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Indonesia News Digest Number 7 - February 9-15, 2004
Jakarta Post - February 14, 2004
Nani Farida, Lhokseumawe -- Sawang district, Aceh province, is
determined to see political parties campaigning for the upcoming
general election, despite the fact that it is still classified as
a "black zone" by the Indonesian Military (TNI).
"Black zone" refers to an area that is still heavily influenced
by the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), which has been at war with the
TNI since the Indonesian government declared martial law in Aceh
in May last year.
Sawang district head First. Lt. Abdul Barri has said the
Indonesian government would assure elections in the district
would go smoothly, despite security threats. Abdul said he had
requested additional military and police personnel to safeguard
elections in the district.
The district has a police subprecinct office and a military
command subprecinct office, but with the polls drawing near, the
district government will ask the TNI to build two additional
command posts in the district.
In addition, the district government has also established an
Emergency Service (Linmas), and some 300 volunteers have already
been trained to guard the elections on April 5.
"At the outset, seven village heads in Sawang were threatened by
GAM rebels for recruiting people to become Linmas volunteers but
that problem has already been overcome," Abdul told The Jakarta
The district government is taking other precautionary measures to
ensure the success of the polls. Abdul said the district
government would merge polling booths, so security personnel
could be more concentrated, minimizing the risks.
It was originally planned to have 62 polling booths in 15
locations in the district, but these numbers might be reduced.
There are 16,754 eligible voters registered in Sawang.
According to data from the Sawang administration, of the 15
planned polling locations, only two are considered safe, namely
the villages of Ulee Geudong and Abeuk Reuling. Five locations
are considered somewhat dangerous and eight very dangerous. A
local resident said there were about 60 members of GAM still
active in Sawang subdistrict.
A security "gray zone" is where the majority of residents are
pro-TNI, while a "white zone" refers to an area where all the
residents are pro-TNI. "Since 2000, Sawang has been in the hands
of GAM. In 1999 there were no elections here," said Muhammad, 55,
a Sawang resident.
Regarding the elections campaign, the commander of the Sawang
military command, Chief Warrant Officer Suamsuar, said that at
the moment three locations for campaigning in Sawang had been
determined. These locations are soccer fields in the villages of
Teungoh, Paya Rabo and Sawang.
As the district government steps up efforts to tighten security
in the district, district head Abdul Barri urged political
parties to establish party secretariats in the district. "They
should not worry about security here." No political parties
currently have secretariats in the district because of security
Antara - February 12, 2004
Jakarta -- The Indoenisan government on Thursday decided to allow
foreigners to observe the conduct of general elections in
troubled Aceh province under supervision of the local
The decision was taken at a cabinet session led by President
Megawati Soekarnoputri here.
"In order to ensure the transparency and accountability of the
general election, all regions in the country, including Aceh,
will in principle be open to foreign observers," Coordinating
Minister for Political and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang
'Black zone' gears for general elections
Foreigners to be allowed to observe polls in Aceh
Red Cross appeals for safe access to Acehnese
Jakarta Post - February 14, 2004
Nani Farida, Lhokseumawe -- Sawang district, Aceh province, is determined to see political parties campaigning for the upcoming general election, despite the fact that it is still classified as a "black zone" by the Indonesian Military (TNI).
"Black zone" refers to an area that is still heavily influenced by the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), which has been at war with the TNI since the Indonesian government declared martial law in Aceh in May last year.
Sawang district head First. Lt. Abdul Barri has said the Indonesian government would assure elections in the district would go smoothly, despite security threats. Abdul said he had requested additional military and police personnel to safeguard elections in the district.
The district has a police subprecinct office and a military command subprecinct office, but with the polls drawing near, the district government will ask the TNI to build two additional command posts in the district.
In addition, the district government has also established an Emergency Service (Linmas), and some 300 volunteers have already been trained to guard the elections on April 5.
"At the outset, seven village heads in Sawang were threatened by GAM rebels for recruiting people to become Linmas volunteers but that problem has already been overcome," Abdul told The Jakarta Post.
The district government is taking other precautionary measures to ensure the success of the polls. Abdul said the district government would merge polling booths, so security personnel could be more concentrated, minimizing the risks.
It was originally planned to have 62 polling booths in 15 locations in the district, but these numbers might be reduced. There are 16,754 eligible voters registered in Sawang.
According to data from the Sawang administration, of the 15 planned polling locations, only two are considered safe, namely the villages of Ulee Geudong and Abeuk Reuling. Five locations are considered somewhat dangerous and eight very dangerous. A local resident said there were about 60 members of GAM still active in Sawang subdistrict.
A security "gray zone" is where the majority of residents are pro-TNI, while a "white zone" refers to an area where all the residents are pro-TNI. "Since 2000, Sawang has been in the hands of GAM. In 1999 there were no elections here," said Muhammad, 55, a Sawang resident.
Regarding the elections campaign, the commander of the Sawang military command, Chief Warrant Officer Suamsuar, said that at the moment three locations for campaigning in Sawang had been determined. These locations are soccer fields in the villages of Teungoh, Paya Rabo and Sawang.
As the district government steps up efforts to tighten security in the district, district head Abdul Barri urged political parties to establish party secretariats in the district. "They should not worry about security here." No political parties currently have secretariats in the district because of security threats.
Antara - February 12, 2004
Jakarta -- The Indoenisan government on Thursday decided to allow foreigners to observe the conduct of general elections in troubled Aceh province under supervision of the local authorities.
The decision was taken at a cabinet session led by President Megawati Soekarnoputri here.
"In order to ensure the transparency and accountability of the general election, all regions in the country, including Aceh, will in principle be open to foreign observers," Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said.
Jakarta Post - February 12, 2004
Tiarma Siboro and Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, Jakarta -- The Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) urged on Wednesday the two warring parties in Aceh to allow humanitarian workers to move around freely when carrying out their duties there.
It also called on both the Indonesian Military (TNI) and Free Aceh Movement (GAM) not to interfere in the work of humanitarian volunteers to prevent them from harm.
"There are a lot of things in Aceh that PMI should do, but if both TNI and GAM fail to ensure freedom of movement for us, I don't think we can continue with our humanitarian mission," PMI secretary-general Iyang D. Sukandar said.
"We [PMI] do not wish to carry out such a mission until we are assured that the team of volunteers will be safe," he said.
Iyang was apparently referring to a recent clash between TNI personnel and GAM members in Bagok district, East Aceh, on Monday. During the clash, the TNI claimed to have rescued PMI volunteers, who were allegedly under GAM protection. The medical volunteers had entered a GAM stronghold to treat villagers suffering from illnesses.
Bagok district, located about 50 kilometers from Peurelak regency, is believed to be a GAM stronghold. The PMI team visited the area at the invitation of GAM leaders to treat sick villagers and was promised it could meet civilian hostages, including Fery Santoro, a TV journalist from RCTI TV station. GAM spokesman Teungku Mansor was reportedly killed in the clash, while a volunteer, Budiman Ramli, went missing.
"I have contacted [GAM commander overseeing East Aceh] Ishak Daud, asking him to release our volunteer if he was being held by GAM. He [Ishak] promised to do so even though he has yet to ascertain if Budiman was with GAM personnel," Iyang told The Jakarta Post. Ishak promised to protect Budiman if he were with GAM, but "as of today I don't know exactly whether he is still in that location," Iyang said.
In Jakarta, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for Asia Pacific Reto Meister said that his office would help secure the release of civilian captives on condition that both warring parties agreed to a cease-fire.
ICRC backed out of efforts to release hostages currently held by GAM last month after TNI and GAM failed to agree on security arrangements for its volunteers.
Meanwhile, TNI chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto said on Wednesday that the military was ready to launch another operation to rescue hostages currently held by GAM as soon as possible.
"We have identified their locations and are ready to launch the operation soon," the four-star general said on Wednesday. He added that detailed information on the movement of GAM personnel and their hostages had been obtained by the military in Aceh.
"We need the data to ensure that there will be minimal casualties when we carry out military action to release the civilian hostages," Endriartono said.
He said the military was still giving GAM a chance to enter into negotiations to release the hostages but stressed that preparations were still in hand for a possible rescue operation.
Kompas Cyber Media - February 14, 2004
Banda Aceh -- The Emergency Military Commander in Aceh, Major General Endang Suwarya, has said that they are waiting to see what the government's decision will be on foreign observers in the 2004 election in Aceh.
According to the two star general, who is also the head of the Iskandarmuda military command, to date they have not received any special instructions on foreign observers coming to Aceh. "I've only seen and read [about it] in the newspapers", he said on Friday.
It has been said that if there are indeed no regulations issued on the matter, foreign observers who arrive for the elections on April 5 will not be given permission to enter Aceh. "Every single foreign national who enters Aceh, whether they be a journalist, be from a non-government organisation or an observer, all of them must obtain permission [beforehand]. If they are found to have entered without permission, they will definitely be deported from Aceh", Suwarya was reported as saying by the newspaper Serambi Indonesia on Saturday February 14.
The reason was he added, that foreign nationals who arrive in Aceh causes a great deal of problems for security forces."Our problem is that we must provide security. They come to Aceh without reporting [to the military first], and then they are taken hostage by GAM [the Free Aceh Movement]. We hope that this will not happen again. What is clear is that the arrival of foreign nationals in Aceh causes a great deal of problems. The other side of the coin is that we do not trust them at all", explained Suwarya.
When asked what will happen if an instruction on foreign observers is issued by the central government, the Iskandarmuda commander said "This will be arranged later. If indeed there is a policy [decision] from the central [government] on foreign observers, then foreign observers will be restricted, in terms of their security, [but] they mustn't stir up trouble here".
As reported previously, at a cabinet session on Thursday which was chaired by President Megawati Sukarnoputri, it was decided that Aceh would be open to foreign observers, but they would still to be regulated. "The principal is, to maintain transparency and accountability. The elections throughout Indonesia, including Aceh, are open to foreign observers", said the Coordinating Minister for Politics and Security, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, following the cabinet session at the State Secretariat in Jakarta (Serambi Indonesia).
[Translated by James Balowski.]
Agence France Presse - February 10, 2004
An Indonesian Red Cross medical team treating sick civilians in Aceh province was forced to withdraw after a gun battle between separatist rebels and troops, its leader said.
It was the first time since martial law was declared in Aceh nine months ago that the Indonesian Red Cross has attempted a medical mission to rugged countryside areas of the province, said Red Cross secretary general Iyang Sukandar.
"There was a firefight between the two sides. Thank God we weren't hurt," said Sukandar, who travelled from Jakarta to oversee the mission from the East Aceh capital of Langsa.
One of the 10 volunteers was left behind after the clash and Sukandar said his colleagues have not been able to give a clear explanation of what happened. "It is being handled by [Red Cross] headquarters," he said.
He said that unless their safety can be assured the Red Cross has no plans to try another medical mission. "We are ready to serve the people of the interior if it is truly safe for us," Sukandar told AFP by telephone.
Beginning Saturday afternoon the volunteers travelled from village to village treating people with malaria, fever and other ailments in the Peureulak and Idi Rayeuk areas of East Aceh, Sukandar said.
Asked whether the team treated rebels, he said, "We served the sick people. They were all in civilian clothes." Among the more than 20 people treated, none had gunshot wounds, he said.
The team travelled with guides from the rebel Free Aceh Movement (GAM) but had permission from local authorities including martial law authorities, Sukandar said. "This is official," he said.
But Aceh military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ditya Sudarsono said the Red Cross did not have permission from the martial law administrator.
Sukandar said that after the Monday morning firefight he immediately decided from his temporary base in Langsa that the team should be pulled out and troops brought nine of them to safety.
More than 1,300 guerrillas have been killed since the army launched an operation to crush GAM last May, according to the military. It says more than 2,000 others have been arrested or have surrendered.
Kompas - February 10, 2004
Lhokseumawe -- Concerns about the smooth running of the 2004 general elections in Aceh are becoming a reality. The Aceh Emergency Military Command has stated that it will restrict campaigns which involve large numbers of people in areas which are considered dangerous. In place of this, the military will allow individuals and political parties to campaign though the print and electronic media.
"Because there are still dangerous areas, we will ask political parties to focus their campaign in the media. This is so that these activities won't be taken advantage of by irresponsible people to disrupt security", said military spokesperson Colonel Laut E. Ditya Soedarsono on Sunday February 8.
Campaigning in areas which are safe may continue under security by the military and police. Because of this, political parties who are conducting campaigns will be obliged to report to the military beforehand. "This is intended so that we can anticipate the number of personnel which must be deployed to safeguard the campaign. So security operations will only be carried out based on a priority scale in a specific area", he said adding that the areas which are still considered dangerous are the regencies of East Aceh, North Aceh, Bireuen, Pidie, Greater Aceh and Meurohom Daya in West Aceh.
However Aceh National Elections Committee (KPU) member Syarifah Rahmatillah rejected the military's plan to restrict election campaigning. "Campaigning is a crucial stage in an election. So hey, if you can't, they (the military) are [in fact] prohibiting election participants from campaigning", explained Rahmatillah.
Rahmatillah acknowledged that they still did not know if the KPU needed a special legal instrument for Aceh. Because to date, all of the stages of the election have run smoothly."Next Wednesday Aceh KPU will meet with the political parties. The results will be submitted to the military command to discuss whether military restrictions are needed", said Rahmatillah.
The former chairperson of the regional board of the Aceh Indonesian Islamic School Students, Zulkifli M. Ali, said that campaigning represents a part of the process of political education, an opportunity for voters to be informed directly about what is being offered by the political parties. "If in fact it is restricted because of the state of emergency, the government needs to make special rules for Aceh", he said. (ham)
[Translated by James Balowski.]
Associated Press - February 9, 2004
Indonesian troops shot and killed 18 suspected rebels in gunbattles across the restive province of Aceh, a military spokesman said yesterday.
The 18 members of the Free Aceh Movement were gunned down yesterday by government troops in separate shootouts, Lieutenant Colonel Asep Sapari said.
Sapari also said soldiers arrested five suspected rebels in northern and eastern Aceh after clashes with the guerrillas.
The rebels could not be reached for comment. Jakarta has clamped down on independent media coverage of the military campaign in Aceh, making government claims virtually impossible to verify.
The government launched an offensive against the separatists in May after pulling out of an internationally sponsored truce. The military claims it has killed more than 1,300 rebels and captured 2,000 more. Human rights groups say most of the casualties are unarmed villagers killed in army sweeps.
The rebels launched their independence bid in 1976 in the oil- and gas-rich province on the northern tip of Sumatra island. About 12,000 people have died in the conflict and repeated efforts to forge a peace deal have collapsed.
Kompas - February 12, 2004
Jakarta -- Although the struggle was not fully completed, the reform movement which was put into motion by student activists in 1998 was not in vain. Although it is still sporadic in character, a [new popular] resistance against the misuse of power has emerged. The people have begun to be more radical in struggling for their interests than the student movement itself.
"Between the years 1995 and 1998, the dynamic of the student movement seemed impressive, but following this, the movement began to be active only on campus. Intrigue, mistrust, arrogance, egoism, individualism and the division of the movement, increasingly tainted the student's struggle against the reemergence of the New Order forces [of former President Suharto]", asserted the chairperson of the Popular Youth Movement (Gerakan Pemuda Kerakyatan, GPK), Ricky Tamba, at an public discussion titled "A Government of Youth" in Jakarta on Wednesday February 11.
Nevertheless he continued, there is still something to be proud of, that is that ordinary people are now more radical than the student movement itself. In a number of parts of the country the people are putting up resistance [to government policies]. When their efforts were directed through legal channels it only turned into a bureaucratic game, so they began to form their own courts.
The chairperson of the National Student League for Democracy (Mahasiswa Nasional untuk Demokrasi, LMND), Iwan D Leksono, disagreed. He said that the people are yet to be radicalised. What exists has only been a spontaneous reaction among social groups which have a direct interest [in specific issues]. "This movement does not have a structure or grand design", he said. (win)
[Translated by James Balowski.]
Jakarta Post - February 13, 2004
Ridwan Max Sijabat, Jakarta -- Employers and workers joined forces on Thursday to oppose the bill on national social security (SJSN) which they said would cause legal uncertainty and confusion among the public.
The opposition was expressed in a bipartite meeting between the Indonesian Employers Association (Apindo) and major labor unions, including the All-Indonesian Workers Union Federation (FSPSI), the Indonesian Prosperity Trade Union Federation (FSBSI) and the New Indonesian Labor Union Federation (Gaspermindo Baru).
Apindo deputy chairman Hasanuddin said the government and the House of Representatives should drop the bill because it had created confusion among employers and workers and overlapped with existing laws on social security programs for workers, civil servants and servicemen.
"We oppose the bill because the stake-holders, in particular Apindo and labor unions, were not involved in preparing it and that is why its submission by the government to the House has created confusion among us," he said, adding that the government should not make any legislation unilaterally without consultation with the relevant stakeholders.
Hasanuddin insisted that with the bill, the government's concept of social security programs as stipulated in the amended 1945 Constitution was flawed.
"The government should run a separate basic social security program for the unemployed and the poor and should include them in the existing social security programs because according to the Constitution, orphans and the unemployed are the responsibility of the state," he said, adding that workers and the unemployed held a different social status.
He appreciated the government's commitment to developing a welfare state with the social security system but warned that many welfare states such as France and Canada have been facing financial difficulties in covering the programs due to the ailing global economy.
"The government must be prepared to outlay a huge amount of money if it goes ahead with the mandatory social security system," he said.
The government proposed the mandatory social security system to provide social security protection for all 230 million people since existing insurance schemes only cover 20 percent of the population.
Relevant government officials have insisted that the despite the bill, the existing state-owned companies -- PT Jamsostek, PT Askes, PT Taspen and PT Asabri -- would continue with the current social security schemes but they were required to make adjustments in terms of insurance schemes, premiums and claims.
Apindo secretary-general Djimanto explained that after conducting a joint in-depth study, employers and workers found the bill confusing, since the bill on one side could be treated as an umbrella for other laws on social security programs, but it also went into detailed social security programs for the entire workforce, including the unemployed and the poor. "We would consider accepting the bill if it regulated general principles of the social security system with the exception of the proposed detailed programs to avoid an overlapping with existing social security laws," he said.
If the government enforces two legislations for two similar obligatory programs, the result would be legal uncertainty, he said.
Idin Rosidin, secretary-general of the FSBSI, said labor unions could not accept the bill that divided the cost of the health insurance scheme, with both workers and employers contributing 50 percent of the premium. Under the current health-care program provided by state insurance company PT Jamsostek, the participants' premiums are covered by employers. Jamsostek covers social security schemes for 23 million workers nationwide.
FSPSI deputy chairman A. Sidabutar concurred, saying it would be better for the government to give more attention to the ongoing review of Law No. 3/1992 on social security programs for workers to prevent any more leakages in Jamsostek's Rp 33 trillion assets and to invest them carefully to improve workers' welfare.
Jakarta Post - February 10, 2004
Agus Maryono, Purwokerto -- Seventeen students of the Jendral Soedirman University (Unsoed) continued with their hunger strike on Monday. They are protesting an additional fee imposed on them by the university last year.
The strike started on Thursday last week, with 19 students fasting. Two have already stopped due to the deterioration of their health.
"We will continue the hunger strike until our demand is met. We are already poor, and we are overburdened by the extra fee," said protest coordinator M. Latief, referring to the imposition of the Institution Development Fee, which amounts to Rp 150,000 per student per semester.
The students have been living in tents in front of the rector's office since the hunger strike began. They have staged several rallies on campus also.
Separately, Komari, the deputy rector of student affairs, said that the decision to introduce the fee had been made together with the university's board. "The board will meet straightaway. After the meeting, we hope that we can provide a solution," he said.
Jakarta Post - February 10, 2004
Depok -- Some 500 students from the University of Indonesia staged a rally on Monday to protest the university's plan to increase tuition.
The students said that although the increase was not yet official, a report in circulation stated that the rector's office had proposed a 300 percent hike to the university's board of trustees.
The students said the decision was now in the hands of the 21- strong board, which is made up of lecturers, businesspeople, parents and students.
Tuition at the university is currently as low as Rp 1.5 million (US$178) per semester.
During the rally, the students also urged reform of the board of trustees, saying that one student representative was not enough.
Asia Times - February 13, 2004
Gary LaMoshi, Denpasar -- A group of 35 Indonesian economists launched a campaign against privatization of state-owned companies on Tuesday in Jakarta. The group calls itself Indonesia Bangkit (Indonesia Awakens), but the group seems to have slept through the sad history of state businesses and banks during the past six years.
"The public and legislators should plead for a temporary moratorium on asset sale programs to avoid further losses, both economic and non-economic," Indonesia Bangkit spokesman Rizal Ramli urged, according to local media reports. The group joins a chorus opposing privatization that ranges from populist politicians to tycoons hoping to get their old companies back on the cheap.
To be sure, there's a lot not to like about Indonesia's privatization program, starting with Minister of State-Owned Enterprises Laksama Sukardi. At a special seminar of Indonesia's 2004 Investment and Economic Outlook in conjunction with the Ninth Asia Securities Forum in Bali last month, he came across as a stereotypical aloof, blustering, overfed government minister.
In contrast to Finance Minister Boediono, Sukardi had no prepared text for the meeting, offering a rambling 30-minute defense of the slow pace of state-asset sales. While Boedinono followed up his speech with a press conference and interviews with selected correspondents, Sukardi barely paused in the lobby of the meeting room to take a couple of questions from reporters before scurrying off.
Closing the gap
In Bali, Sukardi defended the privatization program as a way to improve the performance of Indonesian companies and to boost tax revenue. However, the Indonesian public at large has mainly been told privatization is necessary to close the budget gap. The program, which habitually misses it targets because of political interference, is projected to raise Rp5 trillion (US$595 million) this year, nearly a fifth of the overall budget gap. Closing the gap in innovation, investment and technology is far more important for Indonesia, and it's unlikely to happen with companies in key sectors such as telecommunications and tourism plodding along under state ownership.
