Wed, 31 Mar 1999

Police would regain public trust if 'they avoid political cases'

JAKARTA (JP): Police should avoid taking on politically sensitive cases if they want to regain public trust before being separated from the Armed Forces, a legal scholar said Tuesday.

Prof. Satjipto Rahardjo of Diponegoro University cited the cases of American scholar Jeffrey Winters, who was named a suspect for allegedly defaming finance minister Ginandjar Kartasasmita, and last year's interrogation of members of the National Front (Barisan Nasional), who were charged with treason.

"Police must be very careful not to get trapped in cases that will force them to make political choices. Future police in Indonesia must try to disconnect their role from the political machine," Satjipto said.

The police investigation of Winters and Barisan Nasional has come under much criticism. In the latter case, it was said that the group members, including retired generals, had merely expressed opinions.

Satjipto was speaking at a one-day discussion on the police agenda in the lead-up to its separation from the Armed Forces (ABRI). The process is to begin on April 1.

The separation, which will be gradual, was first announced on the anniversary of the establishment of the Armed Forces on Oct. 5 last year.

Minister of Defense and Security/ABRI Commander Gen. Wiranto has said that in the first six months the police would answer to the defense ministry, instead of the Armed Forces.

After the transition period, an evaluation may determine whether the police will function under the Ministry of Home Affairs or be directly answerable to the president.

Satjipto said "political cases" were those which involved intervention from those holding power.

"Police must disconnect themselves from such cases to avoid them being forced into making political choices," which is not their job, Satjipto said, adding this would make them merely "a political machine".

After the separation, police must work harder to improve their image, Satjipto said. "In the next couple of months, front-line officers such as traffic police must be reeducated.

"They must be trained to be more caring to people. I think medium rank officers here are open-minded and support reforms."

Another speaker, lawyer Abdul Hakim Garuda, said ABRI leaders in the future must be ready for certain consequences following the separation of police from the military.

Hakim said that, during the transition period under the defense ministry, ABRI leaders would have to consider the possibility of separating the position of the minister and the commander of the Armed Forces.

Although this decision must be made by the President, "it is better to 'purify' police from decades of combat force influences, by having separate leaders to avoid dualism," Hakim, from the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (Elsam), said.

President B.J. Habibie last year denied that the two roles, currently both held by Wiranto, would be split.

All speakers supported the immediate separation of police from ABRI, saying all other necessary changes could follow later.

"The most important thing in this separation is to increase police wages and upgrade their performance," said psychologist Sarlito Wirawan, who is an adviser assisting police in the separation.

He warned the public against high hopes after April 1, saying many changes were required: "It could take 10 to 20 years to have a decent police corps," Sarlito said. (edt)