This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia
When Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) successfully arrested Agung Ilmu Mangkunegara, the head of the North Lampung Regency, his constituents rejoiced.
The KPK caught Mangkunegara at his home as he was about to receive a Rp600 million ($42,355) bribe in relation to a Department of Public Works and Planning (PUPR) project on October 6. Locals saw this as a cause for celebration, underscoring the importance of the KPK to ordinary Indonesians in light of the Indonesian parliament’s controversial decision to significantly reduce the KPK’s power and autonomy.
“Yesterday we heard the Regent was arrested, but that’s not bad news. It’s a huge relief to us, because we no longer have a despotic leader. In the name of the people of North Lampung, we hope the KPK will thoroughly investigate him and get to the root of the problem,” Sandi Fernanda, a local who organized the celebration, told local media a day after Mangkunegara’s arrest.
Fernanda organised for a goat to be sacrificed in front of the regional government office to honor the KPK’s effectiveness. In addition to the $42,355, the KPK confiscated a white Mitsubishi Pajero and sealed off Mangkunegara’s office. According to the KPK, residents of North Lampung have endured corrupt leadership under Mangkunegara since he took office in 2014.
“Since 2014, Mangkunegara stipulated that the new PUPR head should allocate 20-25 percent of the PUPR’s project funds for himself,” Basaria Panjaitan, deputy head of the KPK, told local media.
Residents of Bekasi, a regency just south of Jakarta, also celebrated the arrest of a corrupt public official with a feast. Nearly a year ago, a group of student activists hosted a grilled fish feast after the KPK arrested Neneng Hasanah Yasin, head of Bekasi Regency for her involvement in a property permit-related embezzlement scheme.
“We can really see the social inequality in Bekasi. There’s a lot of clumsiness among law enforcement and lawmakers. This is just one case, and the KPK is after the rest of them,” Jaelani Nur Seha, Bekasi Student Association field coordinator, told local media.
Two years ago in the regency of Nganjuk, hundreds gathered at a feast when the KPK arrested Regent Nganjuk Taufiqurrahman. In Tegal, locals rejoiced with a bonfire and a sacrificial goat in front of corrupt mayor, Siti Masitha’s home, shortly after she was arrested.
Of all the regencies that have celebrated the arrests of corrupt officials, Cianjur likely had the most impressive turnout. After Regent Irvan Rivano Muchtar was named a suspect in a case involving the embezzlement of educational funds, thousands of residents occupied the town square to toast to his arrest.
“I came here because I heard about this gathering in a WhatsApp group, and I really appreciate the KPK’s work,” Ulfah Wahyuni, a Cianjur local, told CNN Indonesia.
After Friday prayers, some residents enjoyed a free rice dinner and a display of fireworks, while others circled the square atop buses, cheering in celebration.
Corruption and bribery are commonplace issued in Indonesia, costing the government hundreds of millions yearly. Such “unofficial payments” plague nearly every household, leading to budgetary diversions at the ministerial level and the weakening of the state’s institutions. Forbes named Indonesia’s second president, Suharto, who reigned for 31 years, as the world’s “all-time most corrupt leaders,” having embezzled between $15 and $45 billion to build a dynasty that still exists today.
If rejection of corrupt leaders can bring Indonesians together, then the KPK is clearly an essential body that does meaningful work worthy of appreciation and protection. This is especially important against the backdrop of the controversial and recently-passed law which undermines the KPK and subjects it to intervention by the government, which… is rife with corruption.
In late September and early October, thousands of students took to the streets across Indonesia to protest the new law – yet another way Indonesians have shown that they have had enough.
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