Ramli and Indonesia Bangkit didn't criticize Sukardi, but they echoed many of the standard criticisms of his privatization program. The economists contended that the prices being paid for companies are too low, and they complained about the risks of selling the nation's assets to foreigners. These criticisms are simply ridiculous, as is Indonesia Bangkit's argument that private companies won't be better run than state ones.
On price, the Indonesian stock market is near an all-time high, and the rupiah is at its high for this millennium, meaning assets sales will bring in more dollars, euros or yen. The timing could hardly be better from an economic point of view.
Ramli, a former economics minister with a clean reputation, argued in particular against the sale of Bank Negara Indonesia (BNI) at this time because it is tainted with a Rp1.7 trillion scandal. However, the scandal is an argument for selling state banks more quickly. It's been state-owned banks such as BNI and Bank Mandiri that have fallen victim to recent frauds -- amid rumors of money-laundering for political parties -- while privatized lenders appear to have sufficient controls and incentives to avoid similar swindles. The longer banks stay in state hands, the more likely they will become more deeply mired in scandals.
Indonesia Bangkit also complained that foreign control of banks would hamper the government's ability to set monetary policy. Foreign or domestic owners alike have to abide by whatever regulations the government sets. Foreign owners are less likely to influence regulators and policymakers than domestic ones since they don't have as much political clout.
The notion that foreign investors might undermine banking regulations is especially laughable in view of how Indonesian bank owners behaved during the 1997-98 economic meltdown. Bankers received government liquidity support loans totaling Rp144.5 trillion -- US$17 billion at current rates -- to avert a system collapse. These local owners funneled the funds into their own businesses or used then to speculate against the rapidly declining rupiah. The banks' eventual bankruptcy is what put them in state hands, while most bank owners have gotten away with repaying pennies on the dollar for their loans, if that. It's hard to imagine that foreign bank owners could behave any less responsibly than these patriots.
As an alternative to selling the national china (even if most of it is, in financial terms, melamine), Indonesia Bangkit proposed offering minority stakes in state companies and keeping the controlling interest in state hands. As economists, they ought to know better. Investors will pay more for control than they will for a minority stake. So, on one hand, Indonesia Bangkit complains that the government isn't getting paid enough for its assets; then it proposes an alternative that guarantees lower prices.
As political observers, Indonesia Bangkit really ought to know better. The experiences of Mexico's Cemex with its minority stake in Semen Gresik, Indonesia's largest cement company, are enough to scare off any potential investor (see Indonesia gives up privatizing another asset, September 16, 2003). Cemex bought 25.5 percent of the company in October 1998, the uncertain times following the fall of Suharto when few dared invest in the country, and wound up wearing a cement sarong.
The government also sold Cemex an option to acquire a majority stake in Semen Gresik, then reneged on the deal in the face of pressure from the local officials in West Sumatra, loath to see their cash cow Semen Padang wind up in commercial (let alone foreign) hands. State-Owned Industries Minister Sukardi contributed to this mess with a letter endorsing the bid to keep Semen Padang in local hands. The letter had no legal standing but it quite effectively reminded foreign investors where they stood in the local political pecking order. There are few votes to be won supporting foreign businesses against local interests.
Being a minority investor with the state as your controlling partner in Indonesia is the worst of all possible worlds. It's a prescription for ending privatization. The good economists of Indonesia Bangkit are probably more well-meaning than most opponents of privatization, but they are every bit as wrong as the others.
|'War on terrorism'|
Agence France Presse - February 9, 2004
An Indonesian court jailed an Islamic militant for life for preparing explosives for the Bali nightclub bombings which killed 202 people.
Suranto Abdul Ghoni, who crushed chemicals for the deadlier of the two bombs which ripped through crowded nightspots, is the fourth man to receive a life sentence.
Three others have been sentenced to death for the attack on October 12, 2002, which was staged by the al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah terror group to avenge injustice to Muslims worldwide.
"What the defendant has done constitutes an extraordinary crime and crime against humanity," said chief judge Made Sudia.
The bearded Ghoni, wearing a skullcap and a white shirt, was expressionless as the judge read the verdict.
Ghoni, 34, has admitted crushing chemicals for the bomb at the home of convicted bomber Amrozi in Java in September 2002 and taking four boxes of the powdered chemicals to Bali by bus.
He has told the court that until he arrived in the island he did not know what the chemicals were for. Amrozi, one of those sentenced to death, had told him they were for fertiliser.
Ghoni denied charges that he attended meetings to prepare the attack.
But he admitted helping pack explosive materials into a filing cabinet which was placed inside the van that exploded outside the Sari Club. Another suicide bomb went off seconds earlier inside Paddy's Pub.
Ghoni's crimes are punishable by death but judges said he was still young and had behaved politely throughout the trial.
Prosecutors said evidence showed Ghoni attended meetings at Solo in Central Java to prepare the bombings, which killed mostly Australian and other Western holidaymakers.
Courts in the resort island have now sentenced 31 people for the attack. Five others are on trial or under investigation and some key suspects are still being hunted.
The nightclub blasts were the worst terror attack since September 11, 2001, in the United States.
Reuters - February 9, 2004
Jakarta -- Indonesia's anti-terror laws are tough enough and the country does not need to adopt US and Australian legal tools in the war on terror because they could endanger human rights, the justice minister said on Monday.
Ministers of Asia Pacific nations meeting in Bali last week concluded that laws in the region needed to be tightened. Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, only enacted its first laws directly addressing terrorism days after militants from a group linked to al Qaeda bombed bars on Bali in October 2002, killing 202 people, most of them foreign tourists.
"I don't see that we have weak spots," Yusril Ihza Mahendra told reporters after a speech. "What we need to tweak are the articles that have the potential of violating human rights. What we're working out focuses on articles on intelligence powers."
The new set of laws has been key to the investigation and prosecution of the Bali bombers, three of them now on death row.
Indonesian and foreign security officials have advocated the strengthening of the anti-terror laws to enable the prevention of acts of terror while they are being planned.
Yusril, a potential presidential candidate who leads a Muslim- based party, said he envisaged anti-terror laws that did not violate human rights, and that US and Australian legal tools in the war on terror were poor models.
"We don't want to be dictated by others. If we follow the United States and Australia, that can create big problems on human rights," Mahendra said.
"I think the Patriot Act and several things in Australia have the potential of violating human rights so we don't need to emulate them." The US Patriot Act, enacted less than six weeks after the September 11, 2001, attacks, lets authorities tap telephones, track Internet usage and mobile telephones, share intelligence and detain immigrants. Several raids after the Bali blast on Indonesian Muslims living in Australia were seen as heavy-handed by rights groups and legislators in Indonesia.
Straits Times - February 13, 2004
Derwin Pereira, Jakarta -- In the end, it was not to be.
Rivals of Golkar leader Akbar Tandjung had long hoped that a guilty verdict against him would have barred the party chief from entering the presidential race.
But the decision by the Supreme Court yesterday to exonerate the 58-year-old politician from corruption charges would now allow him to do what they feared most -- consolidate his grip on Golkar. It may well see him emerge as the party's top contender for the presidency.
More significantly, it raises the possibility of a coalition between two juggernauts -- Golkar and the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) -- against a backdrop of criticism that politics and money coloured the legal outcome. The implications of his verdict are largely political.
But also, it would set tongues wagging once again over the credibility of the Indonesian judiciary, especially since this was to be a test case of the court's ability to root out endemic corruption.
With elections looming, President Megawati Sukarnoputri's administration had appeared in recent months to be trying to score political points by going after former government officials suspected of graft.
But critics said none of these were as high-profile as the Golkar chief. In any case, they charged, the country's rich and powerful were able to evade imprisonment in cases involving misuse of power. Some believe Mr Akbar has a legal case.
Mr Akbar, who is also Parliamentary Speaker, was found guilty almost 18 months ago of misappropriating US$4.5 million in state funds intended for public food assistance to the poor. He was sentenced to three years in prison -- which he never served.
In his appeal, he argued that he funnelled the food-assistance money into Golkar party funds on orders from former president B. J. Habibie, and that he was not personally enriched by the move. He said the money was later returned to government coffers.
Mr Meidyatama Suryodiningrat of the Van Zorge Report noted: "It is very hard to pin Akbar down because he was acting on his superior's orders." There were too many holes in the prosecution's case to stand up to legal scrutiny.
But the grounds on which the decision was based matter little politically to Mr Akbar and Golkar. With the exception of the intellectual elite who would be stung by the decision, many were unlikely to be affected by it.
Golkar's popularity is still riding high. And Mr Akbar is likely to ride on it. For months, the court case was an albatross that hung around his neck. It cast doubts over his ability to sway Golkar provincial branches to support him.
But now, he is almost certain to get unqualified backing from cadres who previously held back because they were uncertain about his political fate.
At the same time, Mr Akbar would also be able to get almost total support from the Golkar executive board that would call the shots in the party convention process and coalitions after the legislative election. His rivals, who did well in the first stage of the convention last October, would now be pondering their chances.
Retired general Wiranto and media magnate Suryo Paloh are not Golkar insiders and lack the depth of patronage the chairman commands in the party.
A concern for some in the party is that Mr Akbar's renewed challenge could sharpen the rivalry between the seven candidates running in the convention and split the party. But the Golkar leader is not losing any sleep.
He told The Straits Times: "Once I am free, I know I have the best chance to win it." His game plan in running for the convention is not all about winning the presidency or the No. 2 position: he is competing for his own political survival.
Golkar sources said that one scenario would be for him to clinch the convention, then manoeuvre the party into allying with its main rival, coalescing in a split ticket with PDI-P. The combined resources of the two parties would most certainly clinch the presidential election in the first round.
It will not matter who Golkar nominates on the ticket as long as it ensures a degree of political security for Mr Akbar and the party.
Said Mr Akbar: "The important thing is that we do well in the election and secure important positions in the Cabinet. We do not need to win the presidency now. Golkar's time is the next election in 2009 when the party will be much stronger."
For him, the end is still a long way to go.
Jakarta Post - February 12, 2004
Kurniawan Hari and A. Junaidi, Jakarta -- Criticism greeted the official support from the country's second largest Muslim organization Muhammadiyah for Amien Rais' presidential bid on Wednesday, with a political observer expressing fear that the move would jeopardize the moderate orientation of the organization.
Muhammadiyah deputy secretary Hajriyanto Y. Thohari said the decision to explicitly back Amien, the chairman of the National Mandate Party (PAN), would discourage democracy which was still in its early stages in the country.
"The decision is disturbing because Muhammadiyah members could be mobilized to vote based on sectarian reasons. It is undemocratic," Hajriyanto, who is also a House of Representatives legislator from Golkar Party told The Jakarta Post.
He said Muhammadiyah should have only provided criteria, instead of pointing to a figure. He added Amien would still receive support from Muhammadiyah members, but in a more appropriate manner, even if the organization only spelled out criteria.
Apart from criticizing the process, Hajriyanto said the maneuver of the Muhammadiyah was premature because the result of the general elections was not known yet.
He also chided Muhammadiyah for being partisan by naming Amien as the organization's preference for president.
"There should be an assessment whether Muhammadiyah's involvement in politics would benefit the organization's main goal of preaching," he said.
Muhammadiyah Chairman Ahmad Syafii Maarif said on Wednesday his organization supported Amien as the organization believed that he had a clear commitment to reform.
"While the commitment of other political leaders is not that clear, Amien has clearly demonstrated his commitment to reform," Syafii said.
Syafii added that Amien deserved support in exchange for his dedication to Muhammadiyah, which he chaired before turning to politics in 1998.
Separately, political expert from Airlangga University Daniel Sparringa shared the view that Muhammadiyah's backing of Amien's presidential bid would adversely affect the image of the organization, which has long been known for its neutrality.
"It's a surprise. Muhammadiyah will pay dearly for being partial," Daniel told the Post.
But unlike Hajriyanto, Daniel said the move would not promote sectarian politics as Muhammadiyah had long been recognized as a moderate organization that did not fight for sharia.
However, Daniel predicted the approval would not significantly increase votes for PAN or Amien since Muhammadiyah members were more rational and rarely devoted themselves to certain figures, but instead for the organization's values.
"Muhammadiyah is different from NU, whose followers will obey whatever their clerics propose," he said, referring to Nahdlatul Ulama, the country's largest Muslim organization.
NU has also urged its followers to vote for the National Awakening Party (PKB) and choose the party's presidential candidate Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid. PKB was founded by NU leaders in 1998.
Meanwhile, Muhammadiyah member and political expert Bachtiar Effendy defended the organization's move, saying it was not done in blind support for Amien but in recognition of his values and programs.
"Muhammadiyah members will choose Amien as his values and programs are considered the best," Bachtiar, who is also a political lecturer at Syarief Hidayatullah State Islamic University, told the Post.
However he suggested that Amien seek support from other societal groups, including minority groups, since support from Muhammadiyah alone would be insufficient to catapult him to the presidency.
Jakarta Post - February 12, 2004
Jakarta -- The police recorded 15 cases of election violations in Jakarta, Tangerang, Bekasi and Depok, most of which were early campaigning. The latest figures showed an addition of seven cases within the last two weeks.
"Of the 15 cases, we have submitted four to the Jakarta Prosecutor's Office," Jakarta Police detectives chief Sr. Comr. Mathius Salempang said on Wednesday, but refused to elaborate.
He added that police had dropped an investigation into an alleged bribe involving a legislative candidate residing in Ciputat, South Jakarta.
"We have asked several expert witnesses regarding the case, and they did not find any violations," he said.
Salempang said his office was also considering halting the inquiry into the National Awakening Party (PKB), who were accused of early campaigning while organizing a march on Dec. 4, 2003.
"Expert witnesses said that PKB did not distribute party promotional material in the march, so it was not a campaign."
Jakarta Post - February 12, 2004
Moch. N. Kurniawan and Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, Jakarta -- The General Elections Commission (KPU) assured the public on Wednesday that despite technical and logistical problems, the upcoming general election would run smoothly and on schedule.
KPU Chairman Nazaruddin Syamsuddin said after a meeting with President Megawati Soekarnoputri at the presidential office here on Wednesday that he and KPU members informed the President that the KPU had solved the major part of technical and logistical problems in its preparations for the legislative and presidential elections.
"We admit there were logistical problems. Now the work of the ballot boxes has resumed and it will be completed on time and [the printing of] ballot papers has been almost wrapped up," he said.
Various groups have expressed concern as just two months ahead of the legislative election, ballot boxes and ballot papers have not yet been distributed to remote electoral districts. KPU has contracted private companies to make a total of around 2.5 million ballot boxes and to print around 150 million ballot papers but the two projects have yet to be completed.
"The distribution of ballot boxes and papers will start in a few days," said Nazaruddin.
He brushed aside doubts about any possible misuse of the computerized counting machine, saying KPU would conduct a manual counting of votes to gain accurate and valid results.
He said further that KPU was also proposing a Rp 900 billion (US$101 million) additional budget to the government due to the increase in the number of eligible voters to more than 147 million. The President pledged to take the proposal into consideration, he added.
The legislative election which is to be preceded by a one-month election campaign will be held on April 5 to elect 550 legislators and 120 regional representatives from 30 provinces while the first round of the first-ever direct presidential election will be held on July 5.
Separately, KPU Deputy Chairman Ramlan Surbakti said that the increase in the number of eligible voters by 1.57 million to 147,219,531 at present from 145.7 million in January 10 had something to do with the emergence of new eligible voters due to age and marriage factors and the completion of voter registration in conflict-ridden Aceh.
"The figure is not final yet because the registration of overseas voters is not complete," he added.
He said the KPU has proposed an additional budget to cover the production cost of additional ballot boxes and papers.
The additional budget constitutes almost 20 percent of Rp 5 trillion the government has allocated to cover the elections.
National Resilience Institute (Lemhannas) urged the KPU to prepare a contingency plan in line with the identification of 28 possible problems that could threaten the elections.
Lemhannas governor Ermaya Suryadinata said technical and logistical problems and the emergence of legislative candidates with bad track records and those who were unable to meet administrative requirements for their candidacy were only three among the 28 possible hindrances.
Meanwhile, Indonesian Military Commander Gen. Endriartono Sutarto said that the military was ready to help the KPU to distribute ballot boxes and other equipment, especially to remote areas across the country.
"Besides, the military has enhanced coordination with the National Police to maintain security during the campaign season and the election days," he said.
Jakata Post - February 10, 2004
Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, and Kurniawan Hari, Jakarta -- Cabinet ministers will have to leave office if they decide to contest the presidential election, a draft government regulation says in response to controversy on the issue.
"Ministers who run for the presidency will have to resign. The resignation will possibly take place after April," State Secretary Bambang Kesowo told a hearing with House of Representatives (DPR) Commission I for security and political affairs.
Later, he told the media that mandatory resignation would be required days before the direct presidential election, scheduled for July 5.
President Megawati Soekarnoputri will sign the government regulation soon, Bambang said. He did not refer to any names in particular.
However, the public will be quick to identify Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Jusuf Kalla and Minister of Justice and Human Rights Yusril Ihza Mahendra.
Kalla is one of Golkar's presidential aspirants, whose nomination will be decided during the party's convention in April. Golkar looks set to choose its chairman, Akbar Tandjung, if the Supreme Court acquits him from graft charges on Wednesday.
Although he has not officially announced his presidential bid, Yusril will likely be nominated by his own Crescent Star Party (PBB). Yusril has insisted he will remain in post until his official term ends in October.
Susilo has won the support of the tiny Democratic Party, chaired by Budi Santoso. Rumors have also been rife he will be nominated by the National Awakening Party (PKB). Susilo, however, has been too reticent to declare his intentions, saying he has no grassroot support from any political party.
The issue on mandatory resignation surfaced last year after Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) warned that several ministers who might run for the top executive post could undermine Megawati's government. The party said it was unethical for ministers, who are the president's aides, to challenge their boss but maintain their position.
Separately, Minister of Home Affairs Hari Sabarno confirmed on Monday that ministers would have to resign immediately after the General Elections Commission (KPU) officially announced their candidacy on May 19.
The elections law says the direct presidential election is restricted to a party or a group of parties that win 3 percent of the vote or 5 percent of voters in the general election, scheduled for April 5.
"Should these ministers stay in the Cabinet they will disrupt the performance of the government as they will focus on their campaigns," Hari said.
He said ministers would be required to discuss with the president their bid before a presidential decree was issued to suspend them.
The government regulation will be finalized next week before the President leaves for an overseas trip to Iran on February 17.
Key points on campaign regulation:
Associated Press - February 8, 2004
Bontang -- As he flew over the coal mines and shrimp farms that dot Indonesia's part of Borneo island, a smiling Gen. Wiranto couldn't contain himself. "Did you see how they touched me," he said. "It was as if I was Michael Jackson and they were my fans."
Wiranto, a contender for the Indonesian presidency despite his indictment for rights abuses in East Timor, had come from a campaign rally in this gritty industrial town 1,200 kilometers northeast of Jakarta, where supporters jostled to touch him and chanted "Long live Wiranto."
"This response makes me want to lead," said Wiranto, the former general who served as military chief until he was fired over charges of human rights abuses in 2000.
Four years later, this is no longer an electoral issue. Instead, supporters see the 56-year-old as a patriot, whose military background, boyish good looks and folksy demeanor make him an ideal candidate to challenge President Megawati Sukarnoputri in the July 5 election.
Wiranto's candidacy is partly a reflection of the disenchantment with democratic reforms since the ouster of ex-dictator Suharto in 1998, and a sense that associates of the former strongman, including his old Golkar Party, are better equipped to bring stability and prosperity to Indonesia.
Polls have shown voters increasingly associate Indonesia's five- year-old democracy with the country's economic woes and chronic insecurity. They are nostalgic for candidates who can emulate Suharto, whose 32-year reign was marked by economic prosperity but also massive corruption and brutality.
"I know what Suharto and Wiranto can do. They are tough," said Yani Susilowani, a 48-year-housewife from Bontang. "What evidence do we have that Megawati has done anything? Everything that Suharto built is now in ruins. People are suffering."
Wiranto's candidacy alarms democracy advocates who have been seeking to reduce both Golkar's and the military's influence in politics -- a difficult task given the fact that scores of retired military officers are running for legislative seats and Golkar is poised to win a majority in parliament during April 5 legislative balloting, analysts said.
"The institutions of democracy have been hijacked by the old forces that operated under Suharto," said Asmara Nababan, a rights activists who has done extensive research on Indonesian democracy. "It's disappointing but it's a result of the divisions among the reformists who promoted change. We still have elites in control just as we did during Suharto."
Wiranto is among the top contenders for the Golkar nomination. He could be the front-runner if the party's leader, parliamentary speaker Akbar Tandjung, loses his appeal against a corruption conviction. A ruling is expected this month.
But polls show Wiranto is trailing Megawati and a survey by the International Republican Institute described him as "the most divisive of all candidates." The polls show the president with about 15 percent support and a slew of other candidates, including Wiranto, at between three percent and eight percent.
"You shouldn't exaggerate Wiranto's success," said William Liddle, an Indonesian expert from Ohio State University. "Golkar presidential nominations politics ... are mainly about money politics. Wiranto's popularity hasn't been tested."
A son of a poor teacher in Central Java, Wiranto joined the army and rose through the ranks over three decades to become a key aide to Suharto.
When pro-democracy protesters forced Suharto from office, Wiranto was credited by current US Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and others with restraining his troops and being a vocal supporter of the democratic transition.
But soon thereafter, Wiranto was linked to human rights abuses in East Timor, where Indonesian troops killed 1,500 Timorese in 1999 following a pro-independence referendum. As a result, Wiranto was fired by then-President Abdurrahman Wahid, and last year was indicted by UN prosecutors in East Timor.
Wiranto dismisses the charges as part of a wider conspiracy to undermine his candidacy. He says he tried to stop the violence in 1999. "These allegations are crazy," Wiranto said. "Bigger political interests are bringing this up to destroy my character."
