President Jokowi must use his authority to reverse unjust firing of anti-corruption agency employees

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo must step in to invalidate and reverse the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) leadership’s decision to fire 56 employees under the pretext of a flawed civic knowledge test, Amnesty International Indonesia said today.

“The KPK leadership’s decision has gone against the recommendations of two independent state bodies that have investigated the matter,” Amnesty International Indonesia Executive Director Usman Hamid said today. “The President cannot simply stand by while the human rights of the 56 employees are blatantly violated. This is even more vital since the dismissal of these employees is dealing a serious blow to Indonesia’s anti-corruption efforts, which in turn will have a significant detrimental effect on the enjoyment of the human rights of Indonesians as a whole.”

The 56 workers were deemed to have failed a civic knowledge test that was conducted in March 2021 as part of the transition of KPK staff members to become civil servants, a change which was mandated by the 2019 KPK Law.

KPK leadership subsequently announced that a total of 75 employees had failed the test. Of the 75 employees, 50 were dismissed as the KPK said that their assessment results were so bad that they could not be retrained, while one had already reached retirement age. The other 24 were selected for further civic education training before they could become civil servants, but six refused to participate in the training and were also dismissed.

According to the information obtained by Amnesty International Indonesia, the test contained sensitive and personal questions relating to the employee’s religious beliefs and political views ranging from questions on prayer rituals, their religious denominations, to their views on the use of veils. Women staff members who were interviewed revealed that they received questions that violated their right to privacy and amounted to verbal sexual harassment, such as “what do you usually do with your boyfriend?”, “why are you not married?”, “do you still experience sexual desire or not? and “what is your view on the sexual orientation of LGBTI people?”.

“The so-called civics knowledge test contained few questions about civics and was almost completely irrelevant to assess the competency, knowledge, experience, integrity, and dedication of the KPK employees,” Usman said. “Any dismissal based on the test does not have a valid legal basis and therefore is arbitrary violating the staff’s employment rights.”

The 56 employees include some of the commission’s most experienced and decorated staff members and many of them have experienced threats and intimidation due to their role in KPK investigations into corruption cases that implicate those connected to power.

Senior KPK investigator Novel Baswedan, for example, lost sight in his right eye due to an acid attack in 2017 that was perpetrated by then-active police officers in retaliation for his antigraft efforts.

An investigation by Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) into the process has backed up Amnesty’s conclusions. The Commission found indications that the KPK staff members who were deemed to have failed the test had been targeted for their critical voices as well as their activities as members of the KPK workers union.

Based on the findings, Komnas HAM concluded that the testing process violated at least 11 human rights, including the rights to freedom from discrimination in the workplace, freedom of religion and belief, the right to privacy, the rights to freedom of expression as well as freedom of assembly and association.

These rights are protected under international human rights law, including the  International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which have been ratified by Indonesia. Specifically they include Article 7 of the ICESCR which guarantees the right of everyone to just and favourable conditions of work, ensuring equal opportunity to be promoted in their employment, subject to no considerations other than seniority and competence.

It should also be noted that all of these rights are also guaranteed under the Indonesian Constitution.

Komnas HAM announced its findings on 16 August and, in its recommendations, specifically asked President Joko Widodo as the head of the executive branch to, among other things, immediately appoint the KPK employees who had failed the test as civil servants.

Komnas HAM’s findings were similar to that of the Indonesian Ombudsman, who had made public the results of its investigation into the civic knowledge test in late July. The Ombudsman found a series of administrative violations during the whole assessment process, starting from the deliberation of the KPK internal regulation, through the assessment process itself, to the KPK’s decision to dismiss the workers based on the test results.

On 15 September, the KPK leadership held a press conference announcing that, in spite of the Komnas HAM and Ombudsman recommendations, they would be going ahead with the dismissal of the 56 employees on 30 September. In the press conference, KPK commissioners mentioned recent rulings by Indonesia’s Constitutional Court and Supreme Court as validating their decision.

President Joko Widodo has also cited the court cases as reasons for his continued silence on the matter.

However, while the Constitutional Court has ruled that the clause in the 2019 KPK Law requiring KPK employees to become civil servants is not in violation of the constitution, in doing so it has said nothing about the implementation of the process or of the civics knowledge test itself. Similarly, the Supreme Court has not ruled on the implementation of the test and said that the government has the authority to follow up on the results of the test, which allows the President, as head of the government, to reverse the unjust dismissal.

“The courts have only ruled that requiring a civics test as part of an employment assessment process is not unconstitutional. This does not negate the fact that Komnas HAM and the Indonesian Ombudsman have found numerous violations during the actual implementation of the test,” Usman said. “It is disingenuous therefore to cite these rulings while ignoring the recommendations of two independent state bodies.”

“The President has the legal authority, as well as the moral obligation, to intervene and stop the firings of these 56 KPK employees, and prove his oft-repeated promises to fight corruption and uphold human rights. It is time for him to exercise this authority in the interests of all Indonesians”

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