Thu, 06 Mar 2003

Allegations of extortion mar selection of judges

Kurniawan Hari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Reports of extortion circulated around the House of Representatives on Wednesday just hours before legislators conducting a fit and proper test on 63 candidates for Supreme Court justices endorsed 18 of the nominees.

One of the candidates, Wahyu Affandi, told the press some people who identified themselves as members of House Commission II for legal affairs who were selecting the judges had asked him for some money prior to his fit and prior test.

Wahyu, a lawyer, said he rejected the demand and found that he was not among the selected candidates.

"If you want to qualify, send me the money," Wahyu quoted one of the callers as saying.

Recently Judicial Watch reported that the test had served as a forum to extort candidates.

Many perceive that the Indonesian courts, ranging from the district courts to the Supreme Court, are prone to corruption. The National Law Commission (KHN), whose duty it is to consult with the President on legal matters, has demanded the immediate establishment of a judicial commission which will exercise control over judges from all levels of the judiciary. The commission said the new body was needed due to rampant corruption within the judiciary.

KHN blamed the endemic corruption in the judiciary on the absence of an external monitoring institution, while an internal controlling body was not effective and tended to protect judges alleged of committing graft under the spirit of the corps.

It said the public could not rely on the current internal monitoring of judges conducted by the Supreme Court to curb corruption in the judiciary, due to the fact that it had a backlog of 14,000 cases waiting for verdicts.

Wahyu said a man identifying himself as commission chairman Agustin Teras Narang had demanded Rp 25 million (US$2,840) and an air ticket from Jakarta to the Central Kalimantan capital of Palangkaraya. The caller asked Wahyu to transfer the money to a Bank BNI branch office in Jatinegara, East Jakarta.

A few days later, a man who identified himself as commission member Saiful Rahman called Wahyu to ask for some money he needed to buy a house in Cibubur, East Jakarta.

"The callers seemed to be the same person because the voice and the phone number were identical. I checked the phone number with the legislators and it turned out to be fictitious," Wahyu said.

The commission's deputy chairman Hamdan Zoelva also related a similar story. He said an unidentified person had made a phone call and asked him if he had checked his bank account.

According to the person, Hamdan said, he had transferred some money into Hamdan's bank account.

Hamdan emphasized that certain people had used the fit and proper test to discredit House legislators.

Teras flatly denied allegations that the legislators had taken advantage of the fit and proper test to extort money from candidates.

He challenged those making the accusations to bring forth evidence, otherwise he said, the allegations were slander.

Teras said that names of the 18 candidates would be brought to a plenary meeting for approval.

Of the 18 candidates, 10 will be tasked to deal with the courts, four will observe the religious courts, two will deal with the martial courts, and two others will deal with the Jakarta State Administrative Court.

Firmansyah Arifin, an activist with the Commission for National Law Reform (KRHN), said that the fit and proper test was no better than a similar process in 2000.

He said that the schedule was too tight and this meant the commission members did not have enough time to assess the candidates.

According to Firmansyah, legislators were not aware of the track record of the candidates.