Sat, 29 Mar 2003

Questioning TNI/police involvement in business

Imanuddin Razak, Staff Writer, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta,

The March 8 protest at the office of Tempo newsmagazine, which involved violence against its editors and journalists, stunned the public, particularly the media.

The incident was also of interest because of some of the comments of those leading the protest, suggesting they were "untouchable" given their close ties with those in positions of power.

The protesters were supporters of businessman Tomy Winata. They were upset by a report in the magazine which quoted an anonymous source about Tomy's alleged plan to renovate the Tanah Abang market, which was destroyed in a fire last month. The alleged plan was proposed before the fire, according to the report, which also included a denial by Tomy.

An uproar followed the violence at the Tempo office and there were also questions about whether the magazine had violated the code of journalism with its report.

The leaders of the protest, in front of police officers and journalists, claimed that they had, in effect, regularly paid the police and financially helped Sutiyoso secure the Jakarta governorship for a second term. People have related these remarks with Tomy's known associations with Army officers.

In a recent statement, mining company PT Freeport Indonesia, which operates in the restive Papua province, admitted to having paid security fees to the military and police since 1996, again confirming the "mutual relationships" between the security apparatus and businesspeople or companies.

The U.S.-based company also said the Indonesian government had looked to the company to provide logistical and infrastructure support and supplemental funding for security operations in Papua, because of the government's limited resources and the remote location and lack of development in the easternmost province.

To the surprise of many, besides confirming Freeport's statement, Indonesian Military (TNI) spokesman Maj. Gen. Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin acknowledged that the military had received security fees from U.S.-based oil company ExxonMobil, which operates in the strife-torn province of Aceh.

But Sjafrie did not explain whether the money had gone to the TNI as an institution or to individual officers, and whether the use of the money had been accounted for.

Involvement in business to raise money to finance its operations and its troops is not new to the Indonesian Military.

Perhaps the practice started during the early years of Indonesia's independence.

Admiral (ret) Sudomo, a Navy chief of staff and deputy commander of the Operational Command for the Restoration of Security and Order (Kopkamtib) during the presidency of Soeharto, talked about the smuggling of rubber into Malaysia and Thailand by the military in the late 1940s.

Sudomo, then an officer on the cargo ship that carried the rubber to the Southeast Asian countries, said the money was used to procure munitions for the military.

At the time, the military had to find its own financing to procure munitions because the government of the fledgling nation, which proclaimed independence in 1945, could not provide the funding.

The munitions were important for the military to fight the Dutch colonialists, who were reluctant to allow Indonesia become a free state. The military's active involvement in businesses, in various forms, has continued until the present day.

Official confirmation of this is provided by the Army Headquarters. The Army says in a 2002 paper on the Restructuring of the (Army-owned) Kartika Eka Paksi Foundation and its Business Units, that with the limited government budget Army leaders have established an institution to help provide for the needs of the Army and its troops.

A study by Indria Samego, a researcher with the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, showed that the practice of establishing business units was also done by the other two military forces -- the Navy and the Air Force -- as well as the National Police.

The question is whether the military's and/or the police's involvement in business is lawful, and whether this involvement will divert them from their main duty of defending and securing the nation.

Apart from the uncertain legality of the practice, Indria said this involvement in business caused internal frictions in the military and police, which in turn disrupted their ability to tend to their duties. The practice can also lead to collusion among soldiers and private companies or individuals, he added.

But no one has come up with realistic and applicable solutions to help the military become a professional institution, which was the dream of the founding fathers.

Legislators have insisted that all of the military's expenditures and revenue be reported to the House of Representatives.

Yet officers would probably prefer to maintain the current system, as it requires no accountability or audits. It is thus difficult to find out whether the money has gone to the military as an institution or into the pockets of officers.

Private companies and individuals involved in business with the military also benefit from the current system because they do not have to worry about any legal sanctions given the absence of documented evidence.

Perhaps the country should consider a proposition by Singaporean leader Lee Kuan Yew, who suggested that "illegal businesses", in this case security protection services, be made "legal" by regulating them, citing that such practices are part of the "Asian culture".

But again any laws or regulations must clearly outline the rules of the game, including penalties for any violations, and disciplined enforcement of these laws or regulations would be a must.