Still, rights groups and Timorese leaders have openly criticized the prospect of a Wiranto presidency. "Gen. Wiranto has not had the honesty and courage to accept responsibility," said Nobel Peace Price laureate Jose Ramos-Horta, now East Timor's foreign minister. "Indonesia would have to live with the embarrassment of having a president who would have difficulty [traveling to] other countries."
Such comments, however, have done little to dent Wiranto's self- confidence. He wrote a book titled "Witness in the Storm" to defend his record, hired two American advisers and has made the rounds at embassies in Jakarta. He hasn't, however, met with officials from the United States, which has put Wiranto on a lookout list of those whose visa applications must be vetted in Washington before being granted.
Among his campaign promises is to end an all-out military offensive in the western province of Aceh, where rebels are fighting for independence.
Wiranto has also hit the campaign road, spending the past six months traveling across the vast archipelagic nation, chatting up party loyalists, posing for photos and singing songs from his album "For You, My Indonesia."
Jakarta Post - February 9, 2004
Frans Surdiasis, Jakarta -- Adi Sasono is way past his days of being a young activist and minister; and in the 1999 elections, when he still wielded some influence, his earlier party which once alleged of corruption, did not even pass the electoral threshold. So why is he back? At 61, his passion to put his ideas into practice is still apparent; he said recently that joining politics was the only way one could influence public policy.
Long before he co-founded the Association of Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals (ICMI) with former president BJ Habibie, in the 1980s Adi was known for his book on the local version of the then popular "dependency theory" in political economy, co-written with economist Sritua Arief.
His appointment as minister of cooperatives and small enterprises in Habibie's Cabinet was seen as consistent with his long involvement in developing small-scale entrepreneurs. Among the awards he received in his activist days was the prestigious Aga Khan award, for planning a new market in Samarinda, East Kalimantan, that accommodated small traders and which became popular among locals and visitors.
In this aspect his orientation may have not changed much as he now campaigns his concept of a people's economy through his new party, the Freedom Party. The party's booklet still describes the theme of his aforementioned 1981 book -- the alliances among the local elite and political and economic interests, alliances perceived to be mainly responsible for a country that remains dependent and largely poor.
The reference list for cadres in the party booklet include similar material written in the 1970s and early 1980s, which he has not bothered to update amid today's debate on globalization, though now Adi says he is "pro-market".
In the new party, Adi still touts many of his fellow alumni of the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) where he was once senate chairman, although a few others have set up other new parties.
Adi denies being anticonglomerate, the image of him drawn not only from his championing of a people's economy but also because he was an ICMI founder and executive. He was also ICMI chairman from 2000 to 2005, but he resigned to set up the party. And a few years before the war on terrorism he was considered dangerous, particularly among non-Muslims and the outside world, as he advocated a bigger role for Muslims in the country, politically and economically, given their suppression under the New Order regime.
He made his position clear during a recent visit to The Jakarta Post by saying: "I'm anti-crony and pro-market. I'm not a Muslim extremist nor anti-Chinese." The party has Non-Muslims, such as those in East Nusa Tenggara, as constituents, he adds. According to his biography, he is a grandson of Mohammad Roem, who was a well-known, trustworthy politician, and his parents "were pioneers in the movement of reducing segregation between indigenous and non-indigenous people" in the batik producing and trading town of Pekalongan, Central Java.
With his young supporters from the ITB, Adi promotes an updated version of the people's economy -- now the party calls it a "digital economy", popularizing the use of the Internet to shatter the "monopoly of information" held by those who manipulate people with no access to crucial know-how.
A network of "wired" people supporting small business, the party's booklet says, would enable sellers of raw material, for instance, "to offer their products directly to buyers".
Lack of information on markets has long been identified by experts as a major constraint to the country's small-scale entrepreneurs, besides lack of capital. During the crisis they were hailed as the backbone of the economy. Hence the party's mission includes encouraging a market driven economy based on principles of justice.
The party claims it still retains its nationwide network of cooperatives that will hopefully remain loyal. It would also look to the vast estimate of some 40 percent of swing voters among the country's 145 million eligible voters in the next elections, which all parties are eyeing.
But just as before, Adi's new party faces the challenge of marketing ideas in a landscape in which people are either fed up with politicians or who prefer parties that offer more familiar identification.
Then again, Adi might not be that serious -- considering that he says his participation in the elections is to make it all the more merrier.
Jakarta Post - February 9, 2004
Tiarma Siboro, Jakarta -- The press will undergo a crucial test of its independence in the face of the upcoming general election since the intervention of interest groups in the mass media will be unavoidable, says an election executive.
The chairman of the press department at the General Elections Commission (KPU), Victor Menayang, said threats to the independence of the press could be in the form of media owners' interference in editorial policy as well as outside intimidation.
He also doubted law enforcers' ability and willingness to provide legal protection for media establishments running articles that might cause inconvenience or discredit some parties.
"We all know the mass media has more information on political parties and politicians than common people do. They sell the information through newspapers, televisions or radio.
"Ideally, no side can interfere with nor intimidate them, but thuggery is everywhere now, while legal enforcers have in many cases failed to protect newspeople," he said on the second day of a three-day national convention on Indonesia's mass media at Radin Hotel in North Jakarta on Sunday. The convention is being held to mark National Press Day on February 9.
One such case of intimidation of the press is when the Nahdlatul Ulama's militia Banser put pressure on the Jawa Pos daily in 2000 when the daily ran articles that Banser considered too critical of then president Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid. Gus Dur is a former chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama, the county's largest Muslim organization.
Menayang questioned the independence of Media Indonesia daily and Metro TV station in covering the elections since its owner, Surya Paloh, has his own political interests "to deploy the two media" to support his presidential race.
"We realize that he may violate the new Broadcasting Law that stipulates that television stations should benefit all Indonesian people, instead of particular parties. But what can we do about it?" he said.
"We want the press to be independent, but we forget about equipping them with appropriate legal protection." Hamid Awaluddin, a member of the KPU, called on the mass media to help the KPU inform the public about the 24 parties contending the elections, their visions, platforms, party logos and figures, including their presidential candidates, so that people could choose what party to support.
Separately, press observer Atmakusumah Astraatmadja said the lack of solidarity among media establishments had also undermined press independence.
He said the press should publish any violations against their profession because "the power of the press lies in the way they disseminate information about injustices, even if they have to face unwanted things such as physical attacks and intimidation." Atmakusumah, also former chairman of the Press Council, regretted that several mass media executives had remained silent or were reluctant to display solidarity with colleagues who had faced intimidation or abuse in the past, fearful that solidarity among media outlets might affect their own interests.
"Members of the press have to fight for their own fate, which they will have the chance of doing only if they are united and develop solidarity among themselves," he told The Jakarta Post by telephone. He said that intimidation or abuse were common in the mass media, which was committed to playing an independent role in promoting new thoughts and enlightening the people, especially when it had to deal with conservatism and partiality.
"Even the press should not be discouraged in facing power- holders, otherwise the mass media will only function as a herald for capitalists and power holders," he said.
Jakarta Post - February 9, 2004
Jakarta -- All 24 political parties eligible to join the general election have signed a nine-point agreement to maintain peace before, during and after the April 5 polls.
The agreement was signed on Friday at the General Elections Commission (KPU) building.
The accord allows parties to conduct activities in all areas in the country, obliges parties to respect press freedom and avoid bribing voters, election commissions, the supervisory committee and monitors.
Indonesia is to hold the legislative election on April 5 and presidential election on July 5.
The second phase of the presidential election would be held on September 20 if no single candidate receives 51 percent of the vote.
Green Left Weekly - February 18, 2004
Max Lane -- On February 12, the Indonesian Supreme Court voted, with one dissenting voice, to overturn a guilty verdict for corruption from two lower courts against parliamentary speaker Akbar Tanjung.
In September 2002, a Jakarta district court found Tanjung guilty of having embezzled 40 billion rupiah (US$4 million) in government funds which were allocated in 1999 to feed the poor after the 1997-98 economic crisis. He was sentenced to three years' imprisonment.
In January 2003, the Jakarta High Court upheld Tanjung's conviction and sentence.
However, the panel of five Supreme Court judges hearing Tanjung's appeal concluded that the lower courts had been mistaken and had relied on "weak evidence".
Tanjung, who is chairperson of the ousted dictator Suharto's old party, Golkar, was so confident of having his guilty verdict overturned by the Supreme Court that he invited large numbers of journalists to his house. At the same time, the Golkar parliamentarians had prepared a traditional thanksgiving feast. Not only Tanjung and Golkar, but the public at large was convinced that he would be let off the hook. This had been reflected in polls.
The dissenting judge, Abdurrahman Saleh, was quoted by the Jakarta Post as saying: "At a time when the country was sinking in the crisis, the actions of the defendant truly violated one's sense of justice." Ombudsman Commission head Antonius Sujata added that the verdict itself and the tardy process by which it was reached had damaged the judicial system's image. "This is a miscarriage of justice. With this decision the public will have no more confidence in the judicial system and the government's efforts to stop corruption", he said.
In an editorial, the Jakarta Post said the Supreme Court decision "brings into question the quality of the entire judicial system in the eyes of the public and could seriously impair public trust in the judiciary as a whole -- not to mention the wider political implications. Many Indonesians also see it as a serious setback in the fight against corruption, especially that within the country's notoriously corrupt judiciary." A leading legal figure, Todung Mulya Lubis, made similar criticisms and pointed out that the upholding of Tanjung's conviction would have resulted in many other corrupt politicians being dragged before the courts.
The Supreme Court's decision was a form of assistance to the country's elit politik (political elite) as a whole and has clearly strengthened the deep sense of distrust and contempt for the elit politik in the public at large.
The NGO-initiated National Movement Against Choosing Rotten Politicians has lost profile after it announced it would not name any specific politicians or parties as "rotten". Despite this, the movement against corrupt politicians, mainly spearheaded by student groups, has continued to win support.
These groups are still relatively small as the student movement has not regained momentum after it collapsed in November 1998 following the dictator Suharto's ousting from power. At that time the majority of student leaders had put their faith in mainstream opposition figures, such as Megawati Sukarnoputri, Abdurrahman Wahid and Amien Rais, to lead the charge against Suharto's regime, established in the 1965-66 anti-democratic counterrevolution.
When these capitalist politicians refused to lead the mass uprising against institutions of the old regime -- insisting that a gradual, electoral process of change had to be implemented -- the student leadership became disoriented and the reformasi movement collapsed.
The increasing number of student protest actions around the issue of corrupt politicians and corrupt parties are reminiscent of the kinds of actions that occurred in the few years preceding the big student-led mass protests in 1998. Also, as in the early 1990s, the student protests have been paralleled by moves by the labour movement.
On February 6, a Trade Union Alliance Against Rotten Politicians was formed an issued a statement naming as "rotten" all the major parties plus the Justice and Prosperity Party (PKS), because they had voted for anti-worker legislation in the parliament.
It was also mainly students who mobilised on the streets against the Tanjung verdict. The largest mobilisation was by moderate Islamic fundamentalist students under the influence of the PKS. This party has been marking out its territory on the basis of being the most "morally clean", pointing to secularism as the cause of "moral decadence".
The few thousand students mobilised by this group left the Supreme Court area before the decision was read out. A smaller group of 200-300 University of Indonesia activists and a contingent from the Peoples Democratic Party remained until the decision was read out.
There were physical clashes between the remaining students and the police when students tried to get closer to the Supreme Court building. Reports vary, but it appears more than 40 protesters were injured and around 60 detained.
Protests against the court decision also occurred on the same day in several other cities, including Bandung, Yogyakarta, Kendari, and Surabaya.
The anti-elite sentiment was not only reflected in the protests and statements around the Tanjung decision. Since February 10, there has been another example of the mood of growing rejection of the political elite's arrogance: Thousands of students and teachers in the regency of Kampar, in South Sumatra, have been demonstrating daily demanding the resignation of the local head of the education department.
These protests were in response to the official's reaction to being quizzed about the small allocation of funds to schools in his area. Only 5% of the budget was being allocated when a new constitutional amendment passed recently states that 20% of the budget must be allocated. When repeatedly confronted by a school principal on this question, the official ordered the principal to leave the room.
The demonstrations in Kampar have involved up to 40,000 students and teachers. In the latest demonstration, on February 12, eight people were injured and some protesters were arrested for taking hostage members of the local town council.
Smaller protests around a wide range of social issues and arbitrary acts by state authorities continue to increase in number across Indonesia, but have yet to find a vehicle that can give them national political expression.
The PKS has consistently put forward an Islamic fundamentalist, anti-secular perspective as the answer to the country's problems. It has been able to repeatedly mobilise several thousand students in Jakarta, and on some occasions rallies of hundreds of thousands of kampung residents.
However, it appears to have been stagnant at this level since at least 1998. It is held back by its leadership's constant manoeuvring to keep alliances going with central elite figures such as Amien Rais. Whenever its student groups appear to be picking up momentum as a result of protests against corruption, the PKS leadership pulls them in before the movement can get too big and threaten the elite.
Jakarta Post - February 14, 2004
Wimar Witoelar, Jakarta -- The main message conveyed by the Supreme Court's decision on Akbar Tandjung is that crime pays in today's Indonesia ... as long as you have common interests with those who hold political power. The verdict effectively legitimizes corruption as an accessory of power.
"So what else is new?" the cynic might ask. Only the naive were hoping that the court would present itself as a profile in courage. Apparently that was just a romantic notion.
We do not know whether there will be a tumultuous public reaction. Probably not. Jakarta is flooded and congested and people have all their own daily irritations that block out long- range problems.
What about the impact on the elections? There will not be much. There are no new dynamics because most political analysts have already factored in an Akbar Tandjung release into the equation. We do know that Akbar's Houdini act is very convenient for Megawati Soekarnoputri. Akbar, although free, will be a severely weakened candidate. Yet Golkar will not replace him with a stronger rival to compete against Megawati, because he has proven to be a cat with nine lives, credentials which give a politician unshakable power.
What about the corruption case itself? Akbar Tandjung was found guilty in September 2002 of diverting nearly US$4.8 million of state funds intended for a relief program. The money ended up in the Golkar party coffers, the prosecution said. The question is: Was then president B.J. Habibie the culprit, whom Akbar accused of giving the orders, or was then state secretary Akbar Tandjung the guilty one, as Habibie and his loyalists testified in court? Somebody must be guilty. Yet now everybody is running around free.
But as an inveterate optimist I see a silver lining. Now there is nowhere to go but up. The reform that has stalled has now clearly stopped. Like being on a train to Bandung which grinds slower and slower until it finally just comes to a dead stop. At least you can get off and breathe some mountain air.
It should now be easier to give people wake-up calls and remind them of the urgency to do something. It is not so clear how many people are left who have not given up on reform. But at least the lines become more clearly delineated between those in favor of old-style politics and those in favor of a rejuvenation of the system.
The court's decision likely squashed the presidential prospects of other shady figures. At least one who is facing prosecution war crimes, and several other people whose old-style autocratic style appeals to victims of Stockholm syndrome nostalgia.
In conclusion, although it is extremely difficult to find positive angles in this latest political drama, there is actually one big positive, so big that many fail to see it.
Indonesia has transformed itself significantly since 1998 despite the bankruptcy (morally, certainly not financially) of the political leaders. The people have risen up and executed fundamental reforms with the sheer power of their will. First and foremost, democracy and freedom of the press. Articles such as this appear all over the place. It used to be that we had to whisper in dark corners when you wanted to criticize the Indonesian leadership. Now you do it at the gates of the Presidential Palace and the Supreme Court and the national legislature.
My friend asks, "What for? What good is democracy if it does not make you wealthy?" Which reminds me of a person with a lung ailment. He must force in each breath, even though it is excruciatingly painful, but if he succumbs to the pain and quits breathing before doctors can fix him up, he dies very quickly. And that is not really an option. Democracy also hurts, but democracy is a necessity, not an option. And now we have to make full use of it to overrule all the cynical, politically driven judicial, executive and legislative rulings. It should be easier now without the illusions.
[Wimar Witoelar is the head of InterMatrix Communications, a Jakarta-based consulting firm.]
Melbourne Age - February 14, 2004
Matthew Moore, Jakarta -- Something unusual happened in Jakarta's Supreme Court on Thursday, and it wasn't the decision to overturn parliamentary Speaker Akbar Tanjung's conviction for embezzling money meant for the poor.
Everyone was expecting Indonesia's justice system would do that and maintain its perfect record of never jailing any big name politician.
To soften up the public in advance, the details of the decision had been carefully leaked along with the curious legal reasoning -- Mr Akbar could not be convicted because he was just following orders from then Indonesian president B. J. Habibie who told him to take 40 billion rupiah of government money.
What was unprecedented was that after the eight-hour decision was read, while Mr Akbar was still busy throwing himself on the floor in gratitude to God, one of the five judges read a dissenting decision. It was the first dissenting decision in the Supreme Court's history. And Judge Abdurrahman Saleh delivered it with a punch.
He said Mr Akbar had engaged in "corrupt practice" was guilty of "shameful conduct because he failed to show minimal appropriate efforts to protect state money ... which the president had entrusted to him". He listed a whole series of Mr Akbar's failings, which he said proved the findings of two lower courts were right.
And in doing so, he echoed the feelings and frustrations of the millions of Indonesia's poor and middle class who every day see proof of corruption of their leaders in the media and yet never see punishment meted out. "In Indonesia, there is no justice for the rich, only the poor," was how my cab driver put it as he drove me home after the judgement. There, I was met by two normally meek housemaids who echoed his views.
Anti-corruption campaigners and prominent lawyers deplored the decision. Ombudsman Commission chairman Antonius Sujata branded it "a miscarriage of justice". "With this decision the public will have no more confidence in the judicial system and the Government's efforts to stop corruption," he said.
Prominent corporate lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis described the finding as "a sad day for this country".
Mr Akbar's success in finally clearing his name in the courts opens the way for him to be nominated as the presidential candidate for the Golkar Party of former president Soeharto.
The decision shows the clout the chairman of Golkar has. So too does the fact that none of his Golkar rivals for the presidency sought to orchestrate any serious violence outside the court on Thursday to show that Mr Akbar was an electoral liability and improve their own chances. Indeed his major rival, former defence chief General Wiranto, dropped into Mr Akbar's house to congratulate him on the verdict.
Mr Akbar's backers are insisting that now the court has acquitted him, his reputation in the eyes of the public will be gradually restored and that he can run for president.
But the presidential election this year is different. It is a direct election where people vote for a person not for a party. And whatever the legal niceties, many Indonesians believe Mr Akbar is corrupt and should be in jail.
Whether Mr Akbar can ever get the country's maids and taxi drivers and middle classes to vote for him is something the Golkar hardheads will have to consider.
Jakarta Post - February 14, 2004
Dadan Wijaksana, Jakarta -- The controversial acquittal of House of Representatives Speaker Akbar Tandjung from corruption charges did not have any significant impact on domestic financial markets as both stocks and the rupiah ended firmer on Friday.
The Jakarta Stock Exchange closed nearly 1 percent higher to 773.14 from 766.08 on Thursday on the back of a late rebound in blue chip shares, in what dealers attributed to the cooling down of tension with regard to the Akbar case.
"The fairly contained protests against the [Akbar] conviction helped the market confidence, signaled by a strong rally of selected top shares," a local dealer with a European bank said.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court overturned the graft conviction on Akbar, who is also chairman of the former ruling Golkar Party, sparking criticism and anger nationwide. The decision overturned previous verdicts by the Central Jakarta Court and the Jakarta High Court, both of which found the top presidential rival of President Megawati Soekarnoputri in the upcoming general elections guilty of abusing state funds.
In Jakarta, at least 60 people were injured during nasty clashes with riot police on Thursday. But on Friday, things were back to normal as sporadic rallies across the country remained fairly peaceful, restoring market confidence.
The local stock market has been in a rally mode for the past several months, sending the index to all-time highs and relatively, one of the top performers in the world. The index has risen by some 10 percent just from the beginning of the year.
State-controlled telecommunications company PT Telkom closed up by Rp 100 or 1.3 percent at Rp 7,650, in contrast with a decline of Rp 200 suffered by another telecommunications company PT Indosat at Rp 18,900 due to heavy profit-taking. Cigarette giant Gudang Garam also benefited from a late rebound, gaining Rp 150 or 1.1 percent to close at Rp 14,200. In total, gainers led decliners 80 to 42, with 91 stocks unchanged.
Bank Rakyat Indonesia (BRI) and Bank Danamon were also among the gainers, higher by the same margin of Rp 100 to close at Rp 1,625 and Rp 2,575 respectively. Other stock markets in the region were also generally stronger.
The dealer said that the only thing that could slow down the index movements in the coming days would be widespread profit- taking on recent gains, provided that no major shocks took place relating to the Akbar case.
On the currency market, such sentiment also prevailed with the rupiah slightly strengthening against the US dollar, supported also by gains booked by most currencies in the region. The local unit ended up at Rp 8,403 per dollar, after closing at Rp 8,417 on Thursday.
The rupiah has remained on par for the past year with the sinking US dollar, which is at all-time lows against other currencies, but despite that the rupiah has decreased slightly over the past few weeks against the sliding greenback.
Bank Indonesia senior deputy governor Anwar Nasution, called on Friday for traders to remain positive and not to become overly worried about the recent weakening of the rupiah.
With ample foreign reserves held by the central bank, it should be able to mount challenge and safeguard the local unit, Anwar said.
Anwar reiterated that the declining Bank Indonesia benchmark interest rate was an evidence that the central bank was confident on the economy. At present, the yield stands at a record low of 7.66 percent.
"It's stable. I think our political condition is relatively stable as well. The number of street rallies has declined, while they are also more organized," he said.
Asia Times - February 14, 2004
Gary LaMoshi, Denpasar -- The Supreme Court decision overturning the conviction of House Speaker Akbar Tanjung landed with the thud of a police baton on the future of reform in Indonesia. The ruling will have its most direct impact on the July 5 presidential election, but ripples will be felt throughout society. Despite some potential bright spots in the verdict and its aftermath, it's a dark day for justice and hope for this nation of 220 million people.
