Mon, 12 Jun 2000

Gus Dur cannot be blamed for Bulog scandal: Economist

JAKARTA (JP): While there is no clear regulation on the mechanism involved in the disbursement of funds from the state budget, it would be impossible to prosecute President Abdurrahman Wahid in connection with the Rp 35 billion (US$4.1 million) scandal at the State Logistics Agency (Bulog), an economist said on Sunday.

"President Abdurrahman cannot be blamed for what he did and he can walk free," Arief R. Karseno, executive director of Yogyakarta's Institute of Public Policy and Economic Study (Inspect), told The Jakarta Post after a media briefing on central bank issues at Santika Hotel in Yogyakarta.

"And in this case, the victims are lower ranked officials who took orders from Gus Dur," he said, referring to Abdurrahman by his nickname.

He said the information revealed by the scandal was not true, as the police investigation had deviated from the real issue.

"The problem is in the system. The Bulog scandal merely shows that throughout these years Bulog has been 'a piggy bank' ready to be cashed in at anytime the government needed money," Karseno said.

He said such practices had been going on well before the recent Rp 35 billion scandal made headlines.

"Right now what we need is a strict regulation on budget disbursement. This is important to avoid possible fraud," Karseno, an economist at Gadjah Mada University, added.

Sacked deputy Bulog chairman Sapuan told a hearing with the House of Representatives Commission III for agriculture and plantations on June 2 that he agreed to disburse the Rp 35 billion from Bulog's employees foundation Yanatera after he was directly asked by President Abdurrahman during a meeting on Jan. 7.

A. Tony Prasetiantono, also an economist at Gadjah Mada University, separately said the Bulog scandal had discouraged business investment in the country.

"Business communities are taking a wait-and-see stance since there is lack of legal certainty here. Their trust is diminishing.

"Many of them also wonder how much longer Gus Dur's administration will survive, especially in facing the upcoming General Session of the People's Consultative Assembly," Tony said while addressing a seminar on the economy at the private Slamet Riyadi University in Surakarta, Central Java, on Saturday.

Tony cited as an example the sharp drop in the JSX Composite Index from 720 points to 480 points and the plunging of the rupiah's exchange rate, which went as low as Rp 8,700 per U.S. dollar in the past few weeks.

"Politically, Gus Dur is considered a legitimate leader as he has lots of supporters, but his lack of capability in handling economic matters adds to this the country's pile of problems," he said.

In a related development, Bulog's employees foundation Yanatera has filed a complaint with the police against former Bulog deputy chairman Sapuan for deceiving the foundation out of Rp 35 billion.

The foundation also announced on Saturday a plan to file a Rp 1 trillion lawsuit this week if Sapuan fails to return in full the Rp 35 billion plus 18 percent annual interest.

Sapuan is one of the two main suspects in the Bulog scam in which members of the President's inner circle have been implicated. The other is Suwondo, the President's masseur who reportedly received the Rp 35 billion from Sapuan.

While Sapuan is being detained, Suwondo is still at large.

Sapuan has told investigators that he turned to Yanatera for the money, believing that Suwondo was acting on the President's behalf when he asked Bulog for humanitarian aid for Aceh.

Yanatera lawyer Juniver Girsang told a media conference on Saturday that Sapuan had lied to the foundation's officials.

"He told my clients the fund would be used for humanitarian purposes in Aceh, and that the request had come directly from the President," he said, adding that he was acting on behalf of Yanatera deputy chairman Mulyono, secretary Djaborotan Nasution and finance director Asep Permana.

Mulyono is also a suspect in the case for approving the fund disbursement.

Juniver said he filed the complaint with the police on Friday, invoking Article 378 of the Criminal Code on deceiving other people. The offense carries a maximum four-year jail term.

Suwondo has already been charged by the police under the 1999 corruption law, which carries a maximum jail term of 20 years.

Juniver said Sapuan told the foundation executives that the President would sign a receipt for the entire Rp 35 billion.

"The receipt was signed by Suwondo instead," he said.

As it transpired, the Rp 35 billion fund was given out to several people who had nothing to do with Aceh humanitarian programs.

Police have so far retrieved Rp 15 billion of the money. Suwondo's wife returned Rp 10 billion in cash last week, while Siti Farika, a Semarang businesswoman and an acquaintance of the President, returned Rp 5 billion, also in cash.

Politician Suko Sudarso of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle handed over titles to a huge tract of land in Cianjur, which he said had been bought by Suwondo for Rp 15 billion. (06/swa/har/edt)