Thu, 10 Jul 2003

Sukhoi hits at bureaucracy

Bantarto Bandoro, Editor, 'The Indonesian Quarterly', Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Jakarta,

It is normal if a jet fighter like an F18 Hornet, Sukhoi, or F16 maneuvers to create panic in the air as well as on the ground, strikes at specific enemy targets or compels the air force of a given country to react accordingly. It is also normal when a state procures more sophisticated weapons for its national defense. But it is perhaps extraordinary that a jet fighter like the Russian Sukhoi has struck instead at the Indonesian state bureaucracy.

The current "Sukhoi" drama involves, among others, government bodies, business and pressure groups. The House of Representatives is acting as if it were the producer, for example by summoning those who could be best appointed as the main casting directors.

Those allegedly involved in or questioned in the Sukhoi deal appeared one by one to testify before the House, expressing with conviction either their involvement or disengagement from the purchase of the four jet fighters and two helicopters from Russia. The purchase appears to indicate a kind of coalition between elements of the bureaucracy and interest groups. It is suspected that the decision to purchase came from bargaining between the main coalition members.

The arguments put forward by each of the state bureaucracies and other parties regarding the purchase have confused the public as to how the final decision was reached. One wonders how our bureaucracy, which is supposed to reflect a clear-cut line of command and adhere strictly to formal rules, has been dragged into such a situation that it is accusing other government bodies either of being part of or being excluded from the Sukhoi deal.

An investigation into the purchase, initiated by certain legislators, is still under way and is only at its initial stages, but it has already caused the public to become more cynical of the way the government of President Megawati Soekarnoputri manages policy issues.

The decision to buy the Russian aircraft, intentionally perhaps, has involved up to four state bodies -- the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the State Logistics Agency (Bulog) and the Military Headquarters -- plus other related agencies. This is where problems emerge -- where certain state bodies have been bypassed, hence they have denied their involvement or refuted allegations of doing things they were not supposed to do. It can also mean that people were placed in control over resources that were not their own, but used these resources in the interests of other persons or groups close to the President.

Was the President thinking of advancing the interests of her inner circle through the ground rules established for the implementation of the "Sukhoi policy"?

Conflicting views expressed by officials in meetings with legislators are indicative of policy conflict within the bureaucracy, and it has thus caused further confusion as to how the Sukhoi policy was formulated. Different parts of the bureaucracy may have different policy perspectives. There may be differences over objectives, over the means to achieve those objectives and over the best way of making sense of the situation.

In his hearing with Commission I of the House, for instance, TNI Commander Gen. Endriartono Sutarto claimed that his office was not involved in the planning or purchase of the Russian aircraft. Subsequently, during his second meeting with the House, the commander admitted involvement in the deal, but denied that he had bypassed the Ministry of Defense.

In his third appearance before Commission I of the House on July 8, the TNI chief again stressed that there was no violation of procedure in the purchase and that the deal was known to the Ministry of Defense. But Ministry of Defense director general for defense strategy Maj. Gen. Sudradjat recently told the inquiry committee of the House that his ministry was not involved in the deal, thus confirming previous reports of procedural violations in the purchase.

The Sukhoi drama has not yet reached its epilogue. However, the statement made by Minister of Industry and Trade Rini MS Soewandi, that the President was the architect of the Sukhoi deal and that all ministers knew of the decision, seems to have encouraged the inquiry team to go further in its investigations.

The case illustrates how pressure on bureaucrats given greater responsibility, to pursue the policy of the president, has caused them to become defensive and rigid.

One might have expected to see that a decision was taken in accordance with approved guidelines and procedures rather than merely reflecting the personal preferences of the president.

Instead, the temporary conclusion so far is that, apart from their lack of political savvy, the officials had a problem of not knowing what was going to happen, what was happening and why.