Mon, 11 Sep 2000

Presidential bill is top priority of the House

JAKARTA (JP): Perturbed by the slew of scandals that have hit the President, legislators are speeding up their initiative in drafting a bill which would act as a code of conduct for the head of state.

House of Representatives legislation body chairman Zein Badjeber said the bill would regulate, among other things, the amount of gifts which could be accepted by a president and procedures for installing ministers.

"We hope to submit the bill next month as part of the initiative of the House," Zein, who is also a senior legislator of the United Development Party (PPP), said on Friday.

He said the bill, which began life in the days of former president B.J. Habibie, was now at the House's secretariat.

An expert team is due to examine the bill in the coming weeks.

He said the team would consist of experts from various top universities, such as constitutional law experts, political scientists and legal drafters.

"We just suggested the criteria for the experts to the secretariat without mentioning their names," Zein, a retired judge, added.

He said the bill was one of three -- a bill on small credit and loans, along with a bill on the procedures of drafting a bill -- which was scheduled to be completed by the legislation body before the end of this year.

Zein remarked that the presidential bill was urgent since other high state institutions, such as the House and the Supreme Court, all have such laws.

He refuted suggestions that the bill would diminish presidential prerogative.

"Even in the United States, which applies a pure presidential system, the installment of the defense secretary and attorney general is discussed in the Congress," he contended.

Zein, who first sat as a legislator in 1966 for the Nahdlatul Ulama Party, said that if the bill was approved, the president would have to consult with the House when appointing ministers.

He further contended that House approval was also necessary as it would be the House which would later approve the ministry's budgets through the state budget.

Golkar Party legislator Slamet Effendy Yusuf stressed that the bill should not be misperceived as an effort to "jail" the president's movements.

"The bill should be viewed as an effort which will be useful for a long time, whoever the country's president is," Slamet, who is also deputy speaker of the People's Consultative Assembly's Ad Hoc I committee on constitutional amendments, said.

He added that the Golkar Party and other factions also had their own version of the presidential bill which could later, if needed, be merged with the one already at the secretariat.

Slamet, who is Golkar's deputy chairman, said one of the most important aspects would be the specific monetary value of gifts the chief executive received.

"If the amount is over US$100, for example, it should belong to the state. So far, such things have never been stipulated in any regulation," he remarked.

Slamet conceded that this initiative might be misconstrued by some as a backlash to the Brunei scandal currently being investigated by the House in which the President received a personal gift of $2 million from the Sultan of Brunei.

"It's just a coincidence. But the momentum is high for the House to suggest the bill," he remarked.

President Abdurrahman Wahid has maintained that the "personal" donation was channeled to several non-governmental organizations to aid humanitarian projects in Aceh, Maluku and Irian Jaya provinces.(jun)