Sat, 15 May 2004

House to query military on dubious Aceh operation funds

Kurniawan Hari, Jakarta

The legislature is questioning the disbursement of Rp 738 billion (US$86.8 million) for the military operation in Aceh since December amid allegations of widespread corruption in the province.

Some of the cases allegedly involve Aceh Governor Abdullah Puteh, with the strong likelihood Jakarta will appoint a new governor.

The government decided on Thursday the war-torn province would be in a state of civil emergency but military and police operations will continue where necessary.

However, legislators who had approved both the first and second six-month stages of "integrated operations", said there were indications of suspected irregularities in the disbursement of the funds. Next Wednesday or May 19 will mark the end of the second stage of the operations.

Activists in and outside Aceh have for some time pointed to graft as the major cause of the province's problems, noting the government was more interested in pursuing the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) than dealing with corruptors.

The House of Representatives (DPR) has summoned a defense ministry official in charge of spending, Mas Wijaya, who is expected to show up at the House on Monday.

"The funds have been disbursed without the approval of the House. We're questioning the disbursement and summoning him (Wijaya) to provide clarification," legislator Djoko Susilo from the Reform faction said on Friday.

Citing the Law no. 28/2003 on the state budget, Djoko said the government and the House first had to discuss funds for nationwide programs or activities, after which the government sought the House's approval for disbursement.

Members of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and the National Awakening Party (PKB) factions also said all matters related to the state budget should be discussed by the government and the House.

In a Thursday hearing with the Ministry of Defense's Secretary General Suprihadi, the ministry revealed it had began disbursing Rp 738 billion for the second stage of the military operations in Aceh from December through May.

Given the ministry and the Indonesian Military (TNI) had "limited time" to continue their operations, they had asked the funds be channeled directly from the Ministry of Finance, the ministry said in a written reply to the House.

The ministry said the funds were disbursed in three phases. The payment was Rp 83.1 billion, the second Rp 273.5 billion and the third Rp 381.6 billion.

Many legislators were not impressed by the explanation.

"We urge the defense ministry to follow the existing procedures. This is a violation of the budget law," Djoko said.

Chatibul Umam Wiranu of the PKB faction said the defense ministry should consult budgetary matters with the House's Commission I for defense and security affairs.

Commission members in charge of the state budget would then discuss it with legislators from other commissions to confirm whether the state had adequate funds.

"That is the normal procedure. It means a certain ministry is not allowed to directly ask for money from the finance ministry," Chatibul added.

He said as long as the defense ministry was "still controlled by the TNI", similar incidents would reoccur.