Sat, 04 Jan 2003

Legislators flex muscles in Indosat privatization polemic

Kurniawan Hari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The House of Representatives (DPR) has gained the momentum to summon President Megawati Soekarnoputri over the mid-December sale of the government's 41.9 percent stake in the state telecommunications firm PT Indosat to Singapore Technologies Telemedia (STT).

One of the initiators of the move to summon the President, Rosyid Hidayat of the Reform Faction, said on Friday that the number of signatories had risen from 12 legislators at the beginning to 50.

Although the number does not matter -- at least 10 signatories are required to proceed with the motion -- the vigor with which the legislators are attempting to bring this economic issue into the full glare of a serious House hearing would appear to indicate the emergence of further political bickering.

However, such speculation was denied by legislator Achmad Muqowam of the United Development Party (PPP) faction, who claimed that the motion was simply designed to seek transparency in the divestment process.

"We don't want to create political bickering," Muqowwam told The Jakarta Post on Friday night.

But, Muqowwam would seem to be ignoring increasing tension between State Minister for State Enterprises Laksamana Sukardi and People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) Speaker Amien Rais over the divestment process.

Laksamana, who is the chief treasurer of Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), and Amien, who is the chairman of the National Mandate Party (PAN), have been involved in an acrimonious verbal dispute.

Laksamana has even reported Amien to the police for refusing to apologize for his statement in a weekly magazine that a Cabinet minister who always thinks of selling state assets is a foreign agent.

Given the fact that most of the initiators are members of the National Mandate Party (PAN), it is obvious that there is increasing tension emerging between the political parties ahead of the 2004 general election.

A previous power struggle in the House was evident in 2001 when then president Abdurrahman Wahid was ousted following a similar motion over the alleged misuse of Rp 35 billion (US$3.8 million) in non-budgetary funds belonging to the State Logistics Agency (Bulog).

Besides the motion to summon the President, another group of legislators are planning to seek an explanation from Laksamana over the sale of the government stake in the state firm.

This second group is planning to question whether the presence of foreign investors in PT Indosat could endanger the secrecy of telecommunications between state institutions.

No less than Vice President Hamzah Haz has expressed support for the plan to summon Laksamana.

"The minister has to explain whether the sale would disturb state security," Hamzah, who is also the chairman of the PPP, said.

Some economists have said that from the economic point of view there was nothing wrong with the divestment of PT Indosat.

Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW) coordinator Teten Masduki said there was nothing amiss about the divestment process. However, Teten questioned the government's decision to sell its stake in PT Indosat.

The government gets Rp 5.62 trillion from the divestment. The money will be used to help plug the 2002 state budget deficit.

If the purpose was for state budget requirements, Teten said it would be better for the government to force big-fish debtors to repay their debts to the state.

The total debts owed by the major debtors are estimated to reach Rp 27.6 trillion, much more than the money raised from the divestment process.