Mon, 01 Aug 1994

Soeharto wants fairest and fast judgment on Kedungombo

JAKARTA (JP): President Soeharto has asked the Supreme Court to deal quickly with the controversial land dispute in Kedungombo, Central Java, and to give the fairest judgment possible, taking into account the interests of the people.

Chief Justice Purwoto Gandasubrata met with Soeharto at the Merdeka Palace on Saturday during which the Kedungombo litigation was raised.

The President wants the "fairest judgment possible" from the Supreme Court, Purwoto told reporters after the meeting. "This has to do with the interests of the people in general."

The court, in a surprise move, ruled in favor of 34 villagers in Kedungombo who were suing the government for higher compensation for the land they gave up to make way for a World Bank funded reservoir.

It reversed the rulings of two lower courts which endorsed the government's offer of compensation of Rp 4,000 per square meter. The Supreme Court went a step further, setting the compensation at Rp 50,000 per meter, compared to Rp 10,000 sought by the villagers. The court also ordered the government to pay Rp 2 billion to the villagers for "non-material losses".

The government, in this case the Central Java provincial administration, plans to ask for a review of the case with the Supreme Court, stressing that the court ruling was unjustified.

It has also resisted pressure to pay up until after the review, saying that it had to protect the interests of the people and taxpayers in the country. The Supreme Court has said that a stay of execution is only permitted under very exceptional circumstances.

Purwoto said Soeharto's remarks would not influence the outcome of the review. "It is up to us, the justices," he said.

"The press and government ministers may comment on the Supreme Court's decision as much as they want to, but the chief justice has the last say," he said.

There is another strong reason why the government is refusing to pay up: The fear that the 60,000 families who were displaced by the reservoir and accepted the government's compensation might rethink their position and sue the government too.

Purwoto said the Supreme Court had not received the petition for a review of the case although the Semarang District Court had been notified informally of the government's intention.

He refused to speculate on the outcome of the review. "We'll just wait and see the evidence," he said.

Purwoto explained that it was not unusual for an appeal to be requested after the Supreme Court gave its ruling.

"The main principle is that the judge must abide by the fundamental laws of justice and truth. This will also be applied and analyzed by the Supreme Court in the Kedungombo case," he said. (pwn)