Thu, 04 Mar 1999

Of bugs and bungles

Somebody woke me up in the middle of the night and cried out: "It must have been between Fidel Castro and John Pope II!" When I showed no reaction, the voice continued "Castro proposes that Clinton's impeachment process be continued!"

I was too irritated at such nonsense of intelligence work to say anything. "It happened here in Jakarta, not in the Bay of Pigs or Massachusetts Avenue in Washington!" I retorted.

The voice disappeared. I put on the light to read once more the stunning revelation about the leaked conversation between the President and the attorney general on how to catch Soeharto without harming anybody, including Soeharto, which looks impossible to realize.

"So the local phone bug has come earlier than the millennium one?", my son queried at breakfast the following morning. At that moment, Rani, my granddaughter, stormed in to eat and drink something before rushing off to school. "Why does it take so long for the police to determine whether the voices belong to the President and the attorney general?" she asked, also a bit irritated. Nobody bothered to answer because nobody knew.

It had been one of those rare occasions when I was invited to spend the night at my son's house at Kebayoran because somebody was celebrating a birthday. Usually, I get restless if I sleep in a strange bed.

Everybody talks about the bugging of the conversation and everybody has their own theory. The only thing they all agree on is the odd fact that the President has admitted it, otherwise he would not have ordered the police to investigate; the attorney general has denied having any part of it. He has also disappeared from the cameras as opposition leader Amien Rais, chairman of the National Mandate Party, concluded that the voices were genuine not impersonations. Amien said it was now crystal clear that Habibie would not bring his former mentor to court.

The President's dilemma now is that he must abandon his plan to go for the next term, and the ones who must be most fully aware of this are the Golkar party leadership.

Now, for the first time in the nation's history, wherever you look, confusion seems to prevail. Only in war do people speak "of an exodus taking place," of people fleeing for their safety, in thousands. I am referring here to reports from East Timor, where people hailing from somewhere else do not feel safe to stay there.

The general election committee, assisted by the Team of Eleven, has not satisfied newly formed political parties. Some have demanded that all political parties be allowed to take part in the elections, whether they fulfill the official requirements or not.

The latest government policy in the banking sector has even taken the finance minister and the House of Representatives by surprise.

True, honesty rarely pays -- sorry for stating this. Dishonesty among top national leaders would have bad consequences on the whole nation. Lying in bright sunlight and calling white something that every child sees is black, would be simply disastrous for the morality of the younger generation.

That night, the mysterious voice came back and yelled from behind the window: "Why don't you propose that every Indonesian carries an electric voice identification card?" At hearing that advice, I scratched my head and then ordered a taxi to go home in the middle of the night. The night watchman waved at me and whistled Frank Sinatra's Strangers in the night...