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The minister's shadowy games

Tempo - April 1, 2020

Jakarta – There is increasing evidence to support the suspicions voiced by a number of people that the selection of ministers in the current cabinet was not based on competence and caution. Details of the chaotic way a number of ministers have carried out their duties in the last six months are beginning to emerge.

One of these is Trade Minister Agus Suparmanto. The National Awakening Party (PKB) politician was alleged to have been involved in business collusion in two state enterprises and was reported to the National Police Criminal Investigation Division. In the middle of the investigation, the case was halted for reasons of insufficient evidence. Agus was never asked to provide a statement to police.

An investigation by this magazine uncovered traces of Agus' involvement in an improper transaction by Yudistira Bumi Bhakti when it won the project for mining and transportation of nickel ore in the concession area owned by Aneka Tambang (Antam) in Tanjung Buli, East Halmahera Regency from 2001 to 2014.

Yudistira Bumi Bhakti is a company owned by Cabinet Secretary Minister Pramono Anung and Yulius Isyudianto. In 2000, through his company Mitrasysta Nusantara, Agus become one of the financers and turned Yudistira Bumi Bhakti into a vehicle for winning the project tender from Antam. Although he was the financial backer, Agus' name is not included in the company's articles of incorporation.

In 2001, Yudistira Bumi Bhakti won the tender for the Tanjung Buli project for a contract period until 2004. When the contract ended, directors of Antam directly reappointed Yudistira Bumi Bhakti as project manager for the mining and transportation of nickel ore for five periods until 2014. As well as indications that the procedure for obtaining this project broke the rules, Yudistira Bumi Bhakti is believed to have obtained a special price, meaning it made unreasonably large profits.

These irregular business practices were uncovered by the Antam internal auditor in 2009. This audit revealed that the consumption of fuel in the contract was also far higher than the fuel used by Yudistira Bumi Bhakti in 2007 and 2008. Furthermore, a 2012 audit carried out by the Supreme Audit Agency concluded that Antam showed a lack of caution in establishing a working relationship with Yudistira Bumi Bhakti.

However, these findings by both internal and state auditing agencies were ignored by Antam's shareholders. Those alleged to be guilty of wrongdoing were not touched by the law, and continued in their jobs, while the cooperation continued until 2014.This improper collusion is not fair from the start. The state mining company should not has formed a business relationship with a shadowy company in a sector that should have been controlled by Antam themselves. It is easy to suspect that this business was engineered to legalize attempts to sell off state assets.

These alleged improper practices by Agus added to the polemic about the policies he has implemented. The most recent example was during the shortage of sugar that led to an increase in price of this basic commodity. There were signs that Argus did not sign the request for sugar imports as had been decided at a meeting with the coordinating minister for the economy.

The law enforcement authorities must act quickly to investigate this case. President Joko Widodo must not treat this problem lightly because at stake is the public trust in the government and the performance of the ministry of trade led by Agus. Jokowi must not be held hostage to repayment of political favors. People have long said that the appointment of Agus as trade minister in August 2019 was in return for the support of the PKB, of which he is a member. The PKB is one of the parties supporting Jokowi.

It is difficult to believe that Jokowi did not know the backgrounds of his prospective ministers. Like at the start of his first administration, he checked every detail of the resumes of possible ministers before appointing them. Therefore, the selection of Agus was probably based more on considerations of balancing the strengths of political parties supporting Jokowi. Although has been rumored, it is going too far to suspect that coalition parties "sold" ministerial seats to candidates able to provide economic rewards for the parties or certain party leaders.

Without the desire to improve his cabinet, the Jokowi administration will drag its feet over a number of challenges – including the Covid-19 pandemic and the accompanying economic impact. Without realization that he erred in selecting his cabinet, Jokowi will continue to stumble along in an administration that is losing credibility.

Read the Complete Story in this Week's Edition of Tempo English Magazine: https://magz.tempo.co/read/36532/the-ministers-shadowy-games

Source: https://en.tempo.co/read/1326596/the-ministers-shadowy-games