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Indonesia News Digest 8 – February 22-28, 2007

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 News & issues

Legislators, government urged to work for the people

Jakarta Post - February 24, 2007

Jakarta – Scholars and analysts agreed during a discussion Friday that legislators and government officials needed to stop working solely for party interests and focus more on the needs of the people who voted them into office.

Legislators, political parties and government officials often face widespread criticism for policies they endorse that are claimed to be "insensitive" to the people.

Cultural observer Franky Sahilatua said the people's representatives often produced policies that impoverished the electorate even more.

"The soaring fuel price has diminished the people's hope," he said. He said that the price hike had increased the number of impoverished and unemployed people.

More than 10 percent of Indonesia's 220 million people are unemployed, while 20 percent earn less than US$2 a day, official statistics show.

Legislator Permadi, a member of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, and Golkar Party legislator Agun Gunanjar agreed that many elected representatives and officials needed to favor the people more and revamp the system for electing politicians to the House of Representatives.

Agun suggested that the law on political parties be improved so that the candidates contesting the next general elections, to be held in 2009, would function as "real representatives".

"Should representatives be on the people's side, nothing like the fuel price increase and rice importation would happen," said Permadi. "The flaw is that the law (on political parties) authorizes parties to back their chosen members to sit in the House. Therefore, they strive for the sake of their parties, not for the people," he added.

Meanwhile, Drajad Wibowo, a legislator from the National Mandate Party, said: "Observation of the members of the House in their functions as lawmakers, budget planners and watchdogs in relation to government policy, will tell us whether they are really working for the people or not."

Political expert Arbi Sanit said the general elections system needed to be fixed. "Political parties should design a framework for those recruited so as to create the best candidates," he said.

The "fit and proper" tests to select the president, he added, should also be made more relevant to the duties he or she might conduct.

He also criticized current legislators and the government, as well as the Cabinet, for not working efficiently and effectively, saying that many legislative processes had been delayed.

Golkar Party legislator Priyo Budi Santoso and Syarief Hasan, a legislator from the Democrat Party, however, said they had been trying to work for the people. "If we are not fully serving the people, at least we are still on the track of moving toward that," said Syarief.

Ba'asyir denied access to Presidential Palace

Jakarta Post - February 23, 2007

Jakarta – Radical Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Ba'asyir failed to meet President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Thursday to file a petition calling for the implementation of sharia.

Ba'asyir, who was escorted by dozens of supporters from the Indonesian Mujahiddin Council (MMI), was barred by the presidential guards from entering the Merdeka Palace. The guards said Ba'asyir's group had not received security clearance from the State Secretariat.

Ba'syir said he wanted to meet the President to convey his message about implementing sharia in state affairs. "Or the country will suffer from further moral degradation," he said.

After turning around to enter Merdeka Palace from its front gate, Ba'syir's and his group were once again held back by presidential guards. The group later dispersed after handing over a book and a written statement.


PRA: Regulation on local parties must be ratified immediately

Aceh Kita - February 27, 2007

Banda Aceh – The chairperson of the Preparatory Committee for the Acehnese People's Party (KP-PRA) is urging the government to immediately ratify the Draft Government Regulation on Local Political Parties in Aceh.

"The government must immediately ratify the government regulation on local parties. We are hoping that the February deadline that was promised by the government will not be shifted forward again", said KP-PRA Chairperson Thamrin Ananda during a break at the KP-PRA's first congress at the Aula State Vocational School in Lampineung, Banda Aceh, on Tuesday February 27.

The KP-PRA first congress between February 27 and March 3 is being attended by around 300 party members from 16 regencies/municipalities across Aceh. Following the congress, KP-PRA will be declared as the first local political party in Aceh, after the government allows the existence of local parties in the Land of Seulanga.

The Aceh government is also urging Jakarta to immediately ratify the government regulation on local political parties. "As those responsible, we are urging the central government to immediately complete drafting the government regulation on local parties that was promised to have been finished in late February. We are awaiting their response", said the First Assistance to the Aceh Provincial Secretariat A. Hamid Zein, in a welcoming speech at the opening of the PRA's congress.

In addition to calling on the government to ratify a legal umbrella for local parties, Thamrin said in a political speech that the congress aimed to set out a program, basis and platform, and to elect a chairperson and general secretary. After the congress, the Acehnese People's Party will be declared as the first local party in Aceh.

During his speech Thamrin frequently focused on the domination of developing countries by the United States and Europe. While countries in Latin America and several other developing nations have endeavored to minimise US and European domination, the influence of the US and Europe in Aceh has instead grown stronger. Both of these forces said Thamrin, are imperialist and capitalist.

According to Thamrin, dependency on these two forces will weaken Aceh's bargaining position, both in the areas of politics and the socially as well as economically. It is because of this continued Thamrin, that the PRA will endeavor to fight the domination by the US and Europe.

In order to fight this domination said Thamrin, the PRA is taking up the issues of eliminating poverty and unemployment, saying that 48 percent of the Acehnese population are economically poor."The PRA will attempt to force down levels of poverty and unemployment. Both these issues can be resolved by creating employment opportunities", he said."We aspire to make Aceh modern and economically self-sufficient."

