Jakarta – The Attorney General's Office has moved quickly to investigate possible embezzlement and misuse of power in the lease and procurement of a defense communications satellite by the Defense Ministry dating back to 2016.
It all started on Jan. 19, 2015, when the Garuda-1 communication satellite went out of its orbit causing a void at the 123 East longitude orbital slot. Under the International Telecommunication Union's (ITU) rules, Indonesia had to fill the slot within three years or else it would be given to another country.
Due to its strategic position roughly in the middle of Indonesia's span above Sulawesi, the Defense Ministry filed a request with the Communications and Information Ministry to use that slot for its defense communication satellite (Satkomhan) program.
The Defense Ministry signed a contract with Avanti Communication Limited to lease its Artemis satellite to be positioned at the 123 East orbital slot on Dec. 6, 2015, albeit without securing any funding.
Despite the absence of funding, the Defense Ministry signed contracts with other companies, such as Airbus, Navayo, Detente, Hogan Lovel and Telesat in its efforts to develop the Satkomhan program.
The slot, however, was returned to the Communications and Information Ministry on June 25, 2018. In December that year private company PT Dini Nusa Kusuma (DNK) then acquired the rights to manage the empty slot.
Then-defense minister Ryamizard Ryacudu said that he was ordered by President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo to secure the orbital slot for the sake of the country's sovereignty. However, the Defense Ministry did not pay any of its obligations to Avanti, which was why the London International Court of Arbitration in 2019 ordered the Indonesian government to pay the company Rp 515 billion (US$35.9 million).
The case resurfaced last week when Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD announced another lawsuit filed by Navayo against Indonesia.
An arbitration court in Singapore awarded Navayo $20 million for its services, which the government has refused to pay. The government argued that Navayo did not meet the certificate of performance although it was signed by Defense Ministry officials in 2016-2017.
Mahfud said the government's response would be pending an audit by the Supreme Audit Agency. The AGO has so far questioned 16 officials from the Defense Ministry and executives from DNK.
The swift decision taken at that time was actually a visionary one. A modern defense capability often hinges on secured satellite communications as a force multiplier, a capability Indonesia lacks at the moment.
No to mention that militaries of developed countries have moved toward network-centric warfare, in which military satellites are a component.
The fiasco could have been avoided had the Defense Ministry proposed emergency funding to the House of Representatives to finance both the satellite lease and purchase with all other related systems.
While it is true that there was a degree of urgency and a spirit of national interest in securing the 123 East orbital slot, compliance with all prevailing regulations is a must in any procurement, especially if it involves such huge sums of money.