Fri, 11 Jun 2004

Puteh failed to hold tender for helicopter purchase

Tiarma Siboro, Jakarta

The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) discovered after a marathon interrogation of Aceh governor Abdullah Puteh on Thursday that he had not even bothered with a bidding process in the purchase of a Russian-made helicopter for the controversial price of Rp 12.5 billion (US$1.35 million).

Nevertheless, the KPK remains noncommittal on the status of the embattled governor, as KPK deputy chairman Erry Riyana Hardjapamekas declined to confirm if Puteh had violated government regulation No. 29/1999.

The regulation requires a transparent bidding process for any government project or procurement of goods valued at more than Rp 5 billion. The regulation allows a local administration to skip the procedure in case of an emergency, such as a natural disaster, or if the project deals with "sensitive materials" such as explosives.

"The investigation is still underway and we need more data before deciding whether he violated the law. More local government officials will be summoned for questioning because they were also involved in the purchase," Erry argued.

Puteh, according to Erry, appointed PT Putra Pobiagan Mandiri as the underwriter in the purchase of the helicopter.

Erry, usually open with the press, refused to answer whether the helicopter could be classified as "sensitive material" or whether the purchase was done during an emergency situation.

The KPK initiated the investigation after numerous allegations that the helicopter's cost was marked up considerably. The Navy, for instance, bought the same type of aircraft for half the price -- Rp 6 billion.

At least 13 regency administrations in Aceh, including North Aceh, Sabang and Aceh Besar, contributed Rp 700 million each to help the provincial administration buy the chopper, according to Erry.

Erry refused to disclose the date for the questioning of the other officials.

"Whenever they are available, we will question them," he said.

Puteh, along with the Aceh administration's financial division head Zainuddin and treasurer T.M. Lizam, arrived at the KPK office at around 8:10 a.m. They did not respond to a barrage of questions from the press.

Their lawyer, O.C. Kaligis, said no procedures were violated during the purchase.

"All the regents and local councillors were invited to a hearing (with Puteh), and the purchase was approved. The price was twice as much as the one owned by the Navy, because the helicopter bought by my client is equipped with anti-tank weapons and bullet-proof instruments," Kaligis said.

Kaligis said the sophisticated chopper was needed to help the governor effectively carry out his daily tasks in the strife-torn province, where the Indonesian Military has been involved in almost daily clashes with Free Aceh Movement (GAM) separatist rebels over the past year.

The lawyer admitted that since the helicopter landed in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh two years ago, it flew only once when it carried the governor to Sabang earlier this week. Puteh hosted a meeting there of all Sumatran governors from June 6 to June 7.

The National Police are also investigating Puteh in connection with another graft allegation involving the purchase of power generators worth Rp 30 billion.

The investigation comes on the heels of Puteh's appointment as the civil emergency administrator in the province.