Tanjung, who also chairs the Golkar party that was former president Suharto's ruling vehicle, was convicted in 2002 of embezzling Rp40 billion (US$4.8 billion) and sentenced to three years in jail. The verdict was upheld on appeal last year.
The facts of the case are not in dispute. In February 1999, then-president B J Habibie tasked Tanjung, then a minister/state secretary in the cabinet, to draw Rp40 billion from the State Logistics Agency (known by its Indonesian abbreviation Bulog) for a food-distribution program for the poor. Despite the absence of any bidding process or apparent program plan, Bulog wrote Tanjung a series of checks totaling Rp40 billion, but no food ever crossed the poverty line.
Tanjung, who first denied that he'd ever received any checks, testified that he gave the money to an obscure foundation with no experience in food distribution headed by Dadang Ruskandar that passed the funds along to a businessman, Winfried Simatupang, to carry out the program. On the eve of their trial in 2002, Simatupang returned Rp32.5 billion to the government.
Both men were implicated in the case along with Tanjung, and the Supreme Court upheld their convictions on Thursday. It acquitted Tanjung on the grounds that he had been carrying out a presidential order, even if he did so with extraordinary ineptitude.
Optimists can find a sign of fledgling judicial independence, since a member of the five-judge panel publicly dissented from the verdict. "At a time when the country was sinking in crisis, the actions of the defendant truly violated one's sense of justice," Judge Abdurrahman Saleh said in dissent. He characterized Tanjung's administration of the project as "shameful conduct because he failed to show minimal, appropriate efforts to protect state money" and categorized it as "corrupt practice" worthy of a conviction.
Another good sign is that activists took to the streets in at least a half-dozen cities, calling for the justices to uphold Tanjung's conviction. People, particularly students, still have hopes for reform despite a string of disappointments. As in the bad old days of authoritarian rule that the verdict upheld, 60 demonstrators in Jakarta were injured, mainly by baton-wielding police.
Those bad old days in the streets will move more deeply into the presidential palace with the help of the verdict. Unburdened of his conviction, Tanjung becomes the prohibitive favorite to win Golkar's presidential nomination in a crowded field that features political novices, the Sultan of Yogyakarta, two former Suharto- era generals, and one respectable figure, Minister of People's Welfare Jusuf Kalla, who has brokered settlements of sectarian clashes in Sulawesi and Ambon.
Uniter, not a divider
Golkar members tend to be the most loyal of party supporters, and Tanjung commands the greatest personal loyalty within Golkar. He took a party that was in ruins after the ouster of Suharto, held the party together and led it to a second-place finish with nearly a quarter of the vote in the 1999 election. He is the one figure who can keep the party united; any other nominee would likely splinter Golkar as the losers took up with smaller parties, carrying supporters and funding with them.
In recent days, as rumors of an acquittal spread, supporters of President Megawati Sukarnoputri's Indonesian Democratic Struggle Party (PDI-P) put out word that she preferred Tanjung as the Golkar nominee rather than Golkar rival former General Wiranto, featuring an anti-corruption platform and reported grassroots appeal. The US Embassy recently revealed that Wiranto is on its visa watch list because of his United Nations indictment for human-rights crimes as commander of Indonesian military forces at the height of violence in East Timor; a bad word from the Americans is always good for a pop in the polls these days. (Tanjung's election would be another mark against resumption of US military aid.)
The assertion that Megawati would rather face Tanjung may be Merdeka Palace's way of trying to make lemons into lemonade ahead of his acquittal, or it could constitute a clever ploy by the president's supporters to divide Golkar or encourage a minor party to tap Wiranto and pull military votes away from Golkar. (It could also be meaningless, as are most things Indonesian politicians say.)
Even though PDI-P became the biggest party in the 1999 vote as the standard-bearer of reform, explicitly opposing three decades of Golkar rule, the two parties have become increasingly cozy since 2001, when Golkar helped Megawati become president, unseating Abdurrahman Wahid, who instituted the proceedings against Tanjung and supported genuine reform during his muddled rule. After the Supreme Court verdict, PDI-P's deputy chairman refused to rule out Tanjung as Megawati's presidential running mate.
Tanjung's Golkar and Megawati's PDI-P are expected to be the top vote getters in the legislative elections set for April 5, and they'll likely top the presidential poll on July 5. If no candidate wins a majority, a runoff will be held in September. Each group dreams of a third-party candidate sneaking into second place in the presidential election, behind its own candidate, of course. The two major parties could then combine forces to crush that candidate in the runoff and enjoy another happy cohabitation in government, with a clear senior and junior partner.
Megawati's PDI-P has done little to cause Golkar or other former Suharto regime favorites discomfort. There's been no drive to fight burgeoning corruption, change politicians' sense of entitlement, reform the military or, as Thursday's verdict demonstrates, create a competent, independent judiciary. Those policies not only doom the dreams of reformasi that accompanied the ouster of Suharto in 1998, but condemn the economy to continue to struggle with 40 million unemployed as foreign investors shun the nation.
Despite the flickers of hope, the Supreme Court handed down a decision in favor of the political and economic status quo in Indonesia. That's a loss for the people of Indonesia and another indication that Indonesia's political elite couldn't care less.
Jakarta Post - February 14, 2004
Tiarma Siboro and M. Taufiqurrahman, Jakarta -- The acquittal of Golkar Party leader Akbar Tandjung will make it difficult to put corrupt officials or former officials behind bars, a legal expert says.
Rudy Satrio of the University of Indonesia said here on Friday that the exoneration of Akbar on Thursday would deal a deadly blow to the country's campaign against corruption.
"I am worried about the trial of hundreds of other corruption defendants because Akbar's case can be taken as a precedent," Rudy said.
Akbar, considered to be one of the strongest contenders in the upcoming presidential elections, had been sentenced to three years in jail for corruption involving Rp 40 billion (US$4.8 million) in State Logistics Agency (Bulog) funds when he was minister/state secretary in 1999.
However, the Supreme Court acquitted him on Thursday, arguing that Akbar was merely following the instructions of his superior, former president B.J. Habibie.
According to Rudy, Akbar's acquittal contained several legal loopholes which could be exploited by suspected corrupters.
The first is the use of Article 1 of Corruption Eradication Law No. 3/1974, which deals with power abuse (Article 1a) and law violation (Article 1b). "The two elements deal with different issues and do not automatically mean that if one element is not violated, then the other is not violated either," Rudy said.
In the verdict on Akbar, the Supreme Court ruled that he had not been proven to have abused his power, and thus violation of the law had not occurred.
The second loophole, according to Rudy, was the use of Article 51 of the Criminal Code, which says that someone cannot be charged with a crime if he or she is merely carrying out the instructions of his or her superior.
"This article has become a legal flaw, enabling someone to hide behind state policies without the obligation to be accountable for what they have done," Rudy said.
Another flaw in the verdict was the use of emergency-situation terminology that was not clearly defined. "In their verdict, the judges have not said anything about an emergency situation, but it came up in the dissenting opinion by judge Abdurrahman Saleh," he said.
Rudy suggested that the public carry out an examination of the verdict and submit the result to the Supreme Court for its consideration. Rudy, however, stressed that any examination would amount only to "moral pressure" on the Supreme Court because it was not covered in any extant legislation.
The Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association (PBHI) denounced the acquittal, saying it was a betrayal of the reform agenda. PBHI secretary-general Johnson Panjaitan said that the acquittal would only strengthen public distrust in the judiciary.
Legal practitioner Frans Hendra Winarta also feared that the Akbar case could be taken as a reference for other corruption cases. "If this were to happen, the defendants in other corruption cases could be exonerated. The fate of corruption cases will be the same as that in human rights abuse cases, in which only low-ranking officials or common people are sent to jail," he told The Jakarta Post.
Meanwhile, Amiruddin Zakaria, the judge who convicted Akbar of corruption in 2002, said on Friday that he was gravely disappointed at the decision to overturn his earlier verdict and planned to resign from his current post. "What I did at the lower court was not respected and I am ready to resign over it," he told the Post in a telephone interview.
Amiruddin said the Supreme Court was not consistent in dealing with Akbar's case. "I was reprimanded by the Supreme Court for my decision to suspend Akbar's detention, but now they have freed him instead," he said. He said that he would lodge a resignation letter with the head of the Kendari High Court, Southeast Sulawesi, sometime next week.
Straits Times - February 14, 2004
Robert Go, Jakarta -- Flowers and congratulatory notes yesterday flooded the Jakarta house of Indonesian parliament Speaker Akbar Tandjung, whose corruption conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court on Thursday.
Numerous Indonesian officials said yesterday that the decision to exonerate the politician -- made after careful deliberation by the most senior legal officials in the country -- was final and must be respected.
The Supreme Court had ruled that Mr Akbar was only implementing his duty as a minister as ordered by then president B.J. Habibie. The lower courts had been wrong to convict him of misusing his power because the decision to disburse the funds in question had not been taken on his authority, the court added.
The money in question were funds worth US$4.5 million meant for the poor which were channelled to Golkar party cadres.
Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda was quoted as saying that the verdict would not trigger protests in foreign countries.
Dr Sidney Jones, Indonesia director for the International Crisis Group think-tank, was quoted as telling Reuters: "It's complicated because on the one hand, if they had reinforced the verdict of the lower court, it would have been seen as a great victory for independence of the judiciary and a major step forward. On the other hand, there were a lot of people who believed the whole case was politically built from the beginning."
Demonstrations and public statements by Indonesian student groups, anti-graft activists and religious leaders showed that the verdict did not go down well among a significant portion of Indonesian society.
In Yogyakarta, Indonesia's main university town, hundreds of students filled the streets on Thursday and yesterday protesting against the "death of Indonesia"s judiciary".
In Surabaya, the capital of East Java and the country's second largest city, students set fire to kerandas, or traditional chicken cages, to symbolise their anger towards what is being seen here as the failure of the justice system.
Indonesia's lively media also jumped into action. Rakyat Merdeka, a populist publication, featured prominently a photograph of Justice Abdul Rachman Saleh, a former journalist and the only one on the panel of five justices to issue a dissenting opinion, which confirmed Mr Akbar's graft conviction.
A commentary on Rakyat's front page yesterday said: "A child's question to his father: 'How much for justice in this country?'" Leading daily Koran Tempo called the court's ruling "a bitter decision". The paper's editorial added: "For many Indonesians, this is a frustrating judgment." The Jakarta Post, Indonesia's leading English-language newspaper, said in an editorial: "Plain common sense would dictate that Akbar, being the person entrusted with the disbursement of the money, should bear the responsibility for its proper allocation."
Among common folk, too, there was growing disillusionment with Indonesia's political elite and its use of the courts to whitewash past crimes. Cigarette seller Suryono said: "This is the lesson we have to learn -- those who steal a chicken get beaten to death, but those who steal a lot of money get to grow fat."
Jakarta Post - February 14, 2004
Evi Mariani and Dewi Santoso, Jakarta -- The Jakarta police chief has revealed that his officers charged into and severely beat dozens of protesting students in front of the Supreme Court building on Thursday because a single bottle tossed toward the police line made them lose control and deviate from procedures.
Jakarta Police chief Insp. Gen. Makbul Padmanagara said that the police would launch an investigation to determine who the "provocateur" was behind the clash that left 73 protesters injured, mostly students. "I am deeply sorry and regret the incident ... The police are investigating the incident to find out who the provocateur was," he said on Friday.
Makbul pointed out that the objectives were to firmly ensure that people from both sides of the debate could voice their opinions in a peaceful way during the court rallies.
He said procedures to disperse the crowd did not include beatings. However, he seemed to justify his men's actions when he said they were "provoked" by a tossed bottle, which apparently emanated from the student section.
In terms of casualties, Thursday's clash was the bloodiest since the police force became independent from the military in 2000.
Of the 73 protesters reportedly injured, 53 were taken to the Cipto Mangunkusumo General Hospital (RSCM) and Gatot Subroto Army Hospital (RSPAD) and six had severe enough injuries to stay more than one night, said Hermawan Ibnu Nurdin, chairman of Indonesian Muslim Students Action Front (KAMMI).
Five of those six hospitalized students have been discharged from the hospital but Yudi Santoso, 23, a student from Jakarta State University, was transferred to the Pondok Indah Hospital from RSCM by his parents due to his fractured skull presumably caused by the police baton beating.
An activist with the Poor People's Front (LPRM) Firman -- after receiving some stitches to his torso because of a nasty gash -- was unable to pay the bill for further treatment, after taken home by fellow activists from RSPAD. "Actually Firman still needs medical treatment for his wound but we have no money. For the time being, he's just resting at our office," the chairman of LPRM, Marlo Sitompul, said.
A doctor at the RSPAD confirmed that dozens of the casualties he treated were for wounds caused by beatings with blunt objects.
Hundreds of police officers flailed wildly with their batons as they charged the defenseless students in a swift, efficient retort to the bottle that was tossed in their general direction on late Thursday as the justices read their decision to overturn House of Representatives speaker Akbar Tandjung's corruption conviction.
Such violence was contrast to the treatment of the Golkar party's youth wing who also rallied on the other side of Jl. Medan Merdeka Utara.
The National Police spokesman Insp. Gen. Basyir Ahmad Barmawi made a public apology hours after the clash erupted but claimed that 10 police officers were also wounded in the incident.
Later on Friday, a joint meeting among elements of the protesting students at the compound of the University of Indonesia on Jl. Salemba, Central Jakarta, agreed to report the violence to the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) on Saturday. "We are completing the draft report that will carry the data on the wounded students and pictures of the violent acts. The report will be submitted to Komnas HAM tomorrow," said Hermawan. "We are aware that it is unlikely we can meet Komnas officials on Saturday, but we want to submit the report ASAP."
Jakarta Post - February 14, 2004
Jakarta -- Students nationwide again took to the streets on Friday, rejecting the Supreme Court's decision that acquitted Akbar Tandjung of graft charges.
The second day of protest went peacefully, unlike the day earlier, when at least 60 student protesters were hospitalized after clashes with police.
On the second day, students again pressed their demands that the Attorney General's Office (AGO) review the Akbar case and reopen it. They also demanded the Indonesian authorities investigate four of five judges who acquitted Akbar, whom the students accused of doing backroom deals.
Police tightly guarded protests across the archipelago, but no blood was spilled.
In Yogyakarta, an ancient city known to have been the pocket of progressive students, some 800 students staged protests in front of the Gadjah Mada University traffic circle, demanding the AGO reopen and review the case.
Amin Sudarsono, the coordinator of the protest, alleged that the verdict was the outcome of a backroom deal and therefore had to be rejected. "The verdict was weird. The district court and the high court found Akbar guilty of corruption, but he was subsequently acquitted by the Supreme Court.
"The case must be reopened to guarantee that justice is done," he shouted to crowds of protesters.
According to the law, a proposal to reopen and review a case may be filed only by a defendant or the family of the defendant, not the public.
However, Didi Supriyanto, a legislator from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) said in Jakarta that it was still possible to demand reopening and review from the AGO. "There have been precedents," he said, referring to the Gandhi Memorial School and Muchtar Pakpahan cases.
The students in Yogyakarta, mainly from the Indonesian Muslim Students Action Front (KAMMI), staged some street theater then dispersed peacefully afterward. In the Central Java capital, Semarang, a similar protest was held by hundreds of students from KAMMI and from Soegijapranata Catholic University, and the Democratic People's Party (PRD). The students carried a bier, on top of which was a picture of Akbar wearing a yellow Golkar Party jacket. The students staged a protest in front of the Central Java High Court.
The Supreme Court verdict was the "death knell of law enforcement in Indonesia," according to the protesters.
The students demanded that the Supreme Court judges be investigated, fearing that they had made backroom deals in reaching the verdict.
In the East Java capital, Surabaya, hundreds of students from various universities staged a protest in front of the governor's office, criticizing the verdict.
In the North Sumatra capital, Medan, dozens of students from various universities descended on the provincial council building. Besides rejecting the verdict, the students also demanded that the authorities investigate the clash between students and police in Jakarta on Thursday, which left at least 60 students injured.
They said that the clash was engineered by the police in order to deter student protesters from taking to the streets again. "The students were not armed. We condemn the repressive approach by the police," said Usman, a student protester.
In a separate development, the Supreme Court verdict fueled tension in the small East Java town, Bojonegoro, where five command posts belonging to the Golkar Party Supporters Front (BBPG) were set on fire by unidentified people at dawn on Friday.
The five posts were set alight by four people on two motorcycles between midnight and 1 a.m on Friday, some six hours after the Supreme Court had declared its controversial verdict.
Kompas - February 14, 2004
Jakarta -- As the Golkar Party fraction celebrated following the release of Golkar Party general chairperson Akbar Tanjung [from corruption charges], Yudi, a student from the Jakarta State University (UNJ) is still languishing in the Pondok Indah hospital in Jakarta. Yudi suffered injuries to the back of the head after being beaten by police while demonstrating at the Supreme Court building [on February 12]. "Yudi has been moved to the Pondok Indah hospital", said Iwan, the chairperson of the UNJ Student Executive Council on Friday February 13.
The actions by police who beat students when they were demonstrating at the Supreme Court building has been condemned by legislative candidates from the Youth Coalition of Legislative Candidates (Koalisi Caleg Muda, KCM), the Youth Alliance of Legislative Candidates (Aliansi Caleg Muda, ACM) and the One Indonesia Committee (Komite Indonesia Satu, KIS).
"At the demonstration I clearly saw that the police sided with the anti-democratic groups, and their brutal actions against the pro-democratic groups. We, in the name of the legislative candidate and ex-1998 [pro-democracy] activists, strongly condemn the actions of the police who have indeed become the enemies of the student movement", asserted KIS spokesperson Wahab.
He reminded the police, as law enforcement officers, that they should in fact be proud to see the actions of the pro-democracy student movement. "They forget, there are scores of students who are children of police [officers] who have [also] joined the pro-democracy movement. Have they forgotten? Are they embarrassed?", said Wahab.
ACM spokesperson, Banyu Biru Djarot, accused the police of wanting to kill-off the student movement through repressive actions which represent a violation of the law.
University of Indonesia criminologist, Mulyana W. Kusumah, said that by now the police should have been able to get rid of its militaristic character. "But obviously, these [kinds of] actions, which can [only] be called police brutality, are still going on. It is extremely disappointing", he said.
Separately, the head of the Metro Jaya police, Inspector General Makbul Padmanagara, said that the police regretting that a clash had occurred between students and police."I apologise to the public because people were hurt during the clash", he said.
Padmanagara also said that he was concerned about the clash, that an action which had began peacefully, both on the part of the pro- and contra- groups, could change in just seven minutes and become a violent incident. This incident should be of concern because it demonstrates how easy it is for our nation to be set against each other [he said]. (rts/adp/win)
[Translated by James Balowski.]
Tempo Interactive - February 14, 2004
Palembang -- Student activists, non-government organisations and academics held a silent protest in front of the Monument to the Mandate of the People's Suffering in Palembang, South Sumatra, on Friday evening, February 13.
The silent protest was their response to the Supreme Court's decision to release the general chairperson of the Golkar Party, Akbar Tanjung the day before. The action began with the lighting of scores of candles and a moment of silence to reflect on the demise of justice and democracy in Indonesia.
Action coordinator, Hefriyadi, said the action represented their rejection of the decision issued by Supreme Court on Akbar Tanjung's case.
According to the general secretary of the South Sumatra United Workers Communication Forum (Forum Komunikasi Buruh Bersatu, FKBB), the Supreme Court's decision to release Akbar Tanjung proves that legal institutions are still not siding [with the interests of the public] in the handling of his case. "The legal [institutions] tend to side with the those who are big, the law tends to compromise if it involves political figures and state officials", he said.
They are therefore urging and encouraging the Attorney General to hold a judicial review of the Supreme Court's verdict. Hefriyadi assessment was that the decision taken by the Supreme Court was ridden with political considerations rather than with the legal issues."Aside from this it was a huge conspiracy to save Akbar Tanjung [so he would be able] to go on to become a presidential candidate, this is exceedingly obvious obvious to see", he said.
After giving speeches which were not accompanied by shouts, the activist held an action around the water fountain at the roundabout in front of the Great Mosque in the centre of Palembang city. There the demonstrators lit scores of candles and carried them around the pool.
"It is fitting that we are sad about this decision, at the very least we cannot accept it with a healthy mind. How can to courts declare [Akbar Tanjung] guilty, [then] the Supreme Court release him", said Tareh Rasyid, one of the participants in the action.
The groups which joined the action included the Palembang Legal Aid Institute, the South Sumatra Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), the Palembang People's Movement, South Sumatra Watch and the Youth Committee for Democracy.
The action was a rather different from usual, the activist were much quieter and contemplative over the demise of Indonesian justice and democracy.
[Translated by James Balowski.]
Jakarta Post - February 13, 2004
Jakarta -- The announcement of the Supreme Court verdict on Thursday in the graft case involving House of Representatives speaker Akbar Tandjung was marred by violent protests nationwide, with at least 60 protesting students in Jakarta injured in an ugly melee with riot police.
At least 45 students were taken to state-run Cipto Mangunkusumo General Hospital while 15 others were sent to Gatot Subroto Army Hospital, most suffering from severe head injuries, presumably caused by police batons. At least one student reportedly had a fractured skull, while several others suffered broken arms and legs.
National Police spokesman Insp. Gen. Basyir Ahmad Barmawi made a public apology, but then claimed only 17 students were injured while 10 police officers were also wounded. "[The protesters] provoked [the police] to attack them by hurling stones at the riot police who were just guarding the event."
The rally initially was peaceful with thousands of students from 30 student groups in Greater Jakarta and Bandung making speeches about 200 meters away from the Supreme Court building, barricaded by perhaps 100 police armed with batons and girded in riot gear.
The clash erupted at about 3 p.m. when the students were trying to get closer to the court compound. The officers charged the students who were kicked and smashed by the batons as well as some bamboo flag poles which the police managed to seize. The policemen were also seen hurling drink bottles at the students, which they had just snatched away from nearby street vendors. The students, apparently undeterred, charged back a few hours later as the justices read out the decision to let Akbar walk.
