Mon, 14 Jul 2003

House subpoena right may lead to extortion

Moch. N. Kurniawan and Kurniawan Hari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Constitutional law expert Jimly Ashidiqqie warned that the right of the House of Representatives to subpoena members of the public could be misused by legislators to blackmail businesspeople.

He recalled that the subpoena right as stipulated in Law No. 4/1999 on the composition of legislative bodies was misused by regional councillors as an instrument of extortion.

"The use of force must only be imposed on government officials. If the House has the right to summon businessmen or ordinary people, they can become the object of extortion," Jimly told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

He suggested that the subpoena right be limited only to the investigation of certain issues involving state officials which was being conducted by the police or the Attorney General's Office.

Jimly was commenting on the recently endorsed bill on composition of legislative bodies.

Article 30 of the bill allows the House to summon state officials, executives of state institutions, and ordinary citizens for questioning.

The House is also allowed to order the police to detain an individual for a maximum duration of 15 days if the summons is ignored.

The article was made to ensure that government officials do not skip House questioning.

Minister of Trade and Industry Rini Suwandi, for example, recently refused to meet the House summons to clarify her involvement on the purchase of Russian Sukhoi jet fighters, while according to the law the purchase should have been conducted by the Ministry of Defense.

The House is currently investigating the US$197 million Sukhoi deal, which may lead to the cancellation of the controversial deal.

The Law No. 4/1999 which is to be replaced by this bill poses a stricter penalty for those who ignore a summons of the House. It says that those who defy a House summons can be charged with contempt of the legislature and may face a maximum of sentence of one-year imprisonment.

Jimly was among the experts consulted by the House during the deliberation of the bill.

A lawmaker involved in the debate played down the comments of critics who said the bill would make the House a "superbody".

"The authority to order the police to arrest an individual for a maximum duration of 15 days is actually lighter than that of outgoing Law No. 4/1999," Sukowaluyo Mintorahardjo of the Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) said on Saturday.

"The criticism is ridiculous as no one protested when the House passed Law No. 4/1999 that contains such a quite similar article. But now everybody is blowing the issue out of proportion."

He maintained there must be punishment for individuals or officials who defied a House summons on important cases, otherwise others will just follow suit.

He said the House would only exercise its authority when it comes to its investigative rights.

The House, he said, would not review the newly endorsed bill.

Political analyst Fachri Ali, however, said that the authority to order the police to arrest individuals was simply not within the authority of the House.

"If the government officials refuse to fulfill the House summons, the House could file a protest to the officials' superior. It's beyond the House's authority to order the police to arrest them," he said.

He added the subpoena right gave excessive power to the House, which also now has a role in deciding approving the appointment of ambassadors.

"In many countries the appointment of ambassadors is just carried out by the government. With our procedure to discuss the ambassadors' appointment at the House, the process is now very long and complicated. We will be the object of international mockery," he said.