Friendship money

“Friendship money.” That’s the euphemism currently employed in Indonesia to describe Democratic Party legislator M. Nazaruddin’s “presents” to members of the Constitutional Court. According to The Jakarta Post, Nazaruddin gave court members S$120,000 (approximately $97,700). Constitutional Court secretary-general Janedri M. Gaffar testified before the House’s ethics council about the allegations and claimed the court returned the money (interestingly, he seems to claim there was “a receipt for the return of the money to Nazaruddin”, suggesting there was a paper trail).

As I’ve mentioned several times on this blog, corruption is nothing new in Indonesia’s judiciary. However, until recently the Constitutional Court had a fairly clean reputation. Now, even if the justices did indeed return the money and are cleared of ethics violations, the stain might last. As such, it’s worth pondering why politicians would bother to bribe the Constitutional Court at all. Many of the cases that come before the court concern relatively minor policy issues, which one exception: elections. For political elites, elections are perhaps the most important policy issue.

Thus, these allegations are interesting in light of recent proposals in the House to remove elections cases from the Court’s jurisdiction. Without elections cases, the Court will still have jurisdiction over several important policy areas, but ones that affect the political elite indirectly. Unfortunately, I don’t have the contacts within Indonesia’s legislature to test this theory, but it’s possible that removing elections from the Court’s jurisdiction was partly a commitment strategy to protect the Constitutional Court from corruption (a tad idealistic, I know, but not unheard of). Either way, it will be interesting to observe allegations of corruption against the Constitutional Court over the next few years and whether or not they abate after the reforms take hold.

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