"We predicted this ... we had never believed the Supreme Court would be able to uphold the supremacy of law over political interests," said Ali Abel of the National University.
The students then issued a joint statement condemning the acquittal and demanded that the five justices be investigated.
Just 50 meters away from the students -- separated by police and barbed wire -- a large group of Akbar's supporters from the Golkar security wing (AMPG) and Betawi Brotherhood Forum (FBR) cheered the verdict with religious fervor. Among the crowd, a circle of AMPG commanders, including rock singer Renny Djayusman, were seen kissing the Court's front steps.
Meanwhile, in Yogyakarta, several students were also injured in a clash between the police and Poor Yogyakartans Movement (FPRMY) as the latter tried to enter the Sheraton Mustika Hotel compound where politicians Amien Rais, Wiranto and Rahmawati Sukarnoputri were scheduled to meet. Separately, the Communication Forum of Yogyakartan Students (FKMJ) held a rally outside the office of the provincial election commission, urging them to disqualify Golkar.
In Bandung, hundreds of enraged students swarmed into the streets, distributing pamphlets and mobilizing the people to rise up and reject the Court's verdict.
In Semarang, people grouped in the Front for People Safeguarding the Transition to Democracy (Fortrad) held a long march in the city, carrying banners that had such things as, "Supreme Court, please side with Indonesian people". The protesters also performed some street theater mocking the judges, while others played the role of politicians donating "presents" to the judges.
In Kendari, Southeast Sulawesi, students grouped in the Front of Democratic Opponents (FOD) and the region's Front of Indonesian Muslim Students Movement (KAMMI) demanded that Akbar be imprisoned. Surabaya branches of KAMMI and the Association of Muslim Students (HMI), and three other groups joined hands to reject the acquittal of Akbar. In their act they burned an effigy of Akbar. Some of them also visited the state radio station RRI for a five-minute on-air speech.
Jakarta Post - February 13, 2004
Jakarta -- The Supreme Court's decision to acquit Golkar chairman Akbar Tandjung of corruption charges paves the way for his candidacy for the presidency and boosts the party's ambition to return to power.
Political analyst Denny JA said on Thursday that Akbar would likely win the party's presidential convention as many party leaders considered him a hero.
"His political hand is getting stronger. He is now a feasible presidential candidate," Denny, who chairs the Indonesian Survey Institute, told The Jakarta Post Thursday.
"They [Golkar leaders] think that Akbar has given his life to protect Golkar, and Akbar was able to keep the party united and turn it into the second largest party," Denny said.
Golkar, the political machine of former dictator Soeharto, won almost 25 percent of votes cast in the 1999 general election, making it the second largest party after the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).
J. Kristiadi of the Centre of Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), meanwhile, said Akbar's acquittal would serve as fresh ammunition for him to consolidate and win his party's presidential convention.
"Golkar's convention is practically over and Akbar will become its presidential candidate," Kristiadi was quoted by Antara as saying on Thursday. Golkar is currently organizing a political convention to select a presidential candidate for the July 5 election.
Besides Akbar, former Indonesian Military (TNI) commander Gen. (ret) Wiranto, businessman Aburizal Bakrie, media mogul Surya Paloh, Yogyakarta Governor Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X, former Army's Strategic Reserves (Kostrad) commander Lt. Gen. (ret) Prabowo Subianto, and Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Jusuf Kalla are all running in the convention.
The country's will hold its first ever direct presidential election on July 5 and a possible runoff on September 20.
Boy B. Janis, deputy chairman PDI-P expressed doubt over Tandjung's increased chances of becoming president although he has been acquitted of corruption charges. The effect would not be entirely favorable on the Golkar convention, he said, "because since the beginning the convention was designed to cover up party leaders who were in trouble."
Hinting at the possibility of the elite within PDI-P courting Akbar as President Megawati Soekarnoputri's running mate in the presidential elections, Roy said because the presidential election would be direct, any attempt at a coalition would have to involve the grassroots; "We'd have to ask PDI-P supporters whether they would be willing to partner with Golkar." Separately, another political expert Mochtar Pabottingi, warned of increasing rallies, including student demonstrations, following Akbar's aquittal on Thursday.
"There will be many student protests due to the court decision. It hurts people's sense of justice," Mochtar of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences told the Post.
According to Mochtar, since the very beginning, the people have distrusted the court -- from the lower level to the Supreme Court -- for not probing the alleged involvement of other Golkar Party leaders in the graft case.
He also said the verdict would not automatically facilitate Akbar's presidential candidacy in the party's convention nor in the next general election. "Many candidates who distrust Akbar would consider that the convention was engineered to favor the party chairman," he said.
PDI-P legislator and research head Jacob Tobing said, however, that there could be a backlash against Golkar. He told Reuters that, "whatever the decision of the Supreme Court, the people do not believe Tandjung", although he said PDI-P respected the court's ruling.
Jakarta Post - February 13, 2004
Jakarta -- "At a time when the country was sinking in the crisis, the actions of the defendant truly violated one's sense of justice." Akbar abused his power, said Abdurrahman Saleh, the only justice with a dissenting opinion on the panel of five justices of the Supreme Court that finally acquitted Golkar leader Akbar Tandjung on charges of misusing Rp 40 billion in funds belonging to the State Logistics Agency (Bulog).
Abdurrahman said Tandjung had hurt the public, betrayed the trust of the president who entrusted him with Rp 40 billion to be disbursed to the poor, and was therefore involved in corruption.
The defendant, he said, "is proven guilty of shameful conduct [perbuatan tercela] because he failed to show minimal, appropriate efforts to protect state money amounting to Rp 40 billion, which the president entrusted to him to coordinate [its use and disbursement for the poor] with related ministers." The former head of the Jakarta Legal Aid Office, who read his opinion after the announcement of the verdict, referred to legal opinions that supported his argument.
He said that although the justices ruled that Akbar's action did not violate the law, he was of the view that based on the law the defendant's action could be categorized as "corrupt practice". This, he said, comprised the act of enriching oneself, or others, or legal entities, "which directly or indirectly leads to losses on the part of the state".
Akbar's "shameful" action, which "wounded the hearts of the public" included the following, Abdurrahman said:
Abdurrahman added that the Development Finance Comptroller (BPKP) had, on March 23 and March 31, 1999, reminded Bulog to stop the receipt and issuance of nonbudgetary funds. "If this had been heeded the entire case might have been avoided," he said.
In the end the collection of funds that were not in line with existing rules "burdened the people," Abdurrahman said. The defendant, he continued, "cannot rely on the excuse that it was an emergency" because he failed to prove that the use of nonbudgetary Bulog funds was the only way to help alleviate the burden on the poor at that time.
The Supreme Court's verdict, based on the fact that nonbudgetary Bulog funds were not among those covered in a 1994 presidential decree on project funds, "should be seen in the context that, in accordance with good governance, the spirit and meaning of that presidential decree could have served as a guideline." While the justice said the defense had implied that Akbar had acted in line with the presidential decree, "what happened was that the defendant engaged in actions that violated decency ... [and] prudence in line with the principles of good governance, that there should not be any abuse of power."
Akbar's legal journey
February 10, 1999: President B.J. Habibie asks Minister/State Secretary Akbar Tandjung, during a cabinet meeting, to channel Rp 40 billion in funds belonging to the State Logistics Agency (Bulog) to a food for the poor program.
October 11, 2001: Akbar admits he knew about the money and says it was channeled directly to the Raudatul Jannah foundation led by Dadang Sukandar, who subsequently named Winfried Simatupang as contractor of the charity program. The program never materialized.
January 7, 2002: The Attorney General's Office (AGO) names Akbar a suspect in the scandal.
March, 7, 2002: Akbar is detained in a cell at the AGO.
March, 25, 2002: The Central Jakarta District Court begins the trials of Akbar, Dadang and Winfried.
April, 5, 2002: Akbar is released from his cell. September 4, 2002: The court convicts Akbar and sentences him to three years in jail.
January 17, 2003: The Jakarta High Court upholds the lower court's verdict on Akbar.
March, 20, 2003: Akbar files an appeal with the Supreme Court.
February 12, 2004: The Supreme Court rules in favor of Akbar and acquits him on all charges, but upholds sentences on Dadang and Winfried.
Jakarta Post - February 13, 2004
Moch. N. Kurniawan, Jakarta -- People are certainly losing confidence in the judiciary system and in the ongoing battle against corruption in the country following the Supreme Court's decision to accept House Speaker Akbar Tandjung's appeal against a three-year sentence over a graft conviction.
Noted corporate lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis who expressed strong disappointment over the Supreme Court's verdict said: "Today is a sad day for this country ..." He said nobody could make any changes although a public examination of the verdict could be conducted.
"The examination would reveal what is wrong with the verdict to be taken as a lesson in handling such cases in the future," he said.
Akbar appealed to the Supreme Court after the Jakarta High Court upheld the decision of the Central Jakarta District Court that sentenced Akbar to three years imprisonment for his involvement in a Rp 40 billion (US$4.8 million) graft case when he was state secretary in 1999.
Akbar is one of several government officials from president Soeharto's tenure who have gone on trial for corruption charges. Former chief of the National Logistics Agency (Bulog) Rahardi Ramelan is still appealing against a three-year prison sentence with the Supreme Court on similar charges.
Soeharto, who looks physically healthy, will likely continue to evade corruption charges as the court has found him unfit to stand trial.
Todung, however, said that if the Supreme Court had thrown out Akbar's appeal, the highly politicized case would have become a snow ball that would drag in many other parties that might also have received funds.
He said he feared the Supreme Court had made a decision based on a narrow perspective as four of the five judges who accepted Akbar's appeal argued that the defendant had just implemented former president B.J. Habibie's instruction to distribute basic commodities to the poor under the social safety net program.
Akbar was not guilty in the corruption case because he was just obeying the president's instruction, they argued.
Ombudsman Commission Chairman Antonius Sujata shared Todung's views, saying that the verdict itself and the tardy process to arrive at a verdict had damaged the judicial system's image.
"This is a miscarriage of justice. With this decision the public will have no more confidence in the judicial system and the government's efforts to stop corruption," he said.
He also said another factor that contributed to the disappointing verdict was that the panel of judges was presided over by a judge with the state administrative law background.
It is also unusual for the Supreme Court to issue such a long verdict as a verdict usually only consisted of 25 pages, he said.
He said, however, one thing that he was pleased about was that one of the judges put forward a dissenting opinion on the case. "I respect this effort, which is a first in this country," he said.
Separately, Judicial Watch chairman A. Muhammad Asrun said the verdict was an indication that the Supreme Court was not free from outside interference. "Akbar's acquittal of corruption charges has been predicted long before today when the Supreme Court repeatedly delayed the trial and announcing the verdict," he said.
The Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta) called on the Supreme Court to undertake total reform to repair the corrupt judiciary and to examine the panel of judges' decision.
Reuters - February 12, 2004
Tomi Soetjipto and Olivia Rondonuwo, Jakarta -- Indonesia's Supreme Court quashed parliament speaker Akbar Tandjung's graft conviction on Thursday, clearing the way for him to seek the presidency later this year.
The decision should help Tandjung stay leader of Golkar -- once the political vehicle of ousted president Suharto and still the nation's second largest party -- and could boost his chances of becoming its presidential candidate.
The five-member court, in a finding read without the defendant present, said his conviction by a lower court and the three-year jail sentence it passed were not justified.
"The defendant is not proven guilty of abusing his position and enriching himself and therefore he should be freed from the conviction against him," judge Paulus Efendi Lotulung said.
Thousands of pro- and anti-Tandjung protesters were outside awaiting the decision. Students in the latter group clashed with club-wielding police, and several students were hurt.
The pro-Tandjung demonstrators ranged from youths in black military-style uniforms to Papuans wearing tribal dress and with their faces painted red and white, Indonesia's national colors.
Tandjung, 58, watching the proceedings on television at home, immediately expressed his gratitude and bent on his knees to kiss the floor of his living room. Family and friends, some joyfully punching the air, surrounded him.
"Praise Allah my appeal has been accepted and I call on all the people to respect this verdict," Tandjung said.
He had consistently maintained his innocence in the case, which involved the alleged misuse of some $4 million in funds from state food agency Bulog in 1999.
The reversal of the conviction brought criticism from some political analysts who feel Indonesia's court system is too soft on corruption, especially when it involves powerful figures.
"I think the legal aspects are overshadowed by the significance politically of a killing blow to credibility of the judicial system," said Wimar Witoelar, a political commentator who advised Abdurrahman Wahid when he was Indonesia's president.
Sidney Jones, Indonesia director for the International Crisis Group think-tank, told Reuters: "It's complicated because on the one hand if they had reinforced the verdict of the lower court it would have been seen as a great victory for independence of the judiciary and a major step forward." "On the other hand, there were a lot of people who believed the whole case was politically built from the beginning." The supreme court said Tandjung was only implementing his duty as a minister as ordered by then president B.J. Habibie.
The lower courts had been wrong to convict Tandjung of misusing his power because the decision to disburse the funds in question had not been taken on Tandjung's authority, the court added.
"Therefore their understanding of misuse of power was inappropriate in this case." While ex-president Suharto is no longer considered a major player in Golkar, it still benefits from the grass-roots structure set up across the sprawling nation during his time.
Many analysts expect it to replace President Megawati Sukarnoputri's PDI-P as the top party in parliament after legislative elections in April, although beating Megawati in the presidential poll later in the year could be tougher.
PDI-P parliament member and research head Jacob Tobing said, however, that there could be a backlash against Golkar.
He told Reuters that, "whatever the decision of the Supreme Court, people have not believed" Tandjung, although he said PDI-P respected the court's ruling.
But political analyst Bachtiar Effendy of the University of Indonesia said: "This decision is politically beneficial for Akbar Tandjung because he is now free from any legal baggage and has more room to maneuver." "All doubts about him due to his legal status are now gone."
[With additional reporting by Telly Nathalia and Darren Whiteside.]
Associated Press - February 13, 2004
Michael Casey, Jakarta -- Indonesia's Supreme Court overturned a graft conviction against the parliamentary speaker on Thursday, a ruling that cleared the way for his presidential bid -- and dismayed those looking for signs of anti-corruption reform.
Akbar Tandjung, head of ex-dictator Suharto's Golkar Party, had been convicted of misappropriating $4.5 million in government funds. He would have been barred from running in the country's July 5 election if judges had upheld the verdict.
But a panel of judges said Thursday there was no proof Tandjung had enriched himself, and that he wasn't responsible for the money because he'd acted on then-president B.J. Habibie's orders to distribute it to the poor. The judges ruled 4-1 for his acquittal.
"The defendant, Akbar Tandjung, is not guilty of committing criminal acts and therefore must be freed and his name and reputation rehabilitated," Judge Paulus Lotulong said in his final summary.
Anti-corruption advocates say the verdict shows the challenges of reforming a court system where the rule of law often takes a back seat to bribery and political connections.
"This is a huge scandal," said Muhammad Asrun, executive director of Judicial Watch, a corruption watchdog. "This country's legal system is bankrupt and getting worse every day. I think the international community will no longer have confidence in the Indonesia courts."
At Tandjung's house in Jakarta, dozens of supporters hugged each other upon hearing of the verdict. They cheered and shouted "Allahu Akbar!" -- Arabic for "God is great," and a play on Tandjung's first name. A smiling Tandjung, gathered with his family, told reporters he hoped to be his party's presidential nominee.
"I thank God for fulfilling my prayers and the Supreme Court justices," he said. "I hope that that the Supreme Court's ruling can fulfill the feeling of justice. I hope that the people can understand it." For much of the day Thursday, the drama of the case played out in the streets in front of the Supreme Court building. On one side were the 2,000 Tandjung supporters, who turned the event into a festive political rally, singing party songs and making pro-Golkar speeches.
A few yards away -- and separated by barbed wire -- about 2,000 angry students chanted anti-Tandjung slogans and carried banners saying: "There is no justice if Akbar wins." "We came here to support justice for the people," said 18-year-old university student Ahmad Syahrulah. "The court should uphold his guilty verdict. We've heard he will be acquitted. If that is true, the judges are reading nonsense." Some of the students clashed with about 700 police officers. Witnesses said the police beat students with batons, sending at least six to the hospital and leaving others with blood streaming down their faces.
Tandjung, 59, has been a Golkar loyalist since his university days. After Suharto fell in 1998, supporters chose the savvy political insider as party chairman -- and he set his sights on the presidency. Instead, he became entangled in the embezzlement scandal and was convicted in 2002.
As he pressed ahead with his appeals, the case divided the party and led seven others to announce they'd contest the party's presidential nomination. Among them was former military chief Gen. Wiranto, a leading contender despite his indictment by the United Nations for alleged human rights abuses in the former Indonesian territory of East Timor.
Detik.com - February 12, 2004
Fedhly Averouss Bey, Jakarta -- A clash with police has resulted in 10 students being wounded. The victims were seen to be bleeding. Meanwhile around 30 students were arrested by police.
The clash occurred at 3.30pm on Thursday February 12 when students attacked police lines. However police drove the students back aggressively, even though the head of the local police, Sukrawardi Dahlan, had asked police officers not to hit people.
From observations by journalists, the police were seen to chase and beat students with batons. They also hit them with their fists and even trampled on students who had fallen to the ground.
Following the incident, around 30 students were taken away by police and placed in a police vehicle located near the scene.
Meanwhile those who had been wounded were evacuated and treated on the sidewalk of Jl Medan Merdeka Utara by a medial team from the University of Indonesia. The number of wounded was around 10.
A number of them appeared to have suffered head wounds and were bleeding. Several other students appeared to be bleeding from the face wounds.
By 3.46pm, students were sill "cooling down" and had withdrawn some 30 meters from the scene of the clash. The head of the local police was also pleading with his subordinates not to be provoked.
The students attacked police lines after they heard information that confirmed that the Supreme Court had freed [Golkar Party chairperson] Akbar Tandjung [of corruption charges]. The panel of judges however, were in fact still reading Akbar Tandjung's verdict. (asy)
[Translated by James Balowski.]
Detik.com - February 13, 2004
Bagus Kurniawan, Yogyakarta -- Demands can be put forward though a demonstration, they can also be sent by letter. That was what was done by demonstrators who were holding a demonstration at the central post office on Jalan Senapati in Yogyakarta on Friday February 13. They were protesting the Supreme Court's decision to release [Golkar Party chief] Akbar Tanjung.
Around 500 students from a number of different groups condemning the release of Tanjung shouted slogans, unfurled posters and set fire to Golkar flags. In addition to this they also went to the post office to send a letter to the Attorney General.
In the letter, as related by action coordinator Amin Fahrudin, they stated their rejection of the Supreme Court's decision to release Tanjung. "We urge the Attorney General to take extraordinary legal measures in presenting a review to the Supreme Court", he said.
As well as this, according to Fahrudin, they also urged the Constitutional Court to immediately take the Supreme Court judges to court because they have defiled and violated the principles of the country's laws as stated in the constitution.
The posters brought by the demonstrators included ones which read"The Supreme Court is powerless, it has no guts","Akbar is free, the people are oppressed" and "Disband the Golkar party".
The demonstrators, who came from a number of groups including the United Indonesian Muslim Student Front (KAMMI), the Poor People's Struggle Front (Front Perjuangan Rakyat Miskin, FPRM), the National Student League for Democracy (Liga Mahasiswa Nasional Demokrasi, LMND) and the Greater Yogyakarta Student Executive Council, began their action at around 9.30am at the University of Gajah Mada roundabout in Bulaksumur.
The demonstrators then held a "long-march" to the intersection in front of the central post office some four kilometers away. During the action they formed a line 150 meters long causing a traffic jam which extended from the Tugu intersection on Jalan Sudirman to Jalan Malioboro. (gtp)
[Translated by James Balowski.]
Tempo Interactive - February 12, 2004
Surabaya -- Around 100 students held a demonstration in front of the Grahadi State building in Surabaya, East Java, on Thursday February 12. They were demanding that the Supreme Court reject the appeal by [Golkar Party chief] Akbar Tanjung in the corruption case involving 40 billion rupiah of Bulog (State Logistics Agency) non-budgetary funds. During the action, the demonstrators burnt an effigy of Tanjung.
Students had been gathering in front of the Grahadi State building since 10am. The group, calling themselves the Poor People's Struggle Front (Front Perjuangan Rakyat Miskin, FPRM) includes members of the People's Democratic Party (Partai Rakyat Demokratik, PRD), the National Peasants Union (Serikat Tani Nasional, STN), the National Student League for Democracy (Liga Mahasiswa Nasional untuk Demokrasi, LMND) and the Indonesian National Labour Front for Struggle (Front Nasional Perjuangan Buruh Indonesia, FNPBI). They were also joined by around 20 members from the United Indonesian Muslim Student Action (Kesatuan Aksi Mahasiswa Muslim Indonesia, KAMMI).
While waiting for Supreme Court's verdict on Tanjung's appeal, the students gave speeches and sang songs on Jalan Gubernur Suryo. As well as effigies of Tanjung, they also brought a chicken cage with a Golkar T-shirt inside it. Outside of the cage was the writing "A home for Akbar" and a poster which read "Jail the corrupter".
The climax of the action occurred at 12noon when students burnt a 1.5 meter cardboard effigy of Tanjung, which they set fire to starting with his socks. As the flames spread over the effigy, the continued to sing "Hang. hang. hang the corrupter. just hang the corrupter now".
Following this, the students then set fire to the chicken cage while singing "Goodbye, goodbye, just disband Golkar. What good is Golkar, what good is Golkar, Golkar is of no use". They then jumped up and down on the burning cage.
In the same location, a demonstration with the same theme was organised by the Unitomo Student Advocacy Forum (Forum Advokasi Mahasiswa Unitomo). They had four demands, that the Supreme Court sentence Akbar Tanjung, that the Golkar party be disbanded, that corruption, collusion and nepotism be eliminated and for a motion of no confidence in the government of President Megawati Sukarnoputri and Vice-president Hamzah Haz who in their view are incapable of overcoming the country's problems.
