Wed, 03 Sep 2003

Lawmakers plan to summon Megawati over Sukhoi

Kurniawan Hari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Frustrated by the unsuccessful questioning of a minister, the House of Representatives is determined to grill President Megawati Soekarnoputri over the controversial purchase of Russian jet fighters, apparently in an attempt to save face before the public.

Legislators sitting on the special committee to inquire into the Sukhoi affair expressed their intention to propose that the House leadership ask the President to provide a clear explanation of the deal for the purchase of the Russian warplanes.

Special Committee Chairman Ibrahim Ambong said his team was very disappointed with Minister of Industry and Trade Rini M.S. Soewandi's unsatisfactory explanation of the procurement process.

"The trade minister said she had merely acted on instructions from the President," he said, referring to Rini's explanation at the closed-door meeting with the committee late on Monday.

He added that Rini and other Cabinet ministers who accompanied her to face her inquisitors refused to be held responsible for alleged irregularities in the US$192.6 million deal.

The atmosphere at the House became heated on Monday when the team refused to meet with Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda, Indonesian Military Commander Gen. Endriartono Sutarto and State Logistics Agency (BULOG) chief Widjanarko Puspoyo, who had accompanied Rini and intended to give a comprehensive explanation about the jet fighter purchase.

The committee had reportedly planned the meeting to force Rini to apologize for the alleged irregularities. The meeting finally took place late on Monday night on condition that Rini's "aides" were not allowed to speak or make comments outside the meeting.

"Although the minister refused to give an adequate explanation of the arms purchase, saying the President had explained it at the recent Annual Session of the People's Consultative Assembly, it will be worth it for the House to summon the President, and such an idea is acceptable," said Ambong.

The House carried out an inquiry into the jet fighter purchase when it discovered indications that the process may have been unlawful. The purchase should have been made using the state budget, not Bulog funds, while the process should have been coordinated by the defense ministry, not the industry and trade ministry.

Four Sukhoi jet fighters have been delivered to Indonesia, while two MI-35 attack helicopters are expected to arrive soon. The nation will likely purchase another 10 to 12 Sukhois next year to form a squadron to provide an effective air defense force.

Committee deputy chairman Effendi Choirie said earlier that his (National Awakening Party) faction would propose to the House leadership that the President be asked to explain the Sukhoi deal.

Many other commissions, including Rini's counterpart, which deals with trade and industry affairs, have expressed opposition to extending investigations as far as the head of state.

Despite the proposed questioning of the President, several of the team's members, who wished to remain anonymous, have expressed an understanding of why the government purchased the Russian jet fighters through a countertrade deal, saying it created a market abroad for Indonesian domestic products.

But they added that the government should not adopt such an inappropriate approach in future for the purchase of other military equipment.