Fri, 10 Nov 2000

Justice for Soeharto

Trouble seems always to be just around the corner for the Soeharto family these days. Even as police continued to search for the former president's youngest son, the Jakarta High Court yesterday reversed an earlier decision by the South Jakarta District Court, opening the way for resumption of the corruption trial against the patriarch. The Jakarta High Court also ordered Soeharto's city arrest status to be reinstated.

The sickly 79-year-old former president is accused of having misappropriated state funds valued at US$571 million by funneling money from seven charity foundations, which he chaired, into businesses belonging to cronies and family members.

For security reasons, the venue for Soeharto's first trial was in an improvised courtroom in a sprawling building belonging to the Ministry of Agriculture. Still, the short-lived trial was marked by violent demonstrations staged by both his opponents and his supporters.

The South Jakarta District Court, after hearing the opinion of a team of doctors on Sept. 28 decided to drop the case on the grounds that Soeharto was physically and mentally unfit to stand trial. In its decision released on Wednesday, the High Court overturned the decision, saying the South Jakarta District Court had ignored a number of facts related to the case.

So far, Soeharto and his youngest son, Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra (37), are the only two members of the Soeharto clan who have been taken to court for their wrongdoings, real or alleged, committed during the three decades that Soeharto ruled the country.

Given the nearly unlimited prerogatives which the family enjoyed until Soeharto's downfall in 1998, and given the still widespread charges of power abuse and corruption that are being hurled at them by critics, it is by no means unlikely that more members of the clan will be called to account in the months and years ahead.

Lamentably for the Soeharto family, retribution for past misdeeds, either real or perceived, is of paramount importance to restore the credibility of a government that was elected on high hopes of democratic reform and on the expectation that it would have both the authority and the political will to establish good and clean governance after more than three decades of rampant corruption.

Unfortunately, severe economic problems persist and the prospect for an all-out cleanup of the bureaucracy remains as distant and as illusive as a desert mirage. Burdened as they are with the daily problem of making ends meet and weary of the seemingly continual eruptions of violence, Indonesians are in no mood to forgive and forget.

In the present situation, what Indonesians should hope for is that the government and its law enforcement agencies remain steadfast in their dedication to justice and to the principle that all citizens stand equal before the law. Obviously, this principle must apply to all members of the Soeharto family and their cronies if equality before the law is to be more than an empty slogan.

Soeharto and any other citizen who is found guilty of committing wrongdoings must be penalized. But let the courts decide, after truly impartial consideration, if they are guilty. Justice must be even-handed and administered without prejudice. Consequently, the law must not be used an instrument of cold revenge, however strong our feelings. If that happens, we will be back at square one, and all the efforts and all the sacrifices that have been made in the name of justice and democracy will have been in vain.