Meanwhile, the secretary of the Golkar Party Surabaya branch, Erick R. Tahalele, said that whatever the Supreme Court's decision was it would not influence the Golkar Party's struggle. "The Golkar Party is not dependent upon one figure. We are big because of the strength of the organisation's supporters which reaches down to the grass roots", he asserted.
However, the Golkar Party's number 1 legislative candidate for the electoral district of Surabaya I also added that if the Supreme Court decides to free Tanjung, his party would feel relived. "During the campaign, we won't be hit by this heavy burden", said Tahalele accusingly when he was met at the Tempo News Room at the Golkar Party Surabaya headquarters on Jalan Adityawarman.
Conversely, if the Supreme Court decides that Tanjung is guilty, Tahalele was convinced that his party will be able to replace its general chairperson before the elections are held.
[Translated by James Balowski.]
Tempo Interactive - February 12, 2004
Jakarta -- According to the action coordinator from the University of Indonesia Student Executive Council, Ahmad Nur Hidayat, 15 of his friends were injured in a clash with police.
"Most of them suffered head wounds because they were beaten by police", he said at Jalan Merdeka Utara in front of the Supreme Court building on Thursday February 12. The wounded students have been taken to the Sakit Cipto Mangunkusumo hospital for treatment.
Meanwhile, according to the chairperson of Indonesian Muslim United Student Action, Hermawan, the clash began when police began shoving students from the side. Then police began hitting a vehicle carrying a loud speaker with batons resulting in the windows being smashed. A field coordinator named Febi was not been seen among the demonstrators.
The situation has now calmed down with student withdrawing in the direction of the army's headquarters. The panel of judges [reading out the verdict against Golkar Party chief Akbar Tanjung] are still in session.
[Translated by James Balowski.]
Tempo Interactive - February 12, 2004
Jakarta -- Chaos erupted at a demonstration by the Greater Jakarta and Greater Bandung Student Executive Councils while they were waiting for the Supreme Court's verdict in the case of [Golkar Party chief] Akbar Tanjung in front of the Supreme Court building at 3.40pm.
The chaos started when students and police started pushing and shoving each after students tried to break through the police barricade. The police respond [violently] and as a result students fled blindly trying to save themselves from pursuit buy uniformed and un-uniformed police.
It is still now known at this time how many demonstrators were jured as a result of the clash. Based on the observations of the Tempo New Room, following the student action which was held at the entrance to the eastern side of the Supreme Court building, students had withdrawn to the offices of the Department of Home Affairs. A number of students appeared to have suffered head wounds. Two ambulances arrived to take away those who were injured.
Meanwhile the police have reformed in front of the gates of the Supreme Court. Furthermore, even before the clash occurred, anti-riot troops had already been deployed. Following the incident, the head of the Central Jakarta police, Sukrawardi Dahlan, was still trying to calm down both the police officers and students. "We are here to make it safe, there is no use in students and police pushing and shoving each other", he said though a loud speaker.
[Translated by James Balowski.]
Tempo Interactive - February 13, 2004
Medan-Solo-Surabaya-Malang -- There have been more demonstrations by students over the Supreme Court's verdict in the appeal by [Golkar Party chief] Akbar Tanjung [against corruption charges]. In Medan, for example, scores of students from the North Sumatra Indonesian Muslim Students United Action Front (KAMMI) demonstrated at the North Sumatra regional parliament on Friday February 13.
They urged the Supreme Court to review the decision to release Akbar Tanjung. The demonstrators also condemned the actions of the security forces who acted repressively towards students who were demonstrating [against the verdict] in Jakarta [on February 12].
Similar actions were also held by around 1000 students from Solo and Yogyakarta in Central Java and Semarang in East Java, in front of the Golkar Party offices in Solo. Before around 200 Golkar Party supporters made up of party security officers, the Golkar Party Youth Movement (AMPG) and core party leaders wearing the symbol of the Banyan Tree [Golkar's symbol], they condemned Akbar Tanjung's release.
In Surabaya, East Java, 500 people from a number of student groups also held a demonstration in front of the State Grahadi building on Jalan Gubernur Suryo. They condemned the Supreme Courts decision to release Akbar Tanjung. "The release of Akbar Tanjung will be the precursor to the release of other corrupters", KAMMI's public relations officer Cahyo told the Tempo News Room. The students also condemned the repressive actions by security forces against students in front of the Supreme Court building in Jakarta which resulted in scores of students being wounded."The people must be on guard. The New Order [regime of former President Suharto] is reemerging", said Cahyo.
Meanwhile in Malang, East Java, condemnations against the Supreme Courts verdict were voiced by around 100 students from KAMMI, the Brawijaya Student Executive Council (BEM), the University Merdeka BEM and the Social Alliance Against Corruption.
"The Supreme Courts decision sets a bad president for the enforcement of justice in Indonesia and means that it will be impossible to seek justice in this county. Imagine, now even the last fortress for us to seek justice is prepared to free a corrupter", said Malang KAMMI chairperson Rully Novianto.
[Translated by James Balowski.]
Jakarta Post - February 10, 2004
Tiarma Siboro and A. Junaidi -- Rampant corruption, including price markups, at the Ministry of Religious Affairs involved many officials, businesspeople, politicians and foreigners, a respected Muslim leader alleged on Monday.
Hasyim Muzadi, chairman of the country's largest Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), said that reforms within the ministry required extra effort from all parties, including lawmakers, non-governmental organizations and the press.
"Some say that rampant corruption and markups are developed by an expansive network involving officials at home and certain parties overseas. That is what we call a conspiratorial syndicate.
"We need to get serious about cleaning up such appalling behavior, including a clear concept on how to manage the pilgrimage for Indonesian Muslims," Hasyim remarked during a press conference at NU headquarters in Central Jakarta.
His made the statement after reading a recent report by Government Watch (Gowa), an NGO concerned with crimes and irregularities committed by state officials.
Hasyim doubted, however, that the private sector would be able to handle the haj pilgrimage professionally -- as some have recently suggested -- saying that the government had once delegated the matters to private firms and similar problems still took place.
The government handed over the management of the special minor haj, with about 15,000 people, to a private firm two years ago, but later dropped the firm after the organizers failed to carry out their duties properly.
This year, some 30,000 haj pilgrims, mostly under the ONH Plus arrangement, were not able to go to Mecca despite promises from the government, that it would grant a higher quota. Indonesia's quota stood at 205,000 people this year.
Meanwhile, Gowa chairman Farid Faqih, seemed a bit confused as to what constituted corruption, saying "those involved are just manipulating people to pay more than what is required." "I have data from the Supreme Audit Agency showing the financial report of the ministry of religious affairs. We are still studying the report to determine whether criminal corruption took place.
"One thing is certain, and that is the officials and other parties have manipulated Indonesian pilgrims by making them pay expenses exceeding the normal costs," Farid added.
He was referring to various items that the Indonesian pilgrims should have, and thus have to pay for, such as a special bracelet, airplane tickets and accommodation in Mecca.
Separately, the ministry's haj information office head Nunun Firdaus denied any responsibility for the markups, saying the prices were decided in conjunction with the government and the House of Representatives.
"We do not decide the costs alone. They have been calculated thoroughly and jointly decided by the government and the House," Nunun told The Jakarta Post.
He agreed with Hasyim's statement, saying that handing over the haj management to the private sector or an independent body would worsen the situation.
He claimed that the government had no vested interests in managing the haj pilgrimage.
Jakarta Post - February 9, 2004
Apriadi Gunawan, Medan -- A number of judges at the Medan district and North Sumatra high courts were guilty of extortion and other malpractice, Medan lawyers said on Saturday.
Lawyer Januari Siregar said he recently filed a report to the Supreme Court in Jakarta about a judge at the Medan district court, whom he accused extorting money from his client's family.
The judge took Rp 30 million (US$3,530) from the family to postpone his client's detention, Januari said. His letter of complaint was sent on January 12.
Januari said he felt it right to file a report as there were many cases of harassment and other violations committed by judges in Medan.
He revealed an alleged extortion by a judge at the North Sumatra high court against his client, a monk from Taiwan, who was an American national.
When his client appeared at a court session as a witness in a criminal case, the panel of judges at the Medan district court decided that he was also guilty, Januari said.
His client appealed to the North Sumatra High Court, but he lost the appeal.
Januari claimed his client lost the appeal although he had paid Rp 50 million to a High Court judge.
Based on day-to-day experience, the Januari Siregar & Associates law firm estimated about 75 percent of criminal and civil cases on trial at the Medan district court were turned into commodities by judges and prosecutors.
Law practitioner Syafaruddin, a former chairman of the corruption-busting Lawyer 61 communication forum in Medan, said corruption in the Medan district and North Sumatra high courts had gone on for a long time.
This had prompted lawyers in Medan to establish the communication forum to fight it. "We formed the communication forum in 1998, when corruption was rampant and many lawyers bemoaned their clients couldn't afford to pay such amounts of money to win their cases," he said.
Asked about alleged corruption in the Medan district court, its head, Sulthoni Mohdally, said he believed the district was relatively clean.
If extortion or bribe-taking was found, he would severely punish the judges involved. "It's a principle of mine -- I'd rather throw [the judges] away than smear this august body," he told The Jakarta Post.
When asked about a report from Januari Siregar about an allegedly corrupt judge, Sulthoni said: "I know him personally -- he's a qualified and honest judge." "I know his qualities -- it would be not possible for him to do that. It's only slander," Sulthoni said.
|Campaign against rotten politicians|
Tempo Interactive - February 14, 2004
Malang - The visit by President Megawati Sukarnoputri to the city of Malang in East Java on Saturday February 14, was greeted with a demonstration by students from the University of Brawijaya (Unibraw) Student Executive Council (BEM) and the Indonesian Muslim Student United Action Front (KAMMI) in front of the Unibraw campus.
The action, which was joined by no less than 30 students, was articulating their attitude to rotten leaders. "We reject all of the rotten politicians and leaders", said Zany Pria Romadudin, the president of the Unibraw student executive told demonstrators.
As well as rejecting black politicians and leaders, BEM and KAMMI also rejected Megawati and Vice-President Hamzah Haz being nominated as presidential candidates in the 2004 general elections. They said that the Megawati-Hamzah duet has been proven to have failed in its leadership of Indonesia."Their leadership report card is lousy. They are not suitable to be nominated again", said Romadudin.
According to Romadudin, BEM and KAMMI have already determined a criteria for rotten politicians and leaders, this includes perpetrators of corruption, collusion and nepotism, those who have sold state assets, committed gross violations of human rights, destroyers of the environment, committed sexual crimes and those who not care about the poor or the suffering of their peers.
Romadudin said that there are rotten politicians and leaders who are in control of strategic posts. They are free to hold this power because they are supported by the court Mafia, bureaucrats, the conglomerates the pro-oppressive academics.
As an example of a rotten politician, Romadudin pointed to [Golkar Party chairperson] Akbar Tanjung. The release of Akbar Tanjung in the case of the embezzlement of 40 billion rupiah of Bulog (State Logistic Agency) non-budgetary funds, she said, reflects the sense of injustice. "Akbar Tanjung is a black politician who is unsuitable to lead this country. Just nominating Akbar [as a presidential candidate] is inappropriate".
The rejection of these rotten leaders and politicians said Romadudin, is based on the country's desperate need to have strong, honest and trustworthy leaders who can bring Indonesia back from the multi-dimensional crisis.
[Translated by James Balowski.]
Jakarta Post - February 9, 2004
Endy M. Bayuni -- The media in Indonesia has come under fire once again. Unlike the Soeharto years, when the attacks came directly from the government, this time it is coming from the wealthy and the powerful in league with the courts -- their battleground of choice. Sadly, the media rarely wins these "legal" tussles. And amazingly, journalists and editors are now responding in the same fashion as they always did during the Soeharto era whenever they came under attack: Duck for cover, play it safe.
Atmakusumah Astraatmadja, the former chairman of the Press Council, said he already had the sense that this series of court defeats was intimidating journalists and undermining the freedom of the media, according to a report by The Jakarta Post last week. "They force journalists into self-censorship. The media no longer dares to speak out for public interests," he was quoted as saying during a seminar on the state of press freedom in Indonesia.
Self-censorship is something that all professional editors do each day. Keeping in mind space constraints, editors take out what is not relevant and/or deemed indecent. We publish or broadcast what we feel is in the interest of the public. There is nothing wrong with self-censorship in and of itself. But Atmakusumah was clearly referring to the insidious habit that most of us indulged in during the Soeharto years: Taking out what is relevant to public interests, just to stay on the good side of the powerful and wealthy.
The threat of an expensive, financially crippling lawsuit is enough to force most of the media in Indonesia into submission. Understandably, most are operating on shoestring budgets. Only a few media groups in Indonesia have the kind of money that our predators demand in terms of compensation in the courts. For most of the media, losing a major lawsuit has a similar impact as Soeharto's threat to rescind our press licenses a decade ago: Closure. It should come as no surprise then that many editors and journalists have simply resorted to reporting inconsequential news as a result of fear and self-censorship.
The nature of the attacks against the press are also different today: In the court room. As far as the Indonesian justice system is concerned, the wealthy and the powerful are winning their court battles. Of course, they are helped along the way by their highly paid, but often sleazy lawyers, and I suspect, they are in collusion with judges.
They have even hijacked "the rule of law", one of the battle cries that we in the media helped popularize at the start of the reform era six years ago, and turned it into a weapon to fight against us. Now, they too are using the buzzwords of the reform movement.
The media is never going to win this fight if it keeps whining about how the law of the land is not protecting them. The 1999 Press Law, with all its imperfections, still provides us with far greater protection than we ever had before. And the amended Constitution provides clearer guarantees for us in going about our business.
Is the sword actually mightier than the pen in Indonesia, even in this era of democracy where freedom of the press is supposedly guaranteed? There are a few things that we could do to turn things around in our favor. To win this battle, we need to move the focus of the war away from the courtrooms, where we seem to be consistently losing.
The media needs to improve the skill and professionalism of journalists. This is an absolute requirement. Some, though not all, of the lawsuits brought before the court were caused by sloppy journalism. The message is clear: A mistake can be costly. And sloppy journalism is a disservice to the profession. Keep this up, and pretty soon we lose our credibility and the trust of the people, and before long, our freedom.
Many print and broadcasting media, as well as professional organizations, have conducted training seminars and workshops in recent years to improve the professionalism of their newsrooms. A quick glance at their coverage today, however, suggests that we still have some way to go. Investigative journalism, increasingly an important function of the profession in today's complex world, is one area where more training is needed because this is where the media is most vulnerable to libel lawsuits.
The media community must also fight for the passage of the freedom of information act, currently held up in the House of Representatives. This would be more important than amending the 1999 Press Law. Such a law would assist journalists in getting closer to the truth in their reporting, particularly when conducting investigative reporting.
Finally, the media must treat this battle as part of a wider campaign to preserve democracy. Freedom of the press/media is really a subset of the freedom of expression and opinion. These recent attacks against the media should be seen as part of a larger conspiracy by the rich and powerful to deny the people their right to freely express their views or opinions. As long as the media treats this as simply a threat to its own freedom, then we will be fighting this battle alone with little support of the public.
The media must stop treating itself as part of the elite, the way it has been in recent years. It must see itself and function as part of the public. It must act in the interest of the public, as a conduit to defend the weak, powerless and the marginalized.
When an editor and a reporter of Tempo magazine were attacked by a gang of thugs last year, the media immediately responded by launching a campaign to wage a war against thuggery. The campaign never really got off the ground, the public response was lukewarm, and Tempo journalists lost their cases in court.
What went wrong? For most people in Indonesia, thuggery has been around for centuries. They have felt the brunt of the violent and arbitrary behavior of such thugs for a long time. Such a campaign would have been more effective, and certainly would have won wider public support, if it was launched in response to thuggery in general, and not simply narrowed down to the attacks on two Tempo journalists.
It is probably unrealistic to expect the media in Indonesia to unite in fighting their predators. Some of the big media institutions, particularly the TV stations, are owned by members of that wealthy, powerful clique. But the really concerned media, those who profess to serve the public interest, must unite with the people it claims to represent, and fight the battles together.
We owe our existence, and hence our freedom today, to them. Let us not underestimate our own power and capability if we act in unison.
The pen is still mightier than the sword. But only if we are use it wisely.
[Endy M. Bayuni is the Deputy Chief Editor of the Jakarta Post in Cambridge, Massachusetts and is currently studying at Harvard University under a Nieman Foundation fellowship, with funding from the Ford Foundation and the Asia Foundation.]
|Local & community issues|
Jakarta Post - February 13, 2004
Haidir Anwar Tanjung, Pekanbaru -- Thousands of protesting teachers and students clashed with police on Thursday in Kampar regency, some 60 kilometers west of Pekanbaru, leaving eight students injured.
The clash began when the protesters, demanding the resignation of Regent Jefri Noer, marched to the Kampar regency council building at 9 a.m., where they were met by about 400 police officers who had formed a security cordon around the building.
The protesters and the officers began to shove each other when the protesters attempted to enter the building. One of the protesters threw a rock, which hit an officer in the head, and the situation quickly degenerated into violence. Officers began to hit the protesters with batons, firing tear gas to disperse the crowd.
"None of the protesters threw rocks at the police. It must have been thrown by some irresponsible party," said Nurhadi, the protest coordinator. He said the eight students injured in the incident had been taken to Bangkinang Hospital in Kampar regency for treatment.
The deputy chief of the Riau Police, Sr. Comr. Soewadji, said officers were forced to disperse the protesters after they attempted to force their way into the council building.
Soewadji said police had arrested five people for taking hostage several councillors. "None of them were students or teachers. Probably they were people who were trying to take advantage of the situation," he said.
The teachers and students began their protests on Tuesday, after Kampar Regent Jefri Noer threw principal Abdul Latief out of a meeting.
The principal was ordered to leave the meeting because he questioned the regency's Rp 700 billion (US$82.8 million) budget, of which only 5 percent is reportedly allocated for education. According to those present, Abdul told the regent that he was not dedicating enough attention or money to education.
The Constitution requires a regional government to allocate at least 20 percent of its total budget for education.
Jefri responded to this criticism by throwing the principal out of the meeting with representatives of teachers and educators in the regency.
This outburst caused a backlash and teachers and students began protesting on Tuesday, condemning the regent for insulting the teaching profession and demanding his resignation.
The protesters again took to the streets on Wednesday, demanding that councillors hold a plenary meeting to dismiss the regent.
The councillors bowed to the protesters' demand and held a session on Thursday, which was attended by 35 of 45 councillors. The councillors agreed to summon Jefri on Friday for questioning about the incident.
Jefri has said that he is ready to face the consequences of his actions. He defended himself by saying that he asked Abdul to leave the meeting because the principal accused him of corruption.
Jakarta Post - February 12, 2004
Haidir Anwar Tanjung, Pekanbaru -- Thousands of teachers and students in Kampar regency, some 60 kilometers west of the Riau capital of Pekanbaru, took to the streets again on Wednesday, forcing schools in the regency to close for a second day.
Unlike the first day of the protest on Tuesday when demonstrators occupied government offices, the students and teachers descended on the office of Kampar Regency Council on Wednesday. Some of them occupied the council building, and demanded that the councillors hold a plenary meeting to oust Kampar Regent Jefri Noer.
The representatives of the protesters were eventually able to meet with top councillors in the council building. The protesters demanded the councillors remove the Kampar Regent from his post within two days.
"The councillors have to establish a committee to hold a plenary meeting immediately. We will close all schools until our demand is met. The regent has to either resign or be dismissed," said Nurhadi, a representative of the protesters, from Tapung district.
Nurhadi said that the demand was valid, because the regent had insulted the teaching profession. Nurhadi claimed the regent had given little attention to education, by allocating only 5 percent out of a total budget Rp 700 billion (US$82.8 million) for education. The Constitution requires that a regional government allocates at least 20 percent of its total budget for education, he said.
A similar protest was previously raised by teacher Abdul Latief in a meeting on Thursday last week between the regent and the teachers in the regency. In the meeting, the regent ordered Abdul Latief to leave the room, because he questioned the regent's education budget. The regent's outburst caused a backlash, as teachers and students began to protest on Tuesday, to demand that the regent resign.
Meanwhile, in response to demands by the protesters, Nurbit, a councillor from Golkar Party, said that he agreed that the councillors must establish a committee and hold a plenary meeting soon.
But, Kampar Regency Council speaker, Syaifuddin, asked protesters to exercise self-restraint. He said in the meeting with protesters on Wednesday that not all representatives in the council's factions were present on that day, so it would take time to assemble them and convene a plenary meeting. "We will convene a meeting between the 45 councillors tonight [Wednesday night], so that we can discuss the demand soon," he said.
After the meeting, the protesters demanded the addresses of all of the councillors, so that the protesters could pressure them to attend the plenary meeting.
Jakarta Post - February 12, 2004
Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, Jakarta -- Lawmakers' hopes of endorsing the presidency bill during their term dimmed after the government rejected on Wednesday the draft unless it is overhauled.
Claiming that almost 70 percent of the draft contents are outdated and contradict the amended 1945 Constitution, the government said the bill should be dropped.
"The House should revise the draft in accordance with the amended Constitution, otherwise the government will refuse to discuss the bill," Minister of Justice and Human Rights Yusril Ihza Mahendra said after a meeting with President Megawati Soekarnoputri.
Current House of Representatives legislators will end their terms in August. With preparations for legislative and presidential elections consuming much of their time and energy, the lawmakers will in practice have no time to overhaul the presidency bill.
Yusril said there were no strong reasons for the House to push for the bill's endorsement before the new president was elected.
"There is no urgent need for such a law and it will be a waste of time to discuss a bill that totally contradicts the Constitution," he said.
The bill had been in preparation by the House of Representatives since 2001, but the government decided to postpone the debate as the People's Consultative Assembly did not finish the constitutional amendments.
Although the making of legislation rests with the House, the Constitution requires that deliberation on a bill involve the government.
After four amendments, the Constitution reduces the authority of the president in some areas, but at the same time strengthens the legitimacy of the head of state through the introduction of a direct presidential election.
