Indonesian authorities have arrested a senior cabinet minister on corruption charges, the fifth member of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s cabinet to be arrested. Johnny G. Plate, the minister of communication and information technology, was arrested yesterday following a three-hour interrogation by investigators from the office of the assistant attorney general for extraordinary crimes in Jakarta.
As Reuters reported, citing the Attorney General’s Office (AGO), the investigation concerned Johnny’s involvement in the corrupt procurement of equipment needed to build some 4,200 mobile communication towers. The towers were part of a Ministry plan to bring internet access to remote and underdeveloped areas of the archipelago.
Johnny, a member of the NasDem Party, one of the seven parties in Jokowi’s ruling coalition, was arrested “as a user of the budget and as a minister,” Jampidsus Kuntadi, the AGO’s director of investigations, told a press conference yesterday. He did not provide further information about the minister’s exact role in the scheme.
“According to the calculation of public financial losses, as we stated earlier, this case resulted in public losses amounting to 8 trillion 32 billion rupiah,” the official added. At current exchange rates, this equates to around $544 million. If convicted under Indonesia’s corruption law, the minister faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
As mentioned above, Johnny is the fifth minister in Jokowi’s government to be charged with corruption since 2019. In April of that year, former Social Affairs Minister Idrus Marham was sentenced to three years in prison for accepting bribes from a businessman in return for the rights to develop a coal-fired power plant project in Sumatra. That June, former Youth and Sports Minister Imam Nahrawi was sentenced to seven years in prison after he was found guilty of embezzling money from a National Sports Committee grant.
These cases were followed in late 2020 by that of Edhy Prabowo, then minister of maritime affairs and fisheries, who was detained at Jakarta’s airport after turning from a work trip to the United States as part of an investigation into the lucrative export of lobster larvae. A couple of weeks later it was the turn of Social Affairs Minister Juliari Peter Batubaram, who was charged with receiving bribes from private contractors in connection with a government COVID-19 assistance package. The pair were later sentenced to five years and 12 years in prison, respectively.
The number of corruption cases against current and former members of Jokowi’s cabinet demonstrates just how pervasive graft remains in Indonesia, despite the undoubted improvements since the fall of Suharto in 1998. In that year, as a condition of the International Monetary Fund’s massive bailout following the Asian financial crisis in 1997-98, Indonesia agreed to establish the Corruption Eradication Commission (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi, KPK), which has done much to tackle graft at the highest levels of government.
Since the KPK’s founding in 2003, Indonesia has improved its standing in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index from 122nd place to 85th place as of 2019. But under Jokowi, who has taken steps to dilute the KPK’s powers, the situation appears to have worsened, with the country dipping back to 96th place in the 2021 index and 110th place in 2022.
As the Jakarta Post noted in February, “The drop indicates that in the last eight years, Jokowi has undone many of the achievements painfully fought for in the country’s anticorruption drive of the last two decades, including those that occurred under his watch,” it wrote.
“As President Jokowi prepares to leave the stage, leaving a nation that is more corrupt than before he came to power would be a tragic legacy that will eclipse many of his other achievements.”