Sat, 27 Sep 2003

Monumental scandals

Ada proyek, ada obyek (Where there's a project, there's money to be made.) This cynical expression is very popular with Indonesians, who believe that every project involves corruption. Therefore, installation of the Rp 3.5-billion statue of Gen. Soedirman on the main Central Jakarta thoroughfare has produced not only criticism but also suspicion of misappropriation.

Environmentalists have criticized the city administration for felling at least eight trees to make room for the 4.5-ton statue. They say that policy makers made a decision in contradiction to the administration's determination to regreen the city.

From an aesthetic point of view, the statue has also provoked criticism. Many critics say that the statue is unsuitably located -- which could perhaps be taken as an indication that very few suitable spots for statues remain in this teeming metropolis.

As for the possibility of malfeasance, it was the Jakarta Development Watch (Jadewa), a non-governmental organization (NGO), that alleged fraud in the statue project. The plan reportedly originated with the Soedirman Foundation, which belongs to the family of the late Gen. Soedirman, the revered first commander of the Indonesian army. On that basis the foundation established a company to construct the statue. Based on the agreement, the company paid Rp 6.5 billion to the Jakarta Revenue Agency to obtain a 10 meter (m) by 20 m advertising space in the selected location.

That was reported to be Rp 3.5 billion less than the official price of the lot -- a fact that led Jadewa to assume that the city administration had sacrificed that much money for the project without good reason. A previous deal, which granted the company an 8 m by 16 m advertising space, drew more questions from Jadewa.

Priyo Handoko, executive secretary of Jadewa, said that Rp 3.5 billion for construction of the statue was questionable, arguing that preliminary work would probably need Rp 16 million, Rp 150 million on the construction of the pedestal, Rp 1.698 billion on construction of the statue, Rp 22 million on the surrounding park and Rp 59 million on the official installation ceremony.

Head of the City Parks Agency Maurits Napitupulu responded to the allegation by saying said that he was ready to clarify everything concerning the project. While the public is waiting to hear what is really going on behind the statue project, sculptor Soenaryo said in Bandung that the statue cost "only" Rp 1.2 billion, and that he had not yet received full payment.

Whether or not fraud has taken place, the bottom line is that there has been a lack of transparency. The administration has not been transparent in its policy making, especially with regard to projects that are vulnerable to corruption. The City Council, which is expected to represent the public as a controlling body, has failed to perform well.

Suspicions of fraud, corruption, misappropriation or whatever it may be, are therefore widely taken for granted, given the many irregularities that have been allowed to go unchecked for decades. The administration, for its part, has apparently become immune to criticism, and refuses to heed any allegations of irregularity. Continued bribery at the vehicle test station, for example, has become public knowledge, with no one moving to put a stop to the practice.

Whenever a project that involves big money crops up, NGOs warn of possible corruption, but the warnings have been useless. Since 2001, construction of the Islamic Center, on the plot where the notorious Kramat Tunggak red-light district in North Jakarta used to stand, has been rife with rumors of corruption. It may be hard to believe, but word has been going round that compensation was reportedly paid twice over to property owners in the project.

Financial reports on the renovation of Hotel Indonesia traffic circle as well as the beautification of the National Monument square reportedly lacked transparency. The purchase of 20 garbage incinerators has allegedly resulted in fraud, because so far only one incinerator is operational. Most recently, warnings of a possible scam in the busway project were voiced by the NGO Jakarta Residents Forum (FAKTA).

All these examples of alleged irregularity have been openly aired by critics. However, the city administration has yet to respond. It is time for administration officials to be more transparent. The approach to development must be adjusted to increasing demands for public participation in decision making. It is time for the public to become meaningfully involved in the development process. After all, the public is the real stakeholder in the city's development efforts.

In the final analysis, it would be helpful for all parties involved to keep the public well informed of anything the city administration does. Experience has taught us that, more often than not, suspicion and protest against the administration's policies are the result of reluctance by the authorities, or their inability, to keep the public properly informed.