JAKARTA (Reuters) – President Joko Widodo told Indonesians on Friday he would not compromise in the fight against graft, amid concerns over the officer picked to head the anti-corruption agency and proposed changes curbing its right to wiretap suspects without a warrant.
Having successfully prosecuted hundreds of politicians and officials since its formation in 2002, the Corruption Eradication Commission, known by its Indonesian initials, KPK, has become one of the country’s most respected agencies.
There have been repeated efforts by politicians and police to undermine the KPK and last week parliament passed a motion to debate amendments to the 2002 law that created the commission.
The proposed changes include placing the agency under the oversight of an external board which would have the right to decide whether the KPK could run wiretaps.
President Widodo, who chose not to veto the motion, defended some of the proposed changes on Friday, saying an external board was necessary for “good governance”, though he said he would pick the members and they would include researchers and anti-corruption activists, not politicians or bureaucrats.
“I will not compromise in fighting corruption. I want the KPK to have a central role,” he told a news conference, adding permission for wiretapping should be decided by the supervisory board.
The mooted reforms have alarmed anti-corruption activists and over a hundred people rallied in support of the KPK on Thursday.
“The weakening of the KPK is a betrayal of Indonesian’s reform mandate and the nation’s dream to have a healthy democracy,” said Adnan Topan Husodo of Indonesia Corruption Watch.
Many of the KPK’s graft cases have targeted members of Indonesia’s parliament, with the house’s former speaker among scores convicted for corruption.
Some MPs have previously accused KPK investigators of acting like “anarchists”, but when the body has faced pressure in the past there has been an upsurge of public support to defend it.
The KPK has also at times clashed with senior police officers. In 2015, the agency named Widodo’s sole candidate to become police chief as a graft suspect. His appointment was later overturned amid a public outcry, though the legal case against him was later dropped.
KPK’s departing chief Agus Rahardjo told reporters on Thursday the agency opposed the revisions and believed they would impede the ability to fight corruption.
“We hope our concerns will be heard by decision-makers..the anti-corruption movement needs to be strengthened, not weakened,” Rahardjo was cited as saying by news portal Detik.com.
Analysts have also raised concerns about the makeup of the KPK’s new board of commissioners. Rahardjo, whose term is ending, will be replaced by police inspector general, Firli Bahuri, who has been accused of ethical violations during a previous attachment at the KPK.
Bahuri told reporters on Friday the alleged violations were an internal matter for the KPK.
KPK deputy chairman, Saut Situmorang, who had held a press conference on Wednesday over Bahuri’s alleged ethics violations, resigned shortly after the appointment was confirmed by parliament.
(Reporting by Fanny Potkin and Agustinus Beo Da Costa. Editing by Ed Davies & Simon Cameron-Moore)