Wed, 21 May 2003

House seeks annulment of Sukhoi deal

Kurniawan Hari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Members of the House of Representatives (DPR) Commission I for defense and foreign affairs have demanded the annulment of a deal to purchase Russian-made Sukhoi jet fighters after the government failed to provide an adequate explanation for the transaction.

Commission members claimed that the procurement was not transparent and could disrupt the administration and the budget.

"This issue must be made public. We were not asked to discuss the plan to buy the Sukhoi jet fighters. I think this is contempt of the legislature," said Happy Bone Zulkarnaen of the Golkar faction.

Happy demanded that the memorandum of understanding on the deal be annulled since it was signed by Minister of Industry and Trade Rini Soewandi rather than Minister of Defense Matori Abdul Djalil.

"The contract should have been signed by the defense minister," Happy added.

Happy's statement came in response to Matori's explanation that neither he nor his ministry were involved in the planned purchase of the four Sukhoi jet fighters and two MI-35 helicopters.

In a statement that shocked legislators, Matori said that he was unaware of the purchase.

"Although the items were bought for defense affairs, the move (to buy military equipment) did not come from the Ministry of Defense. We had no idea about it," Matori said at a hearing presided over by commission chairman Ibrahim Ambong.

Matori said he was not in a position to reject the Sukhoi jet fighters.

The hearing was called to seek an explanation from the government regarding its deal with Russia to buy Sukhoi jet fighters and MI-35 helicopters. Most legislators questioned the procurement process, which they said did not follow normal procedures.

In a hearing with the same commission earlier, Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto refused to talk about the deal, saying that he was only the "end user".

Commission member Djoko Susilo of the Reform faction also regretted the procurement process, saying that the contract had to be canceled.

Legislators plan to summon Minister of Trade and Industry Rini MS Soewandi and State Logistics Agency (Bulog) chief Widjanarko Puspoyo for clarification.

Based on a contract between TNI, Bulog and Russia, the total cost of the four Sukhoi aircraft -- two SU-27 and two SU-30 jet fighters -- and two MI-35 helicopters is US$197 million.

That total includes financing for support equipment and training for six to eight pilots and mechanics.

Endriartono said Indonesia had paid a down payment of 13.5 percent of the total cost in cash, while the balance would be settled through a countertrade of 11 commodities, including palm oil and rubber.

The cash for the down payment was provided by state Bank Bukopin, while the remaining funds will be provided by Bulog.

Djoko and Zoelvan Lindan from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) faction recommended that the commission set up a special committee to launch a probe into the procurement deal.

Based on normal procedures, a proposal to buy military equipment is submitted to the military chief by either the chief of the Army, the Air Force or the Navy.

The military chief then hands the proposal over to the defense minister, who will later discuss it with the House, especially Commission I for defense affairs.

Legislators said on Tuesday that there had been no prior discussions to buy the Sukhoi jets and they had only learned of the deal when President Megawati signed a memorandum of understanding during her visit to Russia last month.