Fri, 05 Mar 1999

Questioning Habibie unnecessary: Akbar

JAKARTA (JP): The government dismissed on Thursday a demand for the House of Representatives to quiz President B.J. Habibie over a phone conversation he allegedly had with Attorney General Andi M. Ghalib.

Minister/State Secretary Akbar Tandjung told reporters at Merdeka Palace that the United Development Party (PPP)-sponsored motion was out of order and also irrelevant because there was nothing wrong with the substance of the conversation which was tapped and leaked to the press recently.

"The House can seek the President's clarification on matters of, let's say, violations of the State Policy Guidelines or the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) mandates. But in fact he did not violate these," Akbar said.

Controversy has mounted on the conversation, believed to have occurred not long after Ghalib questioned former president Soeharto on Dec. 9 last year, as it gave the impression that Habibie was reluctant to probe his predecessor.

Many have said that if the authenticity of the conversation is established, the case could lead to Habibie's impeachment on charges of breaching an MPR mandate to combat corruption, collusion and nepotism. The stipulation explicitly targets Soeharto, whose 32-year reign ended in May last year.

A group of 20 PPP legislators signed last week a motion to ask Habibie to clarify the matter before the House.

Akbar denied allegations that the government was half-hearted in probing Soeharto.

"The President wants to treat Pak Harto as a man, a former head of state, the nation's leader with all his undisputed merits, besides the fact that he's already old. The same treatment applied to the likes of Pak Ali Sadikin, Pak Kemal Idris and other respected figures," Akbar said.

Former Jakarta governor Ali Sadikin and former chief of the Army Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad) Kemal were questioned at the Attorney General's Office in connection with an alleged treason case last year. Both the retired senior military officers have denied the allegations.

Akbar said Habibie was not hesitating to go on with the probe of Soeharto and was prepared to give his account of all the mandates of the MPR during its general session in November. (prb/amd)