Thu, 10 Jul 2003

Sukhoi strikes at bureaucracy

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

It is a normal thing when a jetfighter like F18 Hornet, Sukhoi, or F16 maneuvers to create panic in the air as well as on the ground, strikes at certain enemy targets, and forces air force of certain countries to react accordingly. It is also normal when the state procures more sophisticated weapons for its national defense. But it is perhaps extraordinary when a jetfighter like the Russian Sukhoi strikes instead at the state bureaucracy.

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

Those allegedly involved in or looked over 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 jetfighters and two helicopters from Russia. The purchase shows a kind of coalition between elements of the bureaucracy with interest groups, for instance. It is suspected that decision of the purchase came from bargaining among the main coalition members.

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

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

The decision to buy the Russian aircraft, intentionally perhaps, has involved at least up to four state bodies -- the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Industry and Trade and the State Logistic Agency (Bulog) and the military headquarters -- and other related agencies. This is where problems emerge, where certain state bodies are bypassed, hence denying their involvement or suspectedly doing things they are not supposed to do. It can also mean that there are people placed in control over resources that are not their own, but who use these resources in the interests of other persons or groups closed to the president.

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

The conflicting views expressed by the officials in meetings with the legislators reflects policy conflict in the bureaucracy, and it has thus caused further confusions 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 those objectives and over the best way of making sense of a situation.

In his hearing with Commission I of the House, for instance, that the TNI Commander Gen. Endriartono Sutarto claimed that his office was never involved in the planning or purchase of the Russian aircraft. But later, 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 the Defense Ministry's 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 reached its epilogue. But the statement made by Minister of Industry and Trade, Rini M. 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 take further measures to uncover the deal.

The case shows how pressure on bureaucrats given greater responsibility to pursue the policy of the president leads them to become defensive and rigid.

One might have expected to see how 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.