Despite taking up the slogan of fighting imperialist and capitalist domination, the PRA will not reject foreign investors who wish to invest their capital in province that only recently has been released from the shackles of armed conflict."But capital ownership must be balanced. For example 50 percent owned by the Acehnese government and the other 50 percent owned by investors", he continued.

Zein meanwhile said that the Acehnese government warmly welcomes the new emergence of local political parties in Aceh."The PRA represents the very first response to the substance of the Aceh Governance Law, that is the establishment of a local political party, which is better able to struggle around local politics in Aceh", said Zein in his greetings to the conference. Zein said he hopes that the PRA will be able to become a vehicle to take up the wishes of the Acehnese people into the future.

The KP-PRA's conference received warm greetings from a number of circles. Aceh Regional House of Representatives (DPRD) speaker Sayed Fuad Zakaria, the head of the Aceh DPRD's Commission I Mukhlis Mukhtar and Ghazali Abbas Adan (a former member of the House of Representatives) were also seen during the opening of the congress. The three even gave welcoming remarks to the congress. [dzie]

[Translated by James Balowski.]

Local political party in Aceh holds congress

Jakarta Post - February 28, 2007

Nani Afrida, Banda Aceh – While a presidential decree on local political parties is still being worked out, Aceh's first-ever local party is being born this week.

The preparation committee for the establishment of the Aceh People's Party (PRA) launched its first congress in Banda Aceh on Tuesday.

During the four-day congress, representatives will elect the party's board of chairpersons and formulate its struggle programs.

The founding of the preparation committee was announced in March 2006, with the aim of establishing a local party in line with the 2005 peace agreement between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement.

The nascent party sprang from the congress of the Aceh Democratic People's Struggle Front early last year. The party aims to gain support from farmers, fishermen, students and other poor people throughout Aceh.

Participants of the congress will also prepare the party's statutes and rules of association, strategy and tactics, as well as a party manifesto, resolution and slogan.

The PRA will be the first local party ready to take part in the legislative elections in Aceh in 2009.

"The congress is expected to be attended by 400 participants, representing 16 regencies and 92 districts. We've built structures there eight months after the party's declaration," Rahmat Jailani, head of the congress' organizing committee, said Tuesday.

"We hope the PRA will be able to act as an alternative to create a new Aceh, namely an Aceh that is free from imperialism and is independent in terms of economy, politics and a modern administrative system," said Thamrin Ananda, head of the PRA preparation committee.

Even though most of the politicians establishing the party are young, they say they have learned a lot from the failures of such national parties as the Democratic People's Party.

"We will learn from those experiences and try to combine them," said Mahmudal, another member of the preparation committee.

Members of the congress' organizing committee said they were not worried about holding the congress while the presidential decree was still being drafted in Jakarta.

"The central government promised to complete the deliberation of the decree in late February. So we are going ahead with the congress," Rahmat said.

He explained that PRA members had read the draft of the decree, so they could easily adjust to any changes made in the decree later. "The contents of the presidential decree are more technical, so the structure of PRA will be easy to fine-tune later," Rahmat said.

In December, the PRA preparation committee submitted its criticisms of the draft. They argued several elements needed revision, especially the one dealing with political affiliation.

According to the draft, for a local party to send a member to the House of Representatives, it must be affiliated with a national party. "The local party should have its own chair at the House. If not, where are the special characteristics of the local party?" Rahmat asked.

Aceh: New forms of foreign domination developing

Green Left Weekly - February 28, 2007

The left-wing Acehnese Peoples Party (PRA) will be holding its founding congress in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh at the end of February. Sydney University Southeast Asian Studies lecturer Max Lane spoke to Thamrin Ananda, chairperson of the Preparatory Committee of the PRA.

There have recently been elections for governor and district heads in Aceh. The governorship and vice-governorship were won by figures from the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and from the pro- referendum movement. Has the political struggle that characterised the situation in Aceh in the 1980s and 1990s ended?

The struggle has not at all ended, but the nature of the problem has changed. Aceh is becoming increasingly caught in a neoliberal trap of intensified capitalist exploitation. The natural disasters that Aceh has experienced are being used by foreign capital to further their economic and political penetration. All natural resources, especially oil, have been claimed by foreign companies. The northern part of Aceh has been flooded with foreign companies, but there has been no improvement in the welfare of the people.

The key institutions of state power are also being taken over by foreign agencies. The governor's office is dominated by USAID, the US Agency for International Development. The Regional Development Planning Agency has been taken over by the UN Development Program. And the Australian AIPRD aid operation is dominating the local district administrations.

In these circumstances, only those who can be described as "good human capital" can earn a decent income – nobody here has any actual capital.

We have very high unemployment and poverty rates. Official statistics show that there are almost 900,000 families under the poverty line – 54% of families. The Bureau of Statistics says that 17% – 417,000 people – are unemployed. And if we add in underemployment, the figure would go up to 1.3 million people, or 28.2% of the adult population.

