Buehler began his talk with a tour de force of Indonesia's current anti-corruption legal framework. He later discussed the institutional capacity of Indonesia's legal institutions, particularly the KPK. As of 2009, the KPK has a staff of 400 and a budget of $22 million - an obvious improvement over the Suharto era, but miniscule compared to its counterparts in Hong Kong and Singapore. According to Buehler's data, the the KPK Corruption Court (TIPIKOR) handled over 30% of all corruption cases in the country. Impressively, it has a 100% conviction rate against defendants, versus less than 40% in the regular judiciary. However, most of those officials convicted in the TIPIKOR have been lower-level officials rather than the "big fish."
Unfortunately, the SBY administration watered down the legal basis for the KPK and TIPIKOR in the Corruption Court Law of 2009. Previously, TIPIKOR judge panels consisted of a mix of ad hoc and career judges. The former were seen as more independent than the latter, who often must please superiors to receive promotions. However, the new law would replace the ad hoc judges entirely with career judges. Furthermore, the district court chief judge can alter a panel of TIPIKOR judges at will, even further weakening their independence. The law also establishes a branch of the TIPIKOR in all 33 provinces, but some critics allege that this would simply stretch the KPK's already limited resources too thin.
While far from blameless, one thing that bothers me about all of these attacks on SBY is that they seem to ignore the finer points of Indonesian law. Any American lawyer knows that the president cannot simply intervene in an ongoing prosecution. Just imagine the outcry if President Bush had publicly condemned Patrick Fitzgerald's prosecution of Scooter Libby for outing CIA agent Valerie Plame. As the Economist pointed out, it's ironic that legal reformers are now criticizing SBY for refusing to take a similar action. As lawyers, we should be concerned with process as well as justice. Just because Bibit and Chandra are sympathetic figures on the side of righteousness, it wouldn't make a good precedent for the president to take extra-constitutional steps to protect them. Unfortunately, this is not the first or last time legal reformers have urged foreign governments to take certain reforms without considering local context.