Fri, 05 Sep 2003

Anticlimactic ending in Sukhoi inquiry

Kurniawan Hari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The House of Representatives' inquiry into the highly publicized and controversial Russian jet fighter purchase reached an anticlimax on Thursday with just a call for penalties against those involved in the scandal.

The House investigating committee which was initially optimistic about successfully investigating the scandal, could not reveal the alleged irregularities in the US$192.6 million deal and even harvested criticism on the way it carried out the investigation.

Many sides, including the national press, questioned the authority of the House when the committee refused to allow several ministers and related officials to accompany Minister of Industry and Trade Rini M.S. Suwandi to give a clarification about the countertrade deal.

"We agree not to define penalties because it's not our responsibility," inquiry committee chairman Ibrahim Ambong said in the committee's final meeting to close its two-month investigation here on Thursday.

The committee also recommended that the government regulate countertrade procedures in order to avoid irregularities in such deals with foreign countries in the future.

The atmosphere in the meeting was said to be not as intense as it was in the past. Djoko Susilo, one of 20 committee members attending the closed door meeting left the meeting without giving any comments to the press.

The House had asserted there were irregularities in the deal because the Ministry of Defense was not involved in the arms purchase while a small part of the deal was paid in advance from the National Logistics Agency (Bulog) and state-owned Bukopin Bank, instead of the 2003 state budget.

Several legislators said the meeting became tense when legislators were at odds about what recommendations should be issued from the investigation.

Happy Bone Zulkarnaen of the Golkar Party faction said that some factions proposed questioning President Megawati Soekarnoputri to get a clear explanation about the deal but many other factions, including the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), opposed it.

Effendi Choirie, the committee deputy chairman, admitted that his National Awakening Party (PKB) faction was among those that suggested the House question the President.

"This is a political struggle. We can not force others to accept our proposal," Choirie added.

Asked about government officials who were allegedly involved in the scandal, Effendi said that they were Minister Rini M.S. Suwandi, Indonesian Military (TNI) Commander Gen. Endriartono Sutarto, and State Logistics Agency (Bulog) chief Widjanarko Puspoyo.

Ambong said that a 24-page report on the investigation would be brought soon to a meeting of the House defense commission for approval.

After a series of hearings with a number of high-powered government officials as well as businessmen, the inquiry committee concluded that the purchase of the four Sukhoi jet fighters and two MI-35 assault helicopters was not in line with the state budget and defense laws.

The deal was signed during President Megawati Soekarnoputri's visit to Russia in April. All four warplanes which were delivered last week and early this week are still being assembled at the Air Force Air Base in Madiun, East Java.