The amendments were completed in 2002, making the bill's articles on presidential impeachment, presidential prerogative to grant amnesty and other regulations related to presidential powers irrelevant.
"We have gone through the draft over and over again, and we decided that the draft does not merit further deliberation," Yusril said.
The minister said the President had asked him, Cabinet Secretary Bambang Kesowo and State Minister for Administrative Reforms Feisal Tamin to inform the House of the refusal to deliberate the House-sponsored bill.
"We hope the House will agree to revise the draft bill," Yusril said.
Jakarta Post - February 10, 2004
Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, Jakarta -- The Attorney General's Office (AGO) has gathered a new medical team to examine former president Soeharto's health to determine whether or not it could resume investigations into his alleged corruption.
"The Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital [RSCM] formed the team last week and we will discuss when to carry out the examination as soon as possible," AGO spokesman Kiemas Yahya Rahman told The Jakarta Post on Monday.
"We have sent [on Monday] a letter informing [Soeharto's] family and his lawyers about the planned medical exam for the former president," said Kiemas.
He would not reveal the number of team members or their names. "We cannot disclose the names of the doctors, but the examination will be carried out as soon as possible," Kiemas said.
Calls for reopening Soeharto's corruption case resurfaced after he had a private meeting with former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad over the weekend.
The 30-minute meeting, took place at Soeharto's residence in Menteng, Central Jakarta, and again triggered suggestions that Soeharto was physically healthy and able to undergo a legal investigation.
One of Soeharto's aides, who refused to identify himself, claimed that although the former president had difficulties in speaking, he could understand questions from Mahathir.
Soeharto, who was forced to resign on May 20, 1998 after leading the country for more than three decades, has been accused of enriching himself, family and cronies by embezzling more than US$600 million worth of state funds laundered through dozens of his tax-free foundations.
A team of medical doctors from RSCM -- the same hospital that will carry this next exam -- declared in August 2002 that Soeharto was suffering from permanent brain damage due to several minor strokes.
Because of the brain damage, Soeharto was said to have a total or partial loss of ability to use and understand words. However, the former strongman was seen standing on his own with a big smile, apparently the picture of health for man his age, on Saturday while visiting with his old friend Mahathir.
Additionally, last year, Soeharto also visited his youngest son Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra twice at Nusakambangan prison island off Java, where Tommy is serving a 15-year sentence for ordering the murder of a Supreme Court judge.
Soeharto's eldest daughter Siti "Tutut" Hardijanti Rukmana, meanwhile, said on Friday that it was up to the government and the AGO to decide whether or not her father would undergo a new round of investigations.
She, however, stressed that her father had been examined by the best medical minds this country had to offer. "He has been examined by many doctors in the country, and some of them are professors. Does their expertise not mean anything?" Tutut, a presidential candidate herself, wondered rhetorically.
She insisted that the results of the examinations were clear and he could not stand trial because of his speaking ability. "But, the family will leave this matter to the Attorney General's Office and the government," she said.
Soeharto's Legal Journey
Jakarta Post - February 9, 2004
Eva C. Komandjaja, Jakarta -- Despite the Child Protection Law, the problems of displaced children and child abuse have not been resolved by the government, which sparked criticism from the Committee on the Rights of Children (CRC).
According to data at the National Disaster Management and Refugees Coordination Board (Bakornas PBP), 40 percent of internally displaced persons were children and until March 2001, 1,081,000 refugees were spread across 20 provinces. The figure is expected to have risen following the increase in refugees from war-torn Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam.
As of July 2003, the Ministry of Social Affairs recorded more than 30,800 refugees in Aceh, 30 percent of whom were children.
The child refugees are facing emotional, psychological and educational problems from the prolonged conflict. Some children have continued school in makeshift tents, mosques or other temporary buildings, while others have had their education cut short because of the lack of schools, teachers and other factors.
The government has also yet to completely address the great number of East Timorese children separated from their parents following East Timor's secession from Indonesia in 1999.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, East Timorese children separated from their parents or families numbered 4,527 by July 2003. Of these, 2,284 have been repatriated and reunited with their families, while 1,500 are still in Indonesia.
Some of the East Timorese children in West Timor, South Sulawesi, West Nusa Tenggara and Central Java have been returned to their families. Others, however, have reportedly rejected going back to East Timor and have decided to stay with their Indonesian foster parents to continue their studies.
Many refugee children are unable to go to school, as their parents have no source of income at the refugee camps.
Besides the issue of displaced children, child abuse is rife and the government has yet to take any necessary measures to reduce the number of cases across the country.
Media reports in 2003 provide a figure of 2,184 child abuse cases, in which most victims were female. Most cases have been settled at court, but no measures have been taken to prevent future cases.
The CRC regretted that Indonesia did not heed its 1994 recommendations for addressing the two children's issues, and presented an evaluation during a January meeting with Indonesia's delegation in Geneva. During the meeting, the CRC urged the government to end violence and conflicts affecting children, while stressing that children could not be recruited and trained for combat.
The committee also called on the government to provide equal educational opportunity to children, regardless their status or background.
Mohamad Farid of the Child Rights Convention Watch Coalition said around 90 percent of rape or sexual abuse victims covered on TV were children.
"There are children working as prostitutes, and the worst thing is that they are supposed to be the victims. People who use them as sexual objects should be prosecuted instead of the child prostitutes," said Farid.
The CRC also expressed concern over the existing law, that it did not provide effective protection for children against sex abuse. The law sets 12 years as the minimum age limit for consensual sex, which is too young.
The Indonesian government, said the CRC, must draw up a legislation that protects child victims of sexual exploitation, trafficking, pornography and prostitution, while also raising the age limit for consensual sex.
|Reconciliation & justice|
Detik.com - February 9, 2004
Astrid Felicia Lim, Jakarta -- Non-government organisation (NGO) activists from the Committee for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), the Institute for Public Research and Advocacy (Elsam), the Indonesian Legal Aid Association (PBHI) and the Association of Families of Missing Persons (Ikatan Keluarga Orang Hilang, Ikohi) are again urging the government, the People's Representative Assembly (DPR) and the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) to uncover the [truth behind the] crimes against humanity which occurred in Talangsari, Lampung(1), in February 1989.
At a press conference which was held at the Kontras offices on Jalan Cisadane on Monday February 9, the alliance of NGOs also urged President Megawati Sukarnoputri to "de-activate" AM Hendropriyono(2) as the head of the State Intelligence Agency in order that the legal processing of the case can go ahead.
Kontras coordinator Usman Hamid said that the victims of the Talangsari incident have repeatedly urged the government, the DPR and Komnas HAM to investigate the Talangsari affair however to date there has no meaningful response.
"As the case has developed, there have been continuous and systematic efforts to weaken [the process of] advocacy through a the process of islah(3) and intimidation and terror against the victims and their collogues who want the process of law to go ahead", he said.
He explained that the efforts to weaken the case were most recently experienced by Kontras and the victims when they held a consolidation in Lampung on February 6 and 7.
Hendardi, the chairperson of PBHI, added that while he understands the process reconciliation though islah which has been carried out, islah cannot be allowed to prevent the enforcement of the law. This is because islah is in the private domain, while the enforcement of the law is in the public domain.
"Islah is in the private domain while the enforcement of the law is in the public domain and must continue to be pushed for and because of this we will never stop demanding it. Whether it be the case of Talangsari, Tanjung Priok(4) or other [cases]", said Hendardi. (gtp)
1. On February 7, 1989, as many as 100 people were killed when troops surrounded a village in Lampung, South Sumatra, and opened fire and set fire to homes. The government claimed the villagers were members of a "deviant" Muslim sect and that troops were"defending themselves". Local people assert that the victims were unarmed farmers defending their land which was to be taken over by business person linked to the family of former President Suharto.
2. AM Hendropriyono was formally an officer in the notorious elite special forces Kopassus which were responsible for many of the human rights violations in East Timor and Aceh. He was also the chief of the Jakarta military command and later became the minister for transmigration and resettlement. Hendropriyono was in direct command of the troops which perpetrated the Lampung massacre.
3. Islah - An Islamic reconciliation settlement between the perpetrators and victims of a crime
4. On 12 September 1984, dozens of people were killed and injured when troops fired on Muslim demonstrators in the port district of Tanjung Priok, North Jakarta.
[Translated by James Balowski.]
|Focus on Jakarta|
Tempo - February 10-16, 2004
Juli Hantoro, Edy Can, Multazam -- A Jakarta court has ordered the Jakarta local government to postpone its plan to hike drinking water rates. A victory for the residents?
For the past seven months, Mistia has been denied access to drinking water from the Jakarta Drinking Water Company (PAM Jaya), although she has continued to pay her water bills. Mistia and other residents of the Pekojan area in Tambora, West Jakarta, have been forced to buy drinking water from street vendors at a far greater expense.
Last week Tempo met with Mistia, who said that she was relieved that the Jakarta Government had been ordered to improve the quality of their service to consumers. "I heard that we won," said Mistia.
Two weeks ago, the Central Jakarta District Court upheld a class action lawsuit filed by the Community of Jakarta Drinking Water Consumers (Komparta) on behalf of Jakarta's residents. Chaired by Justice Andriani Nurdin, the presiding judicial panel ordered Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso to postpone the intended hike in water rates until the quality of service to consumers has been improved.
This is the first case that Komparta has won a class action against the government. In a breakthrough case, consumers of natural gas won a lawsuit against state-owned oil and gas company Pertamina, objecting to hikes in the price of natural gas. Ironically, Pertamina has not executed the verdict and the prices of natural gas have continued to rise. Komparta may experience the same fate. So far, there have been no signs that Governor Sutiyoso intends to execute the court verdict. "I will study the verdict first," said Sutiyoso.
Komparta filed its lawsuit against Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso and the Jakarta Regional House of Representatives (DPRD), nine months ago. Together, Sutiyoso and the Jakarta DPRD had decided to periodically raise water rates every six months. The first stage of this plan involved a 40 percent hike, which took place in April 2003. The second stage of the plan involved a 30 percent price hike, which took place in January 2004.
In its lawsuit, Komparta asked the court to order the postponement of the next intended price hike, arguing that the previous price hikes had not resulted in any improvement in the quality of service to consumers. Komparta also asked that the 40 percent price hike brought into effect in April 2003 be revoked.
The judicial panel upheld Komparta's first request, ordering Governor Sutiyoso to postpone the decision to hike drinking water rates. Justice Andriani Nurdin said that the Jakarta Government should have first organized a socialization program to inform the public of the intended price hike. The court also ruled that the Jakarta Government was obligated to protect the public interest in having access to clean water.
However, the panel rejected Komparta's second request that the April 2003 price hike be revoked. The court ruled that the Jakarta Government had not done anything illegal in deciding to raise the price. According to the court, no loss had actually been incurred at the time that the lawsuit was filed.
Komparta's legal attorney, JJ Amstrong Sembiring, said that he was pleased with the court's verdict. But, Sembiring said that he was disappointed by the court's verdict on Komparta's second request to have the April 2003 price hike revoked. He said that he would file an appeal against this part of the verdict. "Over 2.3 million people in Jakarta who rely on clean water from the PAM water source, object to the price hike," said Sembiring.
The Jakarta Government also said that they would appeal the verdict. Jakarta Legal Bureau Chief, Deded Sukandar, said that there were no legal grounds for postponing the decision to raise drinking water rates. He also denied that the Jakarta Government had not socialized the plan, showing Tempo a handful of newspaper clippings.
In the meantime, Jakarta's residents continue to pay the raised drinking water rates. According to PAM Jaya President Director, Didit Haryadi, Governor Sutiyoso has not annulled the policy yet and so PAM Jaya is bound by the original agreement. "The policy already accounted for the public's purchasing power," said Haryadi.
It seems that Jakarta's residents will have to wait for a decision of permanent legal force before they can enjoy cheaper drinking water. This also depends on victory at the appellate court and on case review. "This is the difficulty in filing a suit against price hikes," said Daryatmo from the Indonesian Consumers Foundation (YLKI).
Jakarta Post - February 13, 2004
Abdul Khalik, Jakarta -- In the two weeks of full operation, the busway has seen an increase in passengers each day, but their total number is only a third of the 60,000 commuters that previously traveled between Blok M in South Jakarta and Kota in West Jakarta on the regular buses.
Data obtained from Blok M terminal and Kota shelter on Thursday showed that only an average of 9,500 and 6,000 passengers took the busway each day from the respective destination points. In addition, an average of 1,000 passengers took the busway from one of the 18 shelters the two terminals. Before the introduction of the busway, it is estimated that 60,000 passengers used the route every day.
They were previously served by the regular buses which are no longer allowed to traverse the Blok M to Kota route. Only certain buses whose routes overlap only part of the 12.9-kilometer busway route are still allowed to use the lane parallel to the busway lane. It is still uncertain whether the remaining passengers are using these regular buses as an alternative to the busway.
But several passengers in Blok M said that they used the busway if they wanted to go a long distance but preferred the regular buses if the distance was short.
"I work on Jl. Sudirman so it is better for me to take a minibus from Blok M such as a Kopaja because if I use the busway I have to walk half a kilometer from the shelter to my work place," said Santy, a bank employee.
Currently there are 56 buses in operation every day on the busway route. The management PT Jakarta Express Trans said that they would add another 40 buses by the end of this year, despite the low interest of passengers.
Another lack of foresight of the management was also seen in the high concentration of passengers that occurs between 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The management had earlier predicted a massive number of passengers between 5 a.m. to 7 a.m., while offering a special price of Rp 1,500 (18 US cents) for early riders. After 7 a.m., the passengers are charged Rp 2,500.
Meanwhile, a bus stalled at the Harmony shelter, forcing the driver to move the passengers to another bus. Luckily, the bus was repaired quickly before a long line of buses queued behind the stalled bus.
Jakarta Post - February 10, 2004
Urip Hudiono, Jakarta -- As if the contrast between high-rise buildings and riverbank slums were not enough to indicate the social gap among Jakartans, different kinds of movie theater across the capital provide more than just favorite flicks.
A crowd slowly began to gather around a cinema building that accommodates two movie theaters, in Senen, Central Jakarta, as the first show time was at 2 p.m.
No women were seen on Saturday in the queue, but here and there some approached, offering escort services. "Here to watch a movie, handsome? Why watch alone? Why not buy me a ticket too so we can watch together?" asked one of the women to a man who was among the first in line when the counter opened.
With a ticket price of Rp 5,000 (59 US cents) for the Mulia Agung upper-floor cinema and a cheaper ticket of Rp 3,000 for the lower-floor Grand cinema, people can watch uncensored, indecent films, as well as those from yesteryear. But not all of the movies screened were bad, as the cinemas have also shown the recent Indonesian pop-teen flick Eiffel ... I'm in Love, Zhang Yimou's critically acclaimed Hero, Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides and From The Queen to The Chief Executive, a movie about a human rights group seeking justice for prisoners during Britain's 1997 handover of Hong Kong to Beijing.
In the darkened auditorium, in various places, couples could be seen whispering and giggling, while others slouched in the worn- out, imitation leather seats, even putting their feet on the back of the seats in front of them.
The distinctive smell of kretek (clove) cigarettes, mixed with the reeking, stale air and smoke blurring the screen, plus the whirring of the exhaust fans, made it almost impossible to enjoy the movie.
And though the cinemas managed to attract an audience of 20 people to each screening that day, a ticket seller acknowledged that business was quite difficult nowadays, even on weekends. "The number of moviegoers is small if we don't have any new movies to screen," he said.
Apparently, it is more the cheap tickets than the movies themselves that attract the audience. "I came here to have some fun -- to watch some movies to pass a long Saturday night," said Wawan, from Bekasi, who was watching others playing arcade games in the cinema lobby as they waited for their movie to start.
"Why should I spend more than Rp 20,000 on one movie? I barely have enough to watch movies once a week at this cinema," he said, referring to the nearby cinema in Atrium Plaza, which sells tickets at Rp 22,500.
For some Jakartans, paying even more than that is no big deal, as can be seen from the large number of moviegoers at the flashy Studio XXI cinema at Plaza Indonesia Entertainment Xenter (EX), Central Jakarta, on a Saturday night, although the building is still under construction.
The Studio XXI, like the Senayan Premiere 21 and Pasaraya Grande MPX Boutique Theater, both in South Jakarta, is the newest cinema of its kind in town, providing premium services for moviegoers, at a premium price.
"I think paying Rp 60,000 per person is fair, considering the value-added, movie-watching experience we receive," said Ivan, a student living in Menteng, Central Jakarta, who was watching Mona Lisa Smile with his girlfriend.
By paying Rp 60,000 per ticket, the audience can enjoy suede- covered upholstered seats with wide armrests, equipped with cup holders, and state-of-the-art screening and digital stereo audio technologies, after sampling the delights of the cinema's luxurious lobby -- equipped with a cafe -- similar to that of a five-star hotel.
Meanwhile, for Rp 125,000, moviegoers may enjoy even more: fully reclining individual seats, with coffee tables at the sides to place drinks, including a fine selection of wine, plus premier movies as a bonus. These "boutique" cinemas have inevitably created a new market segment in city moviegoers.
"I prefer going to such cinemas because they are much less crowded than regular cinemas," said Rommy, a young professional from Kemang, South Jakarta, who was checking out the new cinema with his friends that night.
In comparing these "boutique" cinemas with the one in Senen, one could not possibly avoid noticing the stark contrast between the two -- for the city's cinemas now reflect the social gap that exists between its citizens.
Reuters - February 12, 2004
Kuala Lumpur -- Malaysian ports are turning a blind eye to the passage of illegally logged timber, fuelling a trade that is wrecking Indonesian forests, environmental campaign groups said on Thursday.
A report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and its Indonesian partner organisation Telapak gave evidence of Malaysian businessmen boasting of having government licences to export smuggled ramin, a threatened tree species.
"The Malaysian government and timber industry are in a state of denial with their smuggling of illegal timber," EIA President Allan Thornton said in a statement to accompany the report.
Malaysian ports were handling tens of thousands of cubic metres (yards) of ramin each year, most of it shipped to China and Taiwan to be made into products such as pool cues, mop handles and picture frames for export, it said.
The trade hit the habitats of rare orangutans, sumatran rhinos and sun bears, the EIA said on the margins of a United Nations meeting intended to help conserve species.
Indonesia has protected areas dotted over territories across the Malay archipelago, but struggles to protect them in the face of lax enforcement, a lack of funds and pressure from poor communities trying to make a living.
At a separate event in Kuala Lumpur, the Indonesian government was due to commit to creating 12 new protected forest areas totalling 1.0 million hectares (2.5 million acres) and including Sumatra's Tesso Nilo and Borneo island's Sebangau. Officials from 188 countries and other parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity began two weeks of talks on Monday intended to slow significantly the rate of global extinctions of animals and plants by 2010.
The event will see developing countries, home to the bulk of the world's species, negotiate with developed ones over how they can benefit from protecting their assets and providing access to them.
Jakarta Post - February 10, 2004
Suherdjoko, Semarang -- Work on the much-disputed Muria nuclear power plant (PLTN) in Jepara regency, Central Java, will start soon, a senior government official said in Semarang on Monday.
Arnold Y. Soetrisnanto, head of the Nuclear Energy Development Center of the National Nuclear Power Agency (Batan), said that the agency would commence a feasibility study into the project sometime this year.
"The power plant will consist of six generator units, each capable of generating 1,000 megawatts [MW]," he said.
He explained that as projected, the scheme would cost US$12 billion and, according to the schedule, would be completed in 2016.
Building construction on the project would take around six to seven years.
"We are cooperating with people affected by the construction of the nuclear power plant. We hope that they will agree with the project," he said.
According to a preliminary study, people living near the site of the project agreed with it, but those living further away were against the idea. "I don't know the details as we are only dealing with the technology field," he said.
The areas that have been surveyed in Jepara are Ujung Watu, Ujung Lemah Abang, Ujung Grenggongan and Balong.
In the meantime, the head of the Social and Cultural Studies Center of Diponegoro University, Semarang, Mujahirin Thohir, who obtained first-hand information from the public said: "We arranged a series of group discussions in which there were three categories of people: the first said they were familiar with the purposes and safety precautions for nuclear technology, the second was uncertain and the third, mostly from non-governmental organizations, rejected the idea."
The planned construction of the power plant was once strongly protested in 1997 to 1998 during the New Order regime, and was never heard of during the Abdurrahman Wahid government.
According to Arnold, the government would involve private parties in the funding of the project, including Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Company. The realization of Muria PLTN is hoped to increase electricity generation capacity.
|Health & education|
Jakarta Post - February 13, 2004
Sari P. Setiogi and Multa Fidrus, Jakarta/Tangerang -- After millions of chickens have been killed due to bird flu and other diseases over the past several months, poultry farmers are now anticipating greater losses caused by the decline in demand for Indonesian poultry products.
Demands for chicken meat have dropped significantly following reports that the bird flu now attacking Indonesia and many other countries in the region is the H5N1 variant, which can also kill humans.
"In Jakarta alone, demand for chicken meat has dropped by up to 40 percent," Eko Sandjojo, a director of poultry company PT Sierad Produce Tbk., Eko Sandjojo, told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday during a national seminar on the disease.
The price for newly born, or day-old chicks, has also dropped to Rp 500 (5.8 US cents) from Rp 1,500 prior to the outbreak of the disease. "So from every DOC, we lose Rp 1,000," he said.
With national sales averaging 80 million DOC per month, the industry is now losing some Rp 80 billion each month from DOC sales alone, according to Eko.
"Sierad, with an output of 10 million DOC per month, is losing some Rp 8 billion a month," he said.
Normally, the firm sells the DOCs to affiliated farmers and buys back the poultry after being raised by the farmers. Now, because of the very low price, rather than selling the DOC, the firm asks affiliated farmers to raise the chickens for a fee and takes them back later to be processed.
"If the price is still bad, we'll keep the meat in our cold storage," said Eko.
Separately, director of animal health at the Ministry of Agriculture Tri Satya Putri Naipospos H. said that today there were some 5.5 million broiler chickens on the market that remained unsold.