What then is the significance of the victory of candidates associated with GAM and the referendum movement?

Irwandi Yusuf and Muhammad Nazar won with 39% of the vote. Moreover, in seven of the 19 districts where there were direct elections for district heads. Candidates associated with GAM also won these. This is indeed very significant. It is a defeat for the various national, that is, Indonesia-wide, parties and represents an advance by the Acehnese people. It shows that they no longer have any trust in the Indonesian political elite and seek an alternative, including with locally based parties.

But this new Irwandi-Nazar government, while adopting some populist welfare policies, will compromise with the neoliberal agenda. The national parties will use any dissatisfaction as momentum against them in the 2009 elections.

It is now much easier for foreign capital to get into Aceh than before when foreign investors had to deal with a lot of red tape in Jakarta. Even while Jakarta may see Irwandi-Nazar as anti- national elements, at the same time they are good agents for neoliberal penetration.

On the other hand, the Irwandi-Nazar victory is a symbol of the victory of the Acehnese people in defeating the political- military domination of Jakarta.

This reflects the political consciousness of the Acehnese population then?

Yes, but in a way this will not be good for the peoples' struggle. They will continue to be motivated by a chauvinist nationalism which will make Jakarta the main enemy, while the Irwandi-Nazar government itself will in fact be the people's enemy in their struggle for greater welfare.

There is still no strong awareness of the role of neoliberalism as a force hostile to the people's welfare. There is no awareness of the global imperialist system of exploitation, with Third World countries as the main object of exploitation. Raising awareness of this and enabling the people to assess the Irwandi- Nazar government and its program within this framework is a big task now.

So how do you think the Acehnese political scene will now develop? There are many initiatives to set up Aceh-based parties, including of course our own, the PRA. It is GAM that has the best structure and base to set up a local party, but they are being negatively affected by their own internal divisions. In the recent elections, most of the GAM elite supported candidates standing for the United Development Party, a national party. The rest supported Irwandi and Nazar.

This conflict is now very sharp and beyond reconciliation. The GAM leader, Malek Mahmud, has announced that there can only be one GAM party and parties established by other GAM figures will be banned from using GAM symbols. There may be several such parties.

The pro-referendum movement, organises through Sentral Informasi Referendum Aceh (SIRA). This is where Nazar comes from. They say they will set up a party of their own, but this is not certain. SIRA has long hitched itself to GAM. They will need open support from former GAM figures to be able to go with a party of their own.

The NGOs, although they campaigned for local parties, are not involved in this process. Their dependence on foreign funding means they are subject to agendas that concentrate on post- tsunami rehabilitation projects.

The student movement is also disorganised at the moment and disoriented by the rise of neoliberalism.

There is a massive ideological battle starting up among Acehnese, but this is complicated by the arrival of so many foreign social-democratic forces intent on having an influence and operating through so many of the foreign agencies.

So the Aceh-Jakarta relationship is even more complex now?

The national-based parties were defeated in the elections. This has broken Jakarta's domination, but in an indirect way. The new government, even with GAM elements in it, will not reflect the end of such domination if it plays the role of agents for Jakarta or for imperialist interests.

The growth of foreign domination is now the new trend. The fact that the central government in Jakarta was unable to end the military conflict and had to allow a role for foreigners opened the door to them. Then the fact that the military and political elite in Aceh were unable to act professionally further expanded that role.

The Body for the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction (BRR) and the Acehnese government is where they are concentrating their interests. The BRR is no longer just a reconstruction body but a kind of marketplace where deals and policy formulation for so many giant projects take place. Many real needs of the people, such as housing, remain unfulfilled while other big projects get implemented, but even then, by foreign companies, not by government companies.

The character of this new government is such that it virtually worships the presence of foreign investors. Its development strategy is not different from that of the previous government.

It would be a different matter if the government had a more anti-imperialist character and were to announce, for example, that all Acehnese resources belonged to the government of Aceh and not foreign companies.

This process has been made possible by the long-term military repression by Jakarta that has weighed down for so long on the Acehnese people and which has shaped their political consciousness.

Acehnese Peoples Party to hold first congress

Aceh Kita - February 22, 2007

Radzie, Banda Aceh – The Preparatory Committee for the Acehnese People's Party (Komite Persiapan Partai Rakyat Aceh, KP-PRA) will hold its first congress between February 27 and March 2. Following the congress, the party will be declared as the first local political party in Aceh. Some 450 members will participate in the congress, which according to plans will be opened by Aceh Governor Irwandi Yusuf at the Aula State Vocational School in Banda Aceh.

According to the chairperson of the congress organising committee, Rahmat Djailani, the congress will discuss the party's platform, principles, statutes, rules of association and future program. In addition to this congress participants will elected a party chairperson and general secretary.

