Thu, 08 May 2003

Aceh NGO reveals graft cases of a defiant Puteh

Tiarma Siboro, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

An Aceh based non-governmental organization revealed a long list of alleged fund abuses by Aceh Governor Abdullah Puteh and called for his ouster, as Jakarta is currently reviewing his performance.

Aceh People's Solidarity for Anticorruption (SAMAK) blamed Puteh for rampant corruption in his office that has worsened the suffering of the Acehnese in the war-torn province. But Puteh denied the charges on Wednesday, accusing the NGO of fabricating them.

Sapto Waluyo, who coordinates a coalition of 38 NGOs backing SAMAK's call, said money had poured into Aceh since it received a special autonomy status last year.

The province, he said, received a total of Rp 8.8 trillion in 2002 (about US$252 million). "But as of now, economic recovery in the province remains slow," he told a press conference.

He said that Aceh received Rp 1.11 trillion for humanitarian programs but said he could not see how it had helped ease the suffering of the Acehnese people.

J. Kamal Farza of SAMAK disclosed a two year investigation on the alleged corruption practices in Aceh, highlighting abuses by the governor.

Puteh's vehicles, he said, were worth Rp 1.8 billion or three times the price of vehicles allotted to ministers in Jakarta.

"We believe that several projects are dubious and full of mark-up practices," he said, citing one case where Aceh purchased a patrol ship for Rp 20.7 billion while the normal price should had been Rp 9 billion.

He added the governor once bought a helicopter for Rp 12 billion which the Navy had purchased for just Rp 3.5 billion in the same year.

Puteh has also come under fire for launching an airline service, which was inaugurated by President Megawati Soekarnoputri last year but folded less than five months after.

"And how about the mega project Seulawah Air Service? None of the Acehnese people have experienced any benefit, we don't know whether the project still exists," Farza said referring to the failed airline.

SAMAK also raised suspicion over the use of Rp 700 billion in education funds, saying it did not know where the money had gone to. The Aceh NGO said it could not register the slightest improvement in education despite the money.

Data from the national census in 2001 showed that 76,000 children failed to obtain a formal education at school. In the same year, some 6 percent or 267,000 of Aceh's 4.2 million people remain illiterate.

Legal efforts to curb these alleged practices had failed, according to SAMAK.

Last year at least 392 corruption cases involving high officials in the Aceh administration had not been brought to court. The figure was worse compared to the 374 cases in 2001, according to SAMAK.

The coalition, in which the Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW) is also a member, demanded the government to suspend Puteh.

They also called for a presidium which would temporarily replace Puteh, pending the election of a new governor through a direct gubernatorial election.

The government has promised to look into the allegation, saying it was reviewing Puteh's performance. There has been no date set to announce the review's outcome.

Facing a barrack of criticism, the embattled Puteh urged the people not to judge him.

He accused the NGOs of fabricating their charges, and said they probably did not even know how a budget worked.

"All the money comes from the regional budget, it has been earmarked for specific purposes. One cannot just take it and corrupt it," explained Puteh.