"Normally, a broiler chicken is ready for sale after reaching the age of five weeks. As demand is declining, farmers now have no choice but to keep their chickens around and feed them for a longer period," she said.
Eko said that small farmers would suffer the most from the current crisis, while giant companies would still survive for the next four or five months.
"Once they fail, it will be difficult for small farmers to revive their businesses. We are worried that once consumer demand is back to normal, only a few farmers will want to resume their business. This will result in a shortage of supply and we'll have to import more chicken," he said.
A chicken farmer from Blitar, East Java, Hidayaturrahman, confirmed that in order to cope with the decline in demand for chicken meat, farmers were forced to keep their broiler chickens longer than usual. In order to cut costs, farmers provide the poultry with low-quality feed to slow down their growth.
According to Hidayaturrahman, in order to produce a kilogram of broiler chicken, a farmer has an average of Rp 6,800 in costs, including the costs for DOC and feed.
"How can we survive with a broiler chicken now selling for Rp 3,000 per kilogram?" he said.
Separately, secretary general of the Ministry of Agriculture, Memed Gunawan, told the Post on Thursday that as long as chicken meat was well-cooked, the public do not need to worry about getting bird flu.
However, he admitted that public confidence in eating chicken was not easily restored given the deep psychological impact of reports on the bird flu.
"In order to help the poultry industry recover, the central government is now cooperating with regional governments in fighting the disease and in holding public campaigns that eating chicken meat is safe," he said.
Dozens of poultry breeders in Tangerang regency have requested that the regency administration supply them with vaccines to prevent bird flu from spreading to the currently healthy chickens.
"We need proper vaccines soon to fight against bird flu. The administration has not even given us proper instructions to prevent more loses in our business as of now," Heri Santoso, a poultry breeder in Legok district said on Tuesday. Heri said that 80 percent of chickens in the district had been killed by the scourge.
Separately, regent Ismet Iskandar called on poultry breeders not to panic while dismissing allegations that 80 percent of the chickens in the regency had been killed by bird flu.
"I know that a lot of poultry has been killed but it is not because of bird flu," he claimed, adding that the regency would distribute the "Legok Vaccine" brand to poultry breeders next week in a grand, public ceremony.
"During the ceremony to distribute the vaccine, we will also announce that Tangerang is safe from bird flu," he declared.
Jakarta Post - February 10, 2004
Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, Jakarta -- Confronted with increasing population growth figures, President Megawati Soekarnoputri appealed to religious leaders on Monday to take part in promoting the family planning program.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the National Family Planning Coordinating Agency (BKKBN) meeting, Megawati said that the movement needed to be revitalized.
"Religious leaders should explain to the people that a child is God's greatest gift and that we have the responsibility to ensure their wellbeing," Megawati said. She further expressed suspicion that the country's population may be higher than the statistics showed.
According to data issued by the Central Statistics Agency (BPS), the country's population now stood at 210 million, with population growth of 1.5 percent or around three million every year.
Fears of a population explosion have loomed large as the number of family planning participants dropped significantly after the down fall in 1998 of the New Order regime, when everyone was ordered to join the program.
BPS statistics showed that contraceptive use dropped by 20 percent last year compared to 1997, when 71.72 percent of married couples across the country used some sort of contraception.
Megawati added that having too many children would make it difficult for the parents to provide for their basic needs.
"It is not an easy job to build and improve the quality of our human resources with such large numbers," she said. She said that families with more than two children were a common sight in villages or slum areas of large cities.
She warned that those families would have a much harder time competing as they may not receive proper basic needs.
"This burden should be shared not just by the government but also by the people. So there should be greater cooperation to once again to promote the family planning program," Megawati said.
Melbourne Age - February 14, 2004
Matthew Moore, Jakarta -- A week ago every one of the 50 waterfront rooms in Lombok's swish Oberoi Hotel was empty. And with a host of new visa regulations for Indonesia-bound tourists taking effect from the start of this month, the hotel's manager, John Halpin, reckons the island's tourism future looks as bleak as it ever has.
Since the new visa policy was introduced a fortnight ago, tourists and tourism operators in Indonesia have been complaining that the changes forcing most travellers to get visas will further discourage visitors already spooked by relentless security warnings.
And no one, least of all the Government, seems able to explain why the new rules have been introduced at a time when so much money and effort have been expended trying to get tourists back after the Bali bombs.
In the 1990s there were big plans to transform Lombok into an international tourist island. The government built an airstrip long enough for international flights, which encouraged companies such as Holiday Inn and Sheraton to build beachfront properties.
Six direct flights a week from Singapore helped fill the local and international hotels before riots, and then the Bali bombings just across the Lombok Strait, cut the air services in half.
Now, the future of even these three remaining flights looks uncertain thanks to the web of new visa rules that the travel industry across Indonesia reckons will only help smother the flickering post-Bali revival they have been trying to sustain.
Lombok has a particular new problem: it has been excluded from the list of seven Indonesian cities where foreign tourists from 21 countries can land and get a visa issued on the spot. Only citizens of 11, mainly Asian countries, including Vietnam, Brunei, Hong Kong and Peru, can now get free visas to enter Indonesia.
Citizens from 21 other countries, including Australia, the US, Britain and big European nations, will be able to get their visas on arrival, provided they have $US25 and they land in places such as Bali or Jakarta.
But for reasons that are mystifying, citizens of nine European countries are ineligible for visas on arrival and must apply at an Indonesian embassy two weeks before travelling and pay twice the fee levied at Indonesian airports. And all new visas, free or not, have been cut to 30 days, with no extensions allowed, effectively torpedoing what is left of the backpacker market.
The minister responsible, Yusril Izha Mahendra, argued that the new rules were based on "reciprocity" -- if countries such as Australia make Indonesians pay for visas, why shouldn't Indonesia charge Australians? It's hard to argue with that proposition, but in places such as Lombok, with hotels closing and staff being sacked, getting square rings hollow.
InterPress News Service - February 7, 2004
Bob Burton, Canberra -- One month after an unarmed protester against the construction of a Australian-owned mine in Indonesia was shot and killed, the Australian government is refusing to warn companies against paying Indonesian security forces for protection.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) acknowledges that the practice of companies paying the military, known by its Indonesian acronym TNI, and the police, known as Polri, occurs.
"The Embassy is aware from media reports that some mining companies made payments to TNI and Polri in relation to the provision of security at their mine sites," a departmental spokeswoman said.
However, the department defends the practice as appropriate. "The government understands payments to TNI and Polri for expenses and incidentals is consistent with Indonesian law," the spokeswoman said.
On January 7, hundreds of protesters from the Kao and Malifut communities reached the proposed Togurici minesite in eastern Halmahera island that is being developed by the Melbourne-based company Newcrest.
After being ordered to sit on the ground, one of the Newcrest- funded officers with Indonesia's Mobile Brigade riot police (Brimob) first fired three shots into the ground and then, from a range of several metres, shot 30-year-old community activist, Rusli Tungkapi.
Another six were arrested, three of whom -- Reynold Simanjuntak, Asrul Hisuaibun and Fahri Yamin -- remain in detention. According to Indonesian community groups, the six along with the body of Rusli, were transported by Newcrest's helicopter to the North Maluku police office in Ternate.
The general manager of corporate affairs for Newcrest, Peter Reeve, admits the company helicopter carried Rusli's body to Ternate but claims the other passengers were his family members. Asked whether those arrested were also transported on the company helicopter, Reeve said: "I'm not sure about the other claim."
However, Reeve confirmed that the company pays something in the order of over 35,000 US dollars a year to a 65-man strong contingent of the Mobile Brigade. "We pay upkeep and an expenses-type service fee," he said.
In a 2002 report, the International Crisis Group (ICG) warned about "predatory" behaviour of the Indonesian security forces and warned resource companies should "as far as possible, keep the Indonesian military and police away from projects".
Last year Freeport-McMoRan, which operates the huge Freeport gold-and-copper mine in West Papua and is partly owned by the mining giant Rio Tinto, disclosed that it paid 10.3 million US dollars in 2001 and 2002 to the military.
Campaign coordinator with the Mineral Policy Institute Igor O'Neill argues that payments to Brimob gives them an incentive to repress legitimate community opposition to mining projects. "Mining companies shouldn't be paying the security forces. They shouldn't be paying them because they have unacceptable practices and a poor track record. It's no substitute for proper community relations," he said.
Damien Kingsbury, senior lecturer in international development studies at Deakin University and a specialist in the relationships between the Indonesian military and business, believes payments from resource companies to the Indonesian security are commonplace.
"It is a widespread practice in the resources sector that dates back to the Suharto years," he said. Reeve agreed: "Yes, it happens at other mine sites".
"I think you would find they wouldn't need security forces if they had a good relationship with the local community and had their consent for what they are doing," Kingsbury said.
While the Indonesian Commission on Human Rights (KOMNAS HAM) has announced an inquiry into the killing, the DFAT, which lobbied Indonesian government ministers on behalf of Newcrest for the removal of the protesters, remains aloof.
"The Embassy has sought information on the circumstances surrounding the death from management at the Newcrest mine site and from Indonesian police," a spokeswoman said.
It also does not accept that its lobbying could have been interpreted as a green light for crackdown.
"Embassy officials emphasised during their representations that any assistance provided by Indonesian authorities be done so in a peaceful manner, fully consistent with Indonesian law," a departmental spokeswoman said Kingsbury argues the government's defence is nonsense.
"Making polite representations around legal niceties in a place like Indonesia is a joke. It is almost Javanese in the sense that actors are on a stage and are seen to be performing particular actions but are all smiling and winking and nodding at each other when they know it is an act for public consumption, it is not a reflection of reality," he said.
In November 1999, Australian embassy officials in Jakarta worked with the Perth-based company, Aurora Gold, to ensure what they termed "illegal miners" were ejected from the Mt Muro mine in Kalimantan. In three subsequent incidents in June 2001, August 2001 and January 2002, Brimob shot and killed two people and injured another five.
In late 2003 Foreign Minister Alexander Downer dismissed a request from Australian Greens Sen Bob Brown to publicly disclose a briefing paper from Aurora to the then Australian ambassador in Jakarta, Richard Smith, on the incident in which a man was killed by Brimob.
"The briefing was provided on a 'commercial-in-confidence' basis and it would not be appropriate to disclose it", Downer wrote.
Other companies too are under pressure to disclose their policies. A spokesperson for BHP-Billiton, which has an interest in a number of mines in Indonesia, said the company abided by the law in host countries and had an internal code of conduct. However, they could neither confirm nor deny whether the company made payments to Indonesian security forces.
Rio Tinto did not respond to a request for an interview.
Agence France Presse - February 13, 2004
Jakarta -- Former Republican Senate majority leader Bob Dole wants to help Indonesia in Washington but has not been hired as a lobbyist, the foreign ministry said Friday.
"It is not correct that Bob Dole has been appointed as an Indonesian lobbyist," spokesman Marty Natalegawa told a press conference. "There is no type of blanket contract."
The Far Eastern Economic Review magazine in its February 5 edition said the government has hired Dole as a lobbyist to represent its interests in Washington, the first time Jakarta has taken on a prominent US politician in such a role.
"In general there is an expression of readiness from the gentleman to help Indonesia on a case-by-case basis," Natalegawa said, without commenting on any financial arrangements. "The fact is this is not something out of the ordinary," he said.
For the moment there is nothing that immediately requires Dole's involvement but "later, suppose there are things that need the gentleman's help, certainly we will ask for assistance."
Congressmen recently voted against the restoration of a military training programme in the United States for Indonesian officers.
The US administration has been seeking closer defence ties with Indonesia as part of what it calls its global war on terror.
But it says it cannot resume most of the military links, which were suspended in 1999 over the bloodshed in East Timor, without a full accounting for military abuses and a proper inquiry into the killing of two Americans in Papua province in August 2002.
Dole, who is now special counsel to a major Washington law firm, ran unsuccessfully against Bill Clinton in the 1996 presidential election.
Wall Street Journal - February 11, 2004
Just possibly, a former general in Indonesia's military could become the next president of the country. But if former armed- forces chief Wiranto is elected leader of this key country in the war on terrorism, and decides to pay a visit to Washington -- which would not only be likely, but inevitable -- it could create a diplomatic embarrassment for the US.
That's because Mr. Wiranto, who is seeking the nomination of the Golkar party to contest presidential elections in July, is on America's visa watch list. This is already not a good way to make an ally, but adding further risk to the US relationship with the world's largest Muslim nation is the manner in which Mr. Wiranto's status was revealed.
Mr. Wiranto was last year indicted by a special UN tribunal for crimes against humanity in East Timor, a follow-on to the UN's involvement in East Timor's messy secession from Indonesia. The US duly put him and several other current and former Indonesian military officers on the US watch list, which means that visa applications must be reviewed, about six months ago.
But the State Department didn't bother to reveal this news until it was leaked to the Washington Post last month. That was one day after the retired general had held a press conference in Jakarta to discuss his candidacy for the presidency. Subsequent to the leak, UN prosecutors in East Timor, still dabbling in the now independent state's affairs, began seeking an arrest warrant against Mr. Wiranto.
The timing of all these events has prompted speculation about motives, not least because they occurred just as Mr. Wiranto was gaining traction as a serious contender for the Golkar nomination. US diplomats in Jakarta have openly criticized Mr. Wiranto in the past, but American sources in the region tell us the US had no role in the leak. Still, Golkar, the party of former strongman Suharto, will be tempted to accuse the US of interfering in Indonesia's domestic politics.
To be sure, the long struggle in East Timor, a former Portuguese colony invaded by Indonesia in 1975, casts no credit on Indonesia. Some 1,000 people were killed by pro-Indonesian militias at the time of the independence referendum arranged by the UN in 1999. But one could ask why the UN is still belaboring this issue at a time when Jakarta and Dili are trying to build a new relationship. While Mr. Wiranto once worked for a Suharto who was by no stretch of the imagination a great democrat, it is a bit of a stretch to believe that the general was solely responsible for the violence in East Timor, where a civil war had been raging over two decades.
East Timor President Xanana Gusmao and his foreign minister, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jose Ramos Horta, in fact oppose seeking retribution for the violence, believing this would be counterproductive when better relations with Jakarta is what Dili needs today. Indeed, Messrs. Wiranto and Gusmao have met twice to discuss reconciliation. The Sydney Morning Herald says Mr. Wiranto has even agreed to give testimony by video hook-up to a hearing on the violence, if judges in Dili are amenable.
Indonesia is on the front lines of the war on terrorism. Along with the US, it has suffered massive al Qaeda-linked suicide attacks. The US can't afford to alienate any possible leader of this moderate Muslim nation, giving cause to extremists to incite animosity toward America. Most especially, it can't afford to follow the lead of UN officials trying to refight a war that has now mercifully ended. If Mr. Gusmao and Mr. Wiranto have lingering differences, they would seem to be perfectly capable of settling them independently of international interference.
Xinhua News - February 12, 2004
Jakarta -- The Indonesian military (TNI) is keen to improve ties with the US military without being disturbed by political issues, the top military commander said here Thursday.
"We want to improve ties [with US], but the road toward the direction should be free from political issues," TNI Chief General Endriartono Sutarto said after a meeting with visiting commander of the US Pacific Command Admiral Thomas Boulton Fargo.
During the meeting, Fargo expressed his government's willingness to resume military ties with Indonesia, the general said.
Sutarto added he and Fargo also had talk on the investigation over the killing of two Americans in Timika, Papua Province, in August 2002.
"When the investigation result tells that TNI personnel involved in the attack, we will continue with the legal proceedings. If there is no evidence, I will simply say no," Sutarto said when asked that US alleges TNI's involvement in the Timika ambush.
Indonesia-US military ties deteriorated in 1999, following an accusation of TNI's supports for pro-Jakarta militias who went rampage and killed hundreds of civilians during and after the UN- sponsored referendum in East Timor.
The US government has since embargoed lethal weapon supplies to Indonesia.
Jakarta Post - February 12, 2004
Jakarta -- Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto held talks with visiting United States Pacific Commander Adm. Thomas B. Fargo at the TNI Headquarters in Cilangkap, East Jakarta, on Wednesday.
The talks were aimed at improving military cooperation between the two countries, which have not yet returned to normal following the US arms embargo in the last few years.
Fargo was accompanied by US Ambassador to Indonesia Ralph L. Boyce. Endriartono was flanked by chief of the TNI Intelligence Agency Lt. Gen. M. Lutfhie W, TNI chief assistants Maj. Gen. Albert Inkiriwang and Maj. Gen Dadi Susanto, and TNI spokesman Maj. Gen Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin.
The Guardian (London) - February 11, 2004
Richard Norton-Taylor -- Human rights campaigners have accused the government of relaxing demands on Indonesia over the use of British military equipment in the country.
After growing protests over the use of British equipment against civil rights protesters and separatists, the Foreign Office had asked Indonesia to give notice before using armoured personnel carriers, tanks and Hawk aircraft.
In 2002, the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, told a Commons committee on strategic exports that Indonesia had warned the government that British-built armoured personnel carriers would be deployed in Aceh, which is seeking independence. It was told they would be used only for "casualty evacuation and logistical support".
However, the Guardian has learned that, last year, the Foreign Office removed the demand for such advance notice.
A Foreign Office spokesman said yesterday that the requirement was dropped because Indonesia had given a fresh assurance that no British equipment would ever be used to infringe human rights or in "offensive" operations.
Since Indonesia gave its 2002 assurance, more British equipment has been deployed to Aceh, including Hawk jets and Scorpion tanks.
Paul Barber, a spokesman for Tapol, the Indonesian human rights campaign, said: "British equipment is being used in a war in Aceh in which hundreds of civilians have been killed. The government must be called to account for its complicity in yet more brutality by the infamous Indonesian army."
|Opinion & analysis|
Jakarta Post Editorial - February 13, 2004
The Supreme Court's ruling yesterday to acquit Akbar Tandjung of all charges of corruption, thereby overturning two earlier lower court verdicts sentencing the House of Representatives speaker to three years in prison, is certain to have serious consequences for this country for a long time to come.
In formulating its decision, the Supreme Court said that in the 1999 corruption case, the defendant could not be held responsible for the action of others involved in the embezzlement of Rp 40 billion in public money, as he was only carrying out the instructions of his superior at the time, president B.J. Habibie.
Considering a statement made last month by Supreme Court Chief Justice Bagir Manan to the effect that it was the court's duty "only to examine whether the lower courts had applied the law correctly," yesterday's outcome should not have come entirely as a surprise. From the start, the trial of Akbar in this high- profile corruption case involving the misuse of public funds to the tune of Rp 40 billion, has been one of the quirkiest in Indonesia's judicial history, involving top-ranking public officials.
To briefly summarize the case: It all began when president B.J. Habibie, in a meeting on February 10, 1999, ordered Bulog (the State Logistics Agency) to disburse Rp 40 billion from its nonbudgetary funds, supposedly to relieve the suffering of the poor under a "social safety net" program. Reportedly attending the meeting were Akbar Tandjung in his then capacity as minister/state secretary, Bulog head Rahardi Ramlan and coordinating minister for people's welfare Haryono Suyono. It was agreed to entrust Akbar to oversee the disbursement of the money and to hand it over to three ministers in president Habibie's cabinet, namely coordinating minister for people's welfare Haryono Suyono, cooperatives minister Adi Sasono and minister of social welfare Joestika Baharsjah.
The first installment, totaling Rp 20 billion, divided equally between two checks and signed by Bulog deputy financial chief Ahmad Ruskandar, was issued on March 2, 1999, and was reportedly given by Ruskandar to Akbar, who in turn handed the checks to Fadel Muhammad and M.S. Hidayat, Golkar Party treasurer and deputy treasurer respectively. On April 20, at Akbar's request, Ruskandar issued eight more checks for a total of Rp 20 billion, which the latter reportedly handed to Golkar functionaries Fadel Muhammad, M.S. Hidayat, Enggartiasto Lukito, Setya Novanto and Golkar chairman Mahadi Sinambela. How Golkar functionaries came to be involved in the scheme was never satisfactorily explained.
The case might never have come to light but for the dramatic ouster of president Soeharto, and the regime change that occurred on October 20, 1999, when Habibie, the new president in transition replacing Soeharto, was outvoted in presidential elections in the People's Consultative Assembly and Abdurrahman Wahid was elected the nation's new president.
To cut a long story short, in subsequent court hearings Akbar at first denied ever having touched the checks, but later acknowledged having accepted them and having handed the checks to Raudatul Jannah, a private foundation led by Dadang Ruskandar. In court, Akbar claimed the foundation had been recommended by Haryono Suyono -- a claim which the latter denied.
Although Rp 32.5 billion of the money was eventually returned to the state by Winfried Simatupang, a businessman implicated in the case together with Akbar and Raudatul Jannah chairman Ruskandar, the Central Jakarta District Court, in its verdict on September 4, 2002, found the House of Representatives speaker guilty of corruption as charged and sentenced him to three years' imprisonment, to be served pending a final decision from the highest court of appeal.
At this point, a number of matters are worth noting. First, technical considerations aside, plain common sense would dictate that Akbar, being the person entrusted with the disbursement of the money, should bear the responsibility for its proper allocation -- that is, for the purpose of poverty alleviation, in accordance with the presidential instruction. In other words, yesterday's Supreme Court decision runs against the public's sense of justice, all the more so because the Supreme Court upheld the previous lower court rulings on two of Akbar's codefendants in the case, Winfried Simatupang and Dadang Sukandar, albeit with reduced terms. Considering that the Supreme Court ruling runs against two earlier court decisions, yesterday's verdict brings into question the quality of the entire judicial system in the eyes of the public and could seriously impair public trust in the judiciary as a whole -- not to mention the wider political implications. Many Indonesians also see it as a serious setback in the fight against corruption, especially that within the country's notoriously corrupt judiciary.
In any case, and for whatever it is worth, the country's highest legal authority has spoken: The case is closed. The logical consequence for Indonesians to ponder now is to prepare themselves for the social, political and possible economic repercussions that observers feel the ruling is certain to bring.