Rahmat said that currently there are four candidates that have emerged to contest the position of party chairperson, Thamrin Ananda (currently the chairperson of the KP-PRA), Aguswandi (the former secretary general of Student Solidarity for the People, SMUR), Raihana Diani (chairperson of the Women's Organisation for Aceh Democracy, ORPAD) and a leader of a traditional Islamic boarding school located in West Aceh.

"The pesantren leader was put forward by comrades from the western beach area and South Aceh", said Rahmat when speaking with Aceh Kita on Thursday February 22.

Following the congress on March 3, the PRA will be declared as a local political party that will enliven the democratic climate in Aceh following the Helsinki peace deal. Rahmat claimed that the PRA had already fulfilled the requirements to be registered as a local political party with the Department of Justice and Human Rights. The PRA currently has branch offices in 16 regencies/municipalities in Aceh.

"We are ready and will continue to provide for all of the requirements to register with the Department of Justice and Human Rights. Later after the local political party's leadership board has been affirmed, it will be registered immediately", said Rahmad, who is also the chairperson of SMUR Aceh.

Rahmat added that the PRA is being established as a means to struggle for the wishes of the middle- and lower social classes in Aceh, who represent their mass base of support.

KP-PRA chairperson Thamrin Ananda meanwhile said that the presence of local political parties in Aceh is extremely important at the moment. "The Acehnese people currently need a political tool, no longer a mass organisation, to bring change to Aceh's social order," said Thamrin when speaking with Aceh Kita.

According to Thamrin, up until now politics in Aceh have been controlled by long-term and older people, who cannot possibly create meaningful change in Aceh. "The PRA sees that there is a need to change the political reality that has existed up until now", he said.

In order to create this such change, the first congress will discuss the PRA's program and political tasks. Thamrin said that the PRA is taking up issues to create an Aceh that is modern and self-sufficient economically. This is important said Thamrin, to improve the welfare of ordinary people.

"If for example we are talking about foreign investment, it must be mutually beneficial. So investors benefit, the regional government benefits also", said Thamrin who is also the chairperson of the Acehnese Popular Democratic Resistance Front (FDPRA). "There must be a balancing of shares between investors and the regional government", he said.

Because of this therefore, the PRA is urging the Aceh Regional House of Representatives to enact a by-law on foreign investment that sides with the ordinary people and not just with business. [dzie]

[Translated by James Balowski.]

 West Papua

West Papua - calling it a betrayal would be too generous

Green Left Weekly - February 28, 2007

Rohan Pearce – February 23 marked the deadline for submissions to the federal parliament's Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCT) on the new Australia-Indonesia "security" pact. If there is any uncertainty about the hypocrisy that underlies Australia's neo-colonial foreign policy, then this treaty – a "mending the fences" exercise after the federal government granted asylum to 43 pro-independence West Papuan refugees in 2006, and, before that, Canberra's reluctant 1999 intervention in East Timor – should end it.

The treaty was signed by the Australian and Indonesian foreign ministers, Alexander Downer and Hassan Wiryuda, on November 13 in Mataram, Lombok. It reaffirms "the commitment to the sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity of both Parties, and the importance of the principles of good neighbourliness and non-interference in the internal affairs of one another".

The reaffirmation of "territorial integrity" – the phrase is repeated four times throughout the document – is a signal from the Australian political elite to their Indonesian counterparts that the interests of Australian capital will continue to predominate in relations with Indonesia, and crimes committed in West Papua will be almost certainly overlooked, occasional human rights rhetoric aside.

A February 2 submission to the JSCT by the Australia West Papua Association expressed particular concern about article 2.3 of the agreement, which states that the parties "shall not in any manner support or participate in activities by any person or entity which constitutes a threat to the stability, sovereignty or territorial integrity of the other Party, including by those who seek to use its territory for encouraging or committing such activities, including separatism, in the territory of the other Party".

AWPA believes that "this article is a direct reference to West Papua" and may lead to attempts to silence groups that campaign in solidarity with West Papuans. Another concern is that the treaty "could commit the various Australian intelligence organisations to pass on information to Indonesian intelligence about the activities of human rights organisations working on the issue of West Papua".

There is little question the treaty will be ratified. In a July 2000 speech to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, a pro-business think tank, Downer emphasised: "We do not support independence movements in Aceh or in West Papua ... Australia is totally committed to the territorial integrity of Indonesia." He added it was " a point that we need to ram home over and over again. Not just so that the Indonesians know where we stand, cause some in Indonesia question this, but in order to get [the] broader international community consolidated behind the Indonesians in support of the territorial integrity of Indonesia." This has been reiterated by Downer and other members of the federal government.

The treaty will almost certainly receive support from Labor leader Kevin Rudd and his party. In April last year, Rudd told reporters that "whatever the points of view within the Australian community" on West Papua, "both the Liberal Party and the Labor Party have a view that West Papua is part of the Indonesian republic but we want West Papua to have effective autonomy. You can have West Papua as part of the Indonesian republic, which we all support."

