Sat, 22 Feb 2003

Councillors plan to return bribe to avoid prosecution

Yuliansyah, The Jakarta Post, Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan

Fearing the legal consequences, some South Kalimantan legislative councillors say they are planning to return a "reward" given to them by the local government for approving the 2003 provincial budget.

The provincial administration allocated Rp 1.3 billion for the councillors to smooth the budget deliberations. Each member of the 54-strong council received Rp 10 million, but those joining the budget committee earned more.

The issue only surfaced after a number of aggrieved councillors complained about the unfair splitting of the money, and the fact it was less than they usually paid themselves.

One councillor, who agreed to be interviewed on condition of anonymity, said he would return the money due to fear that he would be accused of accepting bribes, which was classified as a crime.

"I'd better return the money, otherwise I will be jailed for life," the councillor said on Friday.

He said many of his colleagues had claimed they would follow suit.

The South Sulawesi prosecutors office was planning to investigate the case, but the councillor said all the council members would have returned the money before the investigation started.

Legal practitioners and non-governmental organizations have criticized the councillors, branding them advocates of institutionalized corruption.

Meanwhile the South Kalimantan chapter of the Indonesian Lawyers Association demanded prosecutors investigate, even if the money was returned.

Association chairman Sabri Noor Herman said receiving the money could be categorized as corruption as it inflicted losses to the state.

"Councillors could be charged with violating anti-corruption laws," Sabri said.

"Media reports should serve as a evidence of the corruption and collusion practices."

Corruption carries a maximum life sentence according to the 1999 anti-corruption law.

Meanwhile, council internal affairs coordinator Syamsuri said he was not affected by the prosecutors' plan to investigate the case.

He said the budget for the rewards had been approved by the council and the local government.

"Therefore if the case is investigated, it must target not only councillors or members of the council's internal affairs, but government officials who joined the budget committee," he said.