Sat, 29 Apr 2000

Laksamana denies graft allegations

JAKARTA (JP): Laksamana Sukardi denied on Friday graft charges that cost him his post as state minister of investment and state enterprises development, and demanded that President Abdurrahman Wahid clear him of the allegations.

Speaking at a media conference at the House of Representatives building, Laksamana of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) expressed his regret that certain people took advantage of the President's weaknesses by presenting false and slanderous information to him.

"I'm exercising my right to reply to the charges. All the allegations are untrue. I'm still committed to creating a clean government and good governance," Laksamana said.

During the conference, Laksamana was accompanied by several PDI Perjuangan cadres, including his former deputy Beny Pasaribu.

He asserted, however, that he would not sue the President over his replacement.

"I hope God will forgive the people who discredited me and whispered groundless information to the President. I just want to be cleared of the charges," Laksamana said.

He also suggested that PDI Perjuangan chairwoman Megawati not to recommend a pullout of the party's representatives in the Cabinet. Laksamana instead asked the party to remain supportive of the President otherwise political instability would prevail.

The President told a consultative meeting with the House on Thursday that alleged corruption, collusion and nepotism were behind the latest Cabinet reshuffle that also affected Yusuf Kalla, the axed minister of industry and trade.

Abdurrahman named Ambassador to Singapore Lt. Gen. (ret) Luhut Binsar Panjaitan and Rozy Munir, a Nahdlatul Ulama executive, as the replacements for Kalla and Laksamana respectively.

Kalla denied the accusations of graft on Thursday and called them slanderous. But like Laksamana, Kalla said he had no intention to file a lawsuit against the President.

Aside from his preference of Beny as one of his deputies, many believed that Laksamana's dismissal was linked to a dispute between him and his secretary-general Rozy on the appointment of some directors for the state enterprises.

Laksamana defended his option for Beny, whom he said had ample experience as a former high-ranking official in the Ministry of Cooperatives, Small and Medium Enterprises. He said it was Abdurrahman who asked him to recruit Rozy as his secretary.

He also refuted allegations that he sought his own interests in the appointment of directors of strategic state enterprises satellite operator PT Indosat and telecommunications firm PT Telkom.

Beny said he would not resign as a deputy to the state minister of investment and state enterprises development.

"I won't resign. I can cooperate with Rozy," Beny said.

Asked if he was asked to resign, Beny simply replied: "The country will lose one of its best sons."

Separately, Golkar chairman Akbar Tandjung said that the party would ask the House of Representatives to set up a special commission to investigate the graft charges.

"The commission, if its establishment is agreed, will question people who informed the President about the charges of graft," Akbar, who is also the House speaker, said.

Legislators who attended Thursday's closed-door meeting said that the President alleged Kalla of winning a rice import tender for his brother. Kalla was reportedly also accused of enjoying a privilege from the government of former president B.J. Habibie to win the state electricity company PLN tender for a project in Paiton in East Java through his company the Bukaka Group last year.

Akbar said the planned commission could question directors and staff of PLN and the State Logistics Agency (Bulog) to trace the alleged graft.

He acknowledged that party executives summoned Kalla on Thursday evening to hear his clarification.

"Yusuf gave evidence that he did not commit corruption. He said he was never involved in any tender," Akbar said.

He said Kalla had demanded that the President restore his name.

In the wake of protests abounding in Kalla's hometown of Makassar, South Sulawesi, Governor HZB Palaguna called on local residents to maintain their composure.

"Don't be emotional or exaggerate the matter. Let Yusuf Kalla settle the allegations himself," Palaguna said.

The governor said he, as well as many people in the province, was shocked by the allegations of graft leveled on Kalla, who he said had become a role model for local residents.

Deputy secretary-general of the National Mandate Party (PAN) Bara Hasibuan was cynical in response to Abdurrahman's latest controversial move, saying the President should take legal measures against his former ministers to follow up on his allegations.

"The President must prove his charges and not rely on dismissals if he is to abide by the rule of law," Bara said. While agreeing with the replacement of unqualified ministers, Bara suggested that the President apply a fit and proper test in selecting his aides instead of judging their loyalty and ability to work as a team. (27/jun/dja)