This bipartisan backing for West Papua's "integration" into Indonesia regardless of the views of its indigenous population has, of course, an antecedent in the form of Liberal and Labor backing for Indonesia's 1975 annexation of East Timor. For decades politicians of both persuasions told the Australian public that the integration of East Timor into Indonesia was "irreversible" – as then Labor foreign minister Gareth Evans put it.

According to a June 1994 Melbourne Age article, Evans "has declared that it is impossible for East Timor to regain its independence because this would create a precedent that could lead to the disintegration of Indonesia. Senator Evans said that the 1975 invasion of East Timor had distressed Australians but it was irreversible and it was quixotic for people to believe otherwise."

In 1991, Downer, then part of the John Hewson-led Coalition opposition to Bob Hawke's Labor government, told parliament: "We cannot walk away from the fact that Indonesia is a sovereign country. We do not want to fall into the trap of being neo- imperialist in our attitude to other countries." He made the comment during a parliamentary debate over a motion moved by ALP MP Garrie Gibson in the wake of the November 1991 Dili massacre of East Timorese by the Indonesian military. Coalition MPs, including Downer and current attorney-general Philip Ruddock, wanted the motion watered down, though the motion's threats to possibly reconsider military ties to the Indonesian dictatorship ultimately amounted to nothing.

Of course Downer's warnings about being seen as "neo-imperialist" have only been trundled out when the villain of the piece is one of the "good guys". "What do we do when these people are going around, certainly in the case of Saddam Hussein and Milosevic, slaughtering their people?", Downer rhetorically asked during a March 2004 ABC Radio interview to justify Australia's participation in the illegal invasion of Iraq. "How do we stop this? Is the notion of sovereignty so sacrosanct that we should stand by as the world did in Africa, in Rwanda during the 1990s ... should we just stand by and watch people being slaughtered?" That option is only applicable with causes that don't find favour with the Australian government, the West Papuan struggle evidently among them.

In March 2005, Ed McWilliams, a member of the board of directors of the US-based Indonesia Human Rights Network, testified to a subcommittee of the US House of Representatives' Committee on International Relations that it is "estimated that over 100,000 Papuans died in the years following the forced annexation of West Papua" by the Suharto regime in 1969.

Australian complicity in this slaughter stretches back to at least 1962, when Canberra prevented two pro-independence activists who had crossed the border into Papua New Guinea, then governed by Australia, from travelling to talks on the New York Agreement, the US-sponsored negotiations between Indonesia and the Netherlands that led to the so-called "Act of Free Choice" – the July-August 1969 farce during which just over 1000 Papuans, chosen and intimidated by Jakarta, voted for the integration of West Irian (as it was called) into the republic.

The outcome of the sham vote was never in doubt, and all parties to the agreement (no West Papuans were involved in the New York negotiations) knew it. A confidential October 4, 1968, message from Washington's embassy in Jakarta to the US State Department praised Fernando Ortiz Sanz, the UN official sent to Indonesia to "assist" with the vote. He "has established [a] close rapport and a commendable degree of mutual understanding" on the implementation of the New York Agreement with Suharto and the dictator's foreign minister. "He is ... attempting to devise a formula for an 'act of free choice' in West Irian which will result in affirmation of Indonesian sovereignty but which will also represent a fair reflection of the people's desires and will stand the test of international opinion."

A message from the US embassy in Jakarta sent in May 1968 reported on a consular trip to the province: "It is the opinion of most observers in the area that Indonesia will not accept independence for West Irian and will not permit a plebiscite which would reach such an outcome ... All but one Westerner contacted were persistent in the belief that Indonesia could not win an open election ... It is generally believed that the separatists will not accept permanent union without a struggle.

"The missionaries, UN employees and apparently some of the indigenous separatists assume that Indonesia will not give up West Irian willingly, and will arrange a form of plebiscite which will ensure a 'vote' for union ... According to most missionaries, virtually the entire population of the developed areas should be counted as anti-Indonesian ..."

"Regarding the magnitude of the opposition to Indonesian rule, probably a decided majority of the Irianese people, and possibly 85 to 90 percent, are in sympathy with the Free Papua cause or at least intensely dislike Indonesians", a cable from the US embassy sent on July 9, 1969, noted.

Documents released by the Australian foreign affairs department to SBS's Dateline program in 1999 revealed the depth of Australian backing for Indonesia's takeover of West Papua. In the August 26, 1999, Melbourne Age, SBS's Antony Balmain wrote that the documents revealed Canberra "maintained a secret military and intelligence relationship with Indonesia, aimed at eliminating armed pro-independence sentiment. The documents show Australian military officers collected evidence of Indonesian atrocities, including rapes, beatings, lootings and torching of villages."

Since 1969, the attitude of Australian capital – and therefore the policy of Australian capitalist governments – towards West Papuans' plight, as with the broader approach towards Indonesia since 1965, has remained consistent. The guiding factors in Australian policy have been maintaining the continued existence of a stable, capitalist Indonesia with a government generally willing to accommodate itself to the dictates of imperialism (a key factor in Australian support for the bloody overthrow of Sukarno's nationalist regime by Suharto and the subsequent massacre of more than half-a-million people) as well as the direct economic interests through trade and investment – trade between the two nations was $10 billion in 2005-06 and around 400 Australian companies operate in Indonesia.

