Denny Indrayana understands life is about choices and the consequences that follow.
So when he jumped the fence to go from vocal academic-cum-activist to dutiful presidential aide, he knew what he was getting into.
The 37-year-old constitutional law expert from Gajah Mada University (UGM) went from criticizing the country’s leader over corruption in the judicial system to carrying out his orders.
Now, as President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s special adviser for legal affairs, Denny is on the receiving end of criticisms dished out by his former fellow activists.
Denny has been in his position since August 2008 – under Yudhoyono’s first term. He is also a member of the newly established Judicial Corruption Task Force, which recently unveiled the special treatment rich inmates were given in the country’s penitentiaries, after a surprise inspection of graft convict Artalita Suryani’s prison cell last month.
Artalita has since been transferred from her “personal suite” in Cipinang Prison to a shared cell in Pondok Bambu Prison.
With Yudhoyono coming under fire for being too slow in responding to legal issues such as the alleged framing of two deputy chairmen of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), Bibit Samad Rianto and Chandra M. Hamzah, and, most recently, the Bank Century bailout case, Denny has been criticized for being ineffective in his position.
Judicial watch NGO Indonesian Court Monitoring (ICM), which Denny helped found when Bibit and Chandra’s were arrested late last year, asked him to resign as he had not been able to influence Yudhoyono’s policies in legal affairs.
In the public’s eye, Denny switched from being a staunch advocate for judicial reform and anti-corruption activist, to a defender of the government’s slow performance, fellow UGM faculty member Zainal Arifin Mochtar said.
Zainal is the head of UGM’s Center for anti-corruption studies, a position Denny held before he served the President.
“In his current situation, he’s not able to explain to the public how he works from the inside and whether his current work is in line with his previous advocacy work carried out from the outside,” he said in a telephone interview. “Because of that, the public has lost trust in Denny.”
But Denny is holding his ground.
Sitting in his office in the marble-floor Bina Graha building inside the Presidential Palace complex, Denny explained his goals as an academic and activist were identical to those he had set himself as an advisor to the President.
“It’s the same [goal], I want the judicial system to be overhauled, especially corruption,” he said.
The difference, he said, was in the communication strategies he used.
“Back then, if I wanted to give input to the President, I mostly used the mass media. Now, I can talk directly to the President. Whenever I want to give some input, I can do it by writing a memo, sending an SMS, picking up the phone, or face to face,” he said.
When he disagrees with the President, Denny tells him right away.
“I won’t use the media to express my disagreement,” he remarked.
“It’s not fair or ethical for me to make complaints directly to the outside [world].”
Consequently, while he may appear less vocal, he said it was not the case. “The fact disagreements don’t come out in the media doesn’t mean they don’t exist. They do,” he said.
At times, he said it saddened him to hear people doubted him. During those moments, he would reflect and ask whether he has strayed from his previous goals. “As long as I don’t do anything that’s corrupt, I will carry on,” he said.
“In the end, people will question your objectivity when you fight from the inside. And that’s normal.”
According to Denny, the President expects his advisers to be critical. “A critical attitude and a difference in opinion are appreciated here,” he added.
Denny’s critical voice and academic brilliance were perhaps what grabbed Yudhoyono’s attention. Still in his 30s, Denny became UGM’s youngest member of the faculty with a PhD.
The son of a state-owned company employee, Denny studied law at UGM and continued his graduate studies at University of Minnesota. He completed a PhD in Law at the University of Melbourne.
Denny helped found the UGM’s Center for Anti Corruption Studies and the NGO Indonesian Corruption Monitoring. He wrote prolifically, often criticizing Yudhoyono’s administration. His collection of articles has been published in 2008 in a book titled Negeri para Mafioso: Hukum di Sarang Koruptor (The Land of Mafioso: Law in the Corruptors’ Den).
Denny said he spent a significant amount of time deciding whether to accept the presidential advisor role, and had spoken to fellow academics and activists about it.
Expert in constitutional law from Andalas University Saldi Isra and close friend to Denny said the latter had confided to him about the President’s offer.
“Denny said he felt he could work more effectively from the inside,” Saldi said in a telephone interview.
Saldi — who has known Denny for almost a decade — told Denny they would have to accept differences in opinion when Denny jumped the fence. “Now I have a different opinion to Denny’s, and that’s something normal,” he added.
Saldi has urged the House of Representatives Inquiry Committee (Pansus) to summon Yudhoyono over the Bank Century bailout case.
The committee is investigating potential corrupt practices and the legality of a Rp 6.76 trillion (US$716 million) injection to save the then-collapsing Bank Century — authorized by then Central Bank Governor Boediono, now vice president, and by Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati.
Denny meanwhile strongly believes the inquiry over the Century bailout is purely political and that there were no corrupt practices when Bank Century was bailed out. Boediono and Sri Mulyani only had two options, as a third option of getting an investor to buy the bank was out of the question given the current global crisis situation. They either had to close the bank, or save it.
The decision to save it – costing Rp 6.7 trillion, instead of closing it for 6.4 trillion and running the risk of a systemic bank collapse, was more reasonable.
“It didn’t enrich Bu Ani and Pak Bud”, he said when asked if Mulyani or Boediono would have profited from the bailout.
“Did it enrich other people? Rob Tantular is in prison, his wealth has been confiscated,” he said, referring to the bank owner. “Did the Democratic Party get any money? Nobody can prove that,” he added.
Denny ignored his vibrating BlackBerry several times during the interview, but quickly typed a few responses afterwards, explaining the messages were from his wife.
As he hold a two posts – presidential aide and member of the Judicial Task Force, Denny’s days are so busy he must use technology to stay connected to his family. “It’s a classic problem for people in this line of work,” he said.
He starts his day early to keep up with the President, he says. “The President is up from dawn and I know he works until midnight at least,” he said.
“Compare him with Obama. How many times has he [Obama] taken leave to go to Camp David? If our President takes a leave of absence, our people complain,” he joked.