Thu, 10 Mar 2005

Military to up spending to modernize equipment

Rendi A. Witular, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The recent dispute between Indonesia and Malaysia over territory and resources has rung alarm bells for the Indonesian military (TNI) to immediately increase spending to modernize its tattered war machines.

TNI Commander Gen. Endriartono Sutarto said the TNI along with the Ministry of Defense would propose a significant increase in military spending this year during the upcoming state budget revision scheduled to start this month.

"An immediate increase in military spending is a must. The TNI needs support from all parties to improve its equipment and arms in order to address future external threats," Endriartono told journalists aboard a commercial flight on Tuesday.

Endriartono refused to disclose the exact amount of the increase being sought, however, he hinted that the budget increase should be able to cover costs for reviving and modernizing all of TNI's war machines, which were either not functioning or too old.

"Our target for the next two years is to make all of our equipment fully operational. That will be just enough to defend our country from external threat," said Endriartono, adding that most of the funds would be allocated to the Navy and Air Force.

Based on the state budget, military spending this year is set at Rp 21.9 trillion (US$2.4 billion), up slightly from Rp 21.4 trillion last year and Rp 11.53 trillion in 2003.

The TNI's military equipment has been steadily deteriorating as a result of the 13-year arms embargo by the United States, which was imposed due to gross human rights violations in East Timor.

Endriartono said that the TNI was unlikely to purchase new arms for another two years, but might start expanding its equipment purchases again in 2007 when the country's economy was stronger.

Indonesia, southeast Asia's largest economy, needs a strong military force not only to address threats at home, such as separatist movements, but also as a deterrent to neighboring countries.

"Fighting separatism is not a grave threat for us since they can be tackled with small arms. The most dangerous threat comes from other countries. We need to show them that we are strong that they can't mess around with us," said Endriartono.

"Having a strong military is also a matter of dignity and sovereignty. Malaysia dares to claim our territory and acts rudely to our migrant workers because they know that we are not that strong," he said.

Endriartono also said that Indonesia would soon be able to directly procure spare parts for its Hercules aircraft, worth some $50 million this month, after the United States agreed to ease restrictions on the purchase of such parts.

Meanwhile, regarding efficiency efforts within the TNI, Endriartono said he had undertaken discussions with related ministries over the possibility of revising existing regulations on procurement, which had only created high costs for the TNI.

Endriartono suggested that any procurement of military equipment should be carried out directly by the Ministry of Defense without having to seek the assistance of third parties or private partners.

"Procurement using third parties only makes the price of our equipment more expensive because we have to cover the interest on the costs and also for their service fees ... We can actually save up to 50 percent if we can procure directly," he claimed.

The regulations, where military equipment and arms have to be purchased through third parties, was issued by former President Soeharto with the sole aim of enriching his family and cronies.