But despite the near unanimity regarding policy towards West Papua on the part of "our" politicians, most Australians support Papuans' right of self-determination. By February 21, only two of the eight submissions to the JSCT posted on the committee's website supported the treaty – that of the "Australian Patriot Movement" and a submission from Malcolm Cook of the right-wing Lowy Institute for International Policy who bemoaned the fact that "the Australian public seems largely unaware of how far democracy has advanced in Indonesia". According to an April 7-9, 2006, Newspoll over 76% of Australians support self-determination for West Papua – a mere 5.5% oppose it.

Whether West Papua's future lies in remaining part of Indonesia or as an independent nation, Papuan discontent with Jakarta's rule will likely continue unless the region's ongoing economic, environmental and social problems are solved, and repression of Papuan discontent, including expressions of nationalism, is ended. This will almost certainly mean at some point redressing the fundamental injustice of the "Act of Free Choice", yet, with this latest treaty with Indonesia, the Australian government seems eager to cut off any possibility of this.

West Papuan visitors speak about problems in the province

Tapol - February 23, 2007

On a visit to London this week, Peneas Lokbere, a young West Papuan who survived the Abepura killings in 2000, said that many of the survivors are still suffering from the after effects of that incident, physically or psychologically.

Peneas was speaking on behalf of Komunitas Survivor Abepura, the Community of Abepura Survivors (KSA) and is also co-ordinator of the PBHI (Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association) office in Jayapura, West Papua. He has visited several European countries to spread awareness about the first Abepura incident in 2000 as well as other incidents that have occurred in West Papua in the past few years. He also drew attention to the failure of Indonesia's judicial system to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice.

His European trip was sponsored by Peace Brigades International (PBI), an organisation which provides protection for human rights activists in all parts of the world. Accompanying him was Rudolf Kabayong, from the Peace and Justice Secretariat (SKP) of the Jayapura Diocese.

The First Abepura incident occurred on 7 December 2000. On that day, the local police headquarters in Jayapura was attacked; one police officer and a security guard were killed. In response, police conducted "sweepings" of three student dormitories and several other places at 2am the following morning. One hundred and fifty people, including nine women and a seven-year old child were rounded up and taken into custody. On the trucks that drove them away, they were maltreated and taunted with racist remarks. The men were later separated from the women and subjected to very harsh treatment. Their hair was shaved off and in some cases pulled out with flesh, which they were forced to eat. This has clear racist overtones as all Papuans have frizzy or curly hair unlike most other Indonesians who have straight hair. Another taunt was: "You eat pig meat which is why you look like pigs."

The women captives were burnt with cigarettes and told that they were no good for anything but looking after the home. During the round-up, two of the men died in their cells and one died during raids on the dormitories.

The treatment of these West Papuans was witnessed by a Swiss journalist named Oswald Iten who was being held in police custody in connection with a separate incident and held for nine days. He later spoke about what he had seen, which was published in an Australian newspaper:

He described how he was able to peer through the bars of the cell-block leading to the guardroom where the men were being held. "About half a dozen policemen were swinging their clubs at bodies that were lying on the floor. "After returning to his cell, he said: "I could still see the clubs, staffs and split bamboo whips at their work. Their ends were smeared with blood and blood sprayed on the walls all the way up to the ceiling."

Later Iten witnessed the death of one of the prisoners, Orry Doronggi.

"The last to enter (my cell) was a large man, who fell over the bodies on the floor and lay groaning. He tried repeatedly to straighten himself up, only to fall back down again... In the back of the big man's head, there appeared to be a coin-sized hole through which I believed to spot some brain tissue. After nearly an hour and a half of groaning and spasmodic movement, his suffering body neared its end. About two metres from me, his powerful body raised itself again and his head struck the wall. A final laboured breath issued from him, then his head dropped down on the cement floor... After a while, three lackeys came and dragged the body out. I later learnt that the man who had been tortured to death was named Ori Doronggi.

I saw a picture of his corpse in the newspaper, Cendrawasih Pos. The dispatch said three dead Papuans had been brought to the morgue and the police stated that they had died in the fighting". [Sydney Morning Herald, 9 January, 2001, re-published in TAPOL Bulletin, No. 161, March/April 2001.]

Peneas said that three men had died on the first day: Orri Ndoronggi, Jhonu Karungu and Elkius Suginiap. A fourth man, Arnold Mundu Soklayo, died four years later, in April 2004; he had been totally paralysed since the incident. Three others also died in 2004: Upenus Kogoya, Robi Wonda and Temandur Koyoga. Another two died in 2005, Daud Lkbere and Patianus Lokbere, and Denni Degei died in 2006.

Komnas HAM investigation

The Abepura incident was subsequently investigated by the National Human Rights Commission, Komnas HAM, which concluded: "This case constitutes a gross violation of human rights and should be prosecuted under the rights tribunal law rather than under the Criminal Code." The Commission named 25 police officers as suspects, of whom 21 were members of the elite police force, Brimob and four were high-ranking police officers in West Papua. The Commission's findings were submitted to the Attorney-General for him to take the matter further.

