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Indonesian minister's hopes of treasure find buried

Sydney Morning Herald - August 23 2002

Mysticism and money have always had a role in Indonesian politics. But when the country's Religious Affairs Minister Said Agiel Al Munawar took the advice of a mystic to hunt for buried treasure that would pay off the national debt, he was clearly going too far.

Mr Munawar created an uproar this week when he personally supervised an archeological hunt for treasure that was supposedly located beneath a monument to a 16th-century Hindu king on the outskirts of Bogor near Jakarta.

The treasure would pay off debilitatingly high $US68 billion in state debt, or half the country's annual economic output, he claimed to have been told by a mystic. He claimed to have the blessing of Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri to search for the treasure.

But Ms Megawati has denied she had agreed to the plan and disciplined her minister for ordering the hunt, which produced nothing.

Mr Munawar consequently apologised for the incident and claimed "she [Megawati] was not paying attention" when he told her of his plans after a cabinet meeting.

The incident greatly upset Sultan Kasepuhan Maulana Pakuningrat whose ancestor's monument was damaged by the digging. "We were not consulted," the outraged sultan claimed.

Although most Indonesians are Muslim, most practise a moderate form of the faith and are open to traditional mysticism.

In times of crisis, such as Ms Megawati's rise to the leadership last year, the president is known to visit the graveside of her father, the country's founding president Sukarno.

But The Jakarta Post condemned the minister and lauded Ms Megawati for "signalling to the nation that blind superstition has no place in the running of her government".

"As a cabinet minister – and a good Muslim at that – he is supposed to lead Indonesians out of their age-old traditional of myth and superstition and into the sane world of modernity and rationality," yesterday's editorial said.

"After all is said and done, though, all this could merely be the latest and most blatant expression of the prevailing Indonesian get-rich-quickly mentality.

"Fortunately, there is one other lesson that can be drawn from this incident – there is no such thing as a free lunch."