzled a total of at least Rp216 billion. There is suspicion Juliari netted much more.
This magazine’s own investigation unearthed facts that each package went for less than Rp300,000. Many recipients of the aid complained about the poor quality of the rice, canned sardines, or instant noodles they received. The price of the pack bags produced by Sritex, Solo, in Central Java, was also too high. The Finance and Development Supervisory Agency had already looked into these anomalies.
Social assistance in the form of goods during a crisis is rife for corruption. Many anti-corruption activists had from the outset warned the government against this. The pandemic, which had turned everything into an emergency, was made good use of by Juliari and his cronies to share out the spoils. Politicians joined in the game at the procurement process by appointing companies in their cahoots. Certain testimonies mentioned several names of the elite in the PDI-P who gave out names of companies that should be recruited. The KPK needs to follow the dots revealed by these indicators.
To many, this type of crime is unimaginable. The minister of social affairs, who in his capacity should have been a pillar of strength for those in need, in fact betrayed the trust of the people he should have been protecting. To add insult to injury, Juliari is from the PDI-P, a political party which claims to be “the party of the ‘little’ people.”
To all appearances, Juliari’s untoward behavior cannot be separated from the policies of President Joko Widodo. When the President condoned revisions to the KPK Law one year ago, which blatantly dismantled several of the powers held by the institution, he sent a resounding signal to the entire country. He underscored that harsh measures against corruption is disruptive to development.
Moreover, at the onset of the pandemic, Jokowi issued a regulation in lieu of law which contained a sheltering clause for officials. The regulation, which was ratified by the House of Representatives (DPR), reiterated that officials can neither be taken to criminal nor civil court for doing whatever work to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic. This policy, for better or for worse, encouraged Juliari and probably other government officials to join in the fray to dip into public funds.
This is probably why the many signs of something fishy afoot in the distribution of the social assistance were left unabated. It would seem the anti-corruption brakes in the government machinery were not working. The public has cause to appreciate the hard work done by the KPK investigators who diligently gathered all salient facts which ended with the arrest of Juliari.
Obviously, the investigation is not yet over. It is appropriate the KPK together with the Financial Transaction Reporting and Analysis Center follow the trails of all the money corrupted. Suspicions that the levies from the social assistance slipped into the pockets of certain élite of the PDI-P, where Juliari Batubara is deputy general treasurer, needs to be tracked down. This is in view of the fact the Anti-Corruption Law now make it possible for criminal suits against corporations. Sanctions against perpetrators of the crime of such high order should be of multiple layers, including to those groups who also benefitted from the embezzlement.