Two months earlier, in November 2000, Indonesia had adopted a Human Rights Law, according to which gross violations of human rights should be tried before a Human Rights Court. It was the Human Rights Court in Makassar which was entitled to try cases occurring in West Papua.

Pressure soon mounted for the perpetrators to be brought to justice, but it was not until 2003 that the Human Rights Court in Makassar began the hearings. Only two of the suspects named by Komnas HAM were put on trial, Jhoni Wainal and Daud Sihombing. Much to the disappointment and anger of the survivors, the two men were acquitted on the grounds that the charges against them could not be described as gross human rights violations. According to the Court, these were "ordinary crimes" and should therefore be heard before a criminal court. The charges have been taken no further. Both men were released and have since been promoted. Peneas explained that the case had since been forwarded to the Supreme Court but he was not optimistic about the outcome.

Activities of the Komunitas Survivor Abepura

The KSA was set up in Jayapura on 4 April 2002. Its main objective is to pursue judicial means in pursuance of their rights. The KSA now has 102 members, all of whom are survivors and their families.

The KSA regards the Abepura incident as a typical example of many other incidents that have occurred in West Papua since 2000, all of which should be properly investigated and brought to court. These include:

The Wasior Incident in 2001

Villagers in Wondama has been in dispute for years about compensation from a local logging company for trees felled on their land. On 31 March, three employees of the company were shot dead in an attack by an unidentified group of men. Troops of Brimob, a very brutal elite force of the Indonesian police, arrived, to seek out the OPM, alleged to be responsible for the killings. Fearful of the arrival of these troops, many villagers fled their homes.

On 3 May, Brimob seized 22 men on their way home from attending a traditional event. Six of the men were shot dead, two were seriously wounded and the reast were arrested.

On 13 June, another attack on a logging company occurred, killing five members of Brimob who were standing guard at the company. This led to Brimob, together with the regional military command, launching OperasiPenyisiran dan Penumpasan (Sweep and Crush Operation). More Brimob troops were flown in and the region of Wasior was sealed off. They extended their operations to Ransiki where nine people were arrested and tortured, including a 15-year old schoolboy who was so badly beaten he fell unconscious.

Among the people arrested were a 51-year old primary school teached,Daniel Yairus Ramar, head of the local tribal council, who died from torture. His wife was later taken into custody. The police pressured her to say that her husband had been involved in the attacks on the logging companies, which she refused to do.

The Wamena incident in 2003

On 4 April, an ammunitions depot was attacked; weapons and a large quantity of ammunitions were seized. The Indonesian army (TNI) accused separatists of the attack, thought other sources believed that the army was behind the incident, to justify a crackdown.

Kopassus troops that has previously been withdrawn from the area were called back and up to thirty people were arrested, of whom nay were beaten and tortured. One young Papuan, Yapenas Murib, died in the hands of Kopassus. He died after being taken out to the street, in a very weak state. A noose was put round his neck and he was order to walk in one direction while a truck attached to the rope pulled in the other direction, causing him to fall and he was dragged along the ground. He died after choking on his food.

The army conducted sweepings throughout the area; many homes were burnt down, as well as three schools and a clinic. [For a detailed report of this incident, see TAPOL Bulletin No. 171/172, June-July 2003.]

Other incidents have occurred in West Papua, the most recent being the 16 March 2006 Incident when students at Cendrawasih University organised protests against the Freeport mining operations, after local people had been driven away for looking for gold in the debris left by the company. A clash occurred near the university when five members of the security forces who had tried to remove a blockage set up on the road by the students were killed or fatally injured. During the sweeps that followed, many students fled the area, across the border to Papua New Guinea where, as far as we know, they are still taking refuge.

Twelve days later, on 28 March, a masked man shot at students and three days later, the Kejora flag was unfurled at the University. In May 2006, a group of unidentified men attacked a military post in Arso, near the border with PNG.

None of these incidents have been subjected to proper investigation with a view to bringing those responsible to justice.

In reply to a question about these incidents, Rudolf Kabayong of the SKP said that although President Yudhoyono said after his inauguration as president that he would try to solve the Papua question, the Indonesians have used the military or security approach. He said that the military were seeking to instil fear among Papuans as a way of getting them to abandon their aspirations for freedom.

He also mentioned many other problems in West Papua, among them the decision to go ahead with dividing the province into several provinces, ignoring the need to consult first with the Majelis Rakyat Papua, which in 2003 conducted a public consultation about opinions regarding partition. Little attention was being paid to the many health problems in West Papua or to enabling economic activities to proceed.

Forum urges delay in revising law on Papua autonomy

Jakarta Post - February 23, 2007

Alvin Darlanika Soedarjo, Jakarta – A forum of intellectuals, community representatives and politicians asked the central government Thursday to postpone the planned revision of the 2001 Papuan Special Autonomy law, despite acknowledging that special autonomy has yet to be fully implemented in Papua.

