Thu, 30 Aug 2001

MPR urged to set up constitutional court

JAKARTA (JP): Law experts called on the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) here on Wednesday to establish a constitutional court that would have full authority to make a judicial review of the Constitution.

J. Sahetapy, a professor of law at Airlangga University in Surabaya, East Java, said an independent court was badly needed to avoid conflicting interpretations of the Constitution and any conflict resulting from such interpretations.

"We should learn from the recent conflict between the House of Representatives and former president Abdurrahman Wahid regarding the House's investigation into Buloggate and Bruneigate and on the People's Consultative Assembly convening a special session recently," he said.

Buloggate, which was a Rp 35 billion (US$3.8 million) scandal at the State Logistics Agency (Bulog), and controversy surrounding a $2 million donation from the sultan of Brunei prompted the House of Representatives to form a special committee to investigate the cases.

Based on the committee's recommendation, the House of Representatives (DPR) later issued two motions of censure against Abdurrahman. Ultimately, the MPR held the special session that removed him from office on July 23.

Abdurrahman charged that the House did not have the right to censure him or to remove him.

"The conflict between the House and Abdurrahman escalated because of the absence of a constitutional court designed to correct misinterpretation of the Constitution," he told The Jakarta Post.

Sahetapy also recalled abuses of the Constitution by former president Soeharto with the aim of maintaining the status quo during the 32-year New Order government. He said such a thing should no longer happen.

He explained that the Supreme Court could not do a judicial review of the Constitution because, according to the Constitution, its position is on a par with that of the House.

Asked about his comments on the Assembly's plan to set up a constitutional commission to help amend the Constitution, Sahetapy said both the government and the MPR should have a common understanding on the concept of the commission and its tasks and members because it was not regulated in the Constitution.

The issue ensued after President Megawati Soekarnoputri stressed in her state-of-the-nation speech on Aug. 16, 2001 the importance of establishing an institution in charge of amending the 1945 Constitution.

"The President's proposal is not bad but she should give a detailed explanation about the commission, its tasks and its members to avoid confusion among the people and scholars," he said.

Sahetapy, also a legislator of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), said the commission's main task should be making comprehensive amendments to the Constitution. Its members should be professionals from universities, the executive body and the House of Representatives, he said.

He said he was against the idea of constitutional commission members consisting of scholars because their status was not a guarantee that they were impartial or independent.

"Most important is that the commission's members must leave their political interests behind and work professionally to make comprehensive amendments so that the Constitution can last or be workable for at least three decades," he said.

Dymiaty Hartono, a professor of law at Diponegoro University in Semarang, Central Java, said that besides amending the Constitution, the constitutional commission should also be given the authority to interpret the Constitution and to solve conflicts stemming from the misinterpretation of the Constitution.

"A constitutional commission should have been established at the start of the application of the Constitution because the Constitution is too simple and unworkable," he said. (rms)