Tue, 14 May 2002

House unmoved by lies during the trial of Akbar

Muhammad Nafik, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Lies and irregularities uncovered during the ongoing trial of a corruption scandal implicating House of Representatives Speaker Akbar Tandjung have failed to encourage legislators to set up a separate inquiry into the high-profile scandal.

Yet the opportunity, though slim, is still present for the House to establish a special committee to investigate Akbar, who is being charged with siphoning off Rp 40 billion from the State Logistics Agency (Bulog) when he served as minister/cabinet secretary under then president B.J. Habibie in 1999.

An official of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), which controls the largest seats in the House, said on Monday that it had to wait until the completion of Akbar's trial at the Central Jakarta District Court before making a decision whether to support the House inquiry or not.

"Our stance has not changed. We will discuss it again tomorrow (Tuesday) during our weekly meeting at the PDI Perjuangan headquarters in South Jakarta," Roy BB Janis, who chairs the party's faction in the House, told The Jakarta Post.

He said the House should stay away from "intervening" in the trial of the scandal, widely dubbed here as "Buloggate", since the beginning.

Roy said the proposed special committee would only be necessary, should it be aimed at "seeking the truth". He did not elaborate further.

However, he refused to answer whether the irregularities uncovered during the hearings of the Bulog trial should be soon followed with a separate inquiry by the House.

Analysts and legal experts have urged the House to set up a special committee soon to investigate Akbar after court witnesses testified in favor of Akbar, saying that the Rp 40 billion fund was spent on a 1999 charity project for the needy as they had previously told prosecutors and the public.

Winfried Simatupang, a contractor hired for the project, had even returned the Rp 40 billion through the Attorney General's Office in an apparent attempt to save Akbar from a likely conviction.

Legislators from the Akbar-led Golkar Party share the same view as PDI Perjuangan, saying that as long as the trial proceeds lawfully, there is no need for the House to set up a special committee.

Yasril Ananta Baharuddin, a senior Golkar legislator, said his party left it up to the court on whether to convict Akbar or acquit him of all corruption charges.

"Let the court decide on Pak Akbar. We should not interfere in its proceedings," he said.

The National Awakening Party (PKB), which has been fighting for an inquiry into Akbar, insisted that the House should place the demands on its prioritized agenda.

Meanwhile, in an apparent move to shift the public's attention away from the Bulog scandal, Golkar legislators and those from other parties have instead been campaigning for the House to summon President Megawati Soekarnoputri, also a chairwoman of PDI Perjuangan, to clarify the source of a Rp 30 billion donation she extended for the development and rehabilitation of housing for Indonesian Military (TNI) personnel.

Many have said that the President's move was meant to win support from TNI.