"There should be comprehensive evaluation and planning before reaching the conclusion that revision is urgently needed," Papua Forum chairman Albert Hasibuan told a discussion held at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Central Jakarta.

Albert said that if revision was truly unavoidable, the revised law should not just look after the needs of political elites.

The forum said that six years of special autonomy in Papua had yet to provide opportunities for indigenous Papuans to get involved in managing their own affairs.

"If there should really be a revision, the people of Papua, who are represented by the Papuan Legislative Council (DPRP) and the Papuan People's Assembly (MRP) should participate (in its deliberation)," said a member of the Jakarta Community for Papua (Pokja), Frans Maniagasi.

"These two bodies represent the people while the two governors (Papua and West Papua) represent the central government," Frans said. He added that the implementation of special autonomy law was a "mess" since the supporting legal components were yet to be issued.

"Many Papuans are against the revision because the provincial bylaw (Perdasi), created by the governor and the DPRP; and the special bylaw (Perdasus) created by the governor, DPRP and MRP are not yet available," he said.

Besides the postponement of the planned revision, the Forum also asked the central government to conduct feasibility studies before making decisions on the establishment of new regencies.

Legislator Simon P. Morin, from the Golkar Party faction in the House of Representatives, said that special autonomy needed a special instrument for its execution.

"These instruments should be established by the central government to empower special autonomy," Simon said. He added that the Papuan people's welfare and education have not measurably improved since the special autonomy law was enacted.

"People's empowerment is important. Without empowerment and enforcement from the central government to local offices, the special autonomy law will not be effective," he added.

Simon said local administration offices in Papua should be evaluated closely to deter potential mismanagement, especially in budget allocation. "The more you go down to the level of local bureaucracy, the smaller the funding becomes."

A researcher from the Center for Political Studies at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), Muridan S. Widjojo, said there was nothing wrong with the special autonomy law.

"It's not the law but the implementation of the law. A lot of the funding actually went to activities that would not increase the welfare of the people," he said.

Muridan added that most of the funding went to local administration offices and the bureaucracy. "Where are the funding to improve health clinics and schools or to send teachers to remote areas? There is just no data to prove that substantial allocation has happened," he said.

Human Rights Watch demands release of prisoners in Papua

Jakarta Post - February 22, 2007

M. Taufiqurrahman, Jakarta – An international human rights watchdog has accused the Indonesian government of detaining Papuan activists for their political views.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report, which was made available to The Jakarta Post on Wednesday, that dozens of activists in Papua have been detained by the authorities for expressing their views and raising the Bintang Kejora (Morning Star) separatist flag.

"HRW urges the Indonesian government to immediately and unconditionally release all persons detained or imprisoned for the peaceful expression of their political views," HRW said in the report.

The rights group also called on the government to drop all charges against activists who are awaiting trial for their political activities, and urged a public commitment by Jakarta to ensure no further arrests of political activists in the country's easternmost province.

HRW also asked the government to open access to the province. "End all arbitrary restrictions on access to Papua for journalists, diplomats and human rights organizations," the report said.

The group said it could not provide exact figures on how many political activists have been detained by authorities, given the restrictions on access to Papua. "It is impossible to establish with certainty. However, that this happens with regularity is not in doubt," it said.

The HRW does provide a list of activists it says have been arrested, detained and convicted.

The group notes most of the activists were charged under articles in the Criminal Code that criminalize public expression of hostility, hatred or contempt toward the government and prohibit the expression of such feelings or views through the media.

Among those reportedly sentenced to prison for their political convictions are Filep Karma and Yusak Pakage, considered by the HRW as the most famous political prisoners in Papua. The two were arrested Dec. 2, 2004, and charged with treason, a day after hundreds of people gathered at the Cendrawasih University campus and called for the separation of Papua from Indonesia and the rejection of the special autonomy granted to the province.

HRW also identifies seven individuals – Welmus Musa Asso, Mayus Togodly, Andi Asso, Ghen Jhon Hilapok, Heri Asso, Jean Hasegem and Gustaf Ayomi, it says were charged with raising the Morning Star flag in front of a local council office.

Separately, Johnson Panjaitan of the Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association, which has represented a number of Papuan activists in criminal cases, said his organization has in the past attempted to secure the release of jailed activists.

"The Justice and Human Rights Ministry did not seem to mind the activists being released, but the Coordinating Ministry for Political and Security Affairs still considers it a sensitive issue," Johnson told the Post.

The lawyer also alleged that many of the jailed activists received harsh treatment in prison.

Presidential spokesman Andi Alfian Malarangeng defended the government's actions in protecting the unitary state.

"It is a foregone conclusion that Indonesian territory spans from Sabang to Merauke, and those who challenge this should be seen as separatists and deserve jail terms," Andi told the Post.

He also dismissed complaints about a lack of access to Papua. "We are probably the freest country in Asia when it comes to press freedom," he said.

 Human rights/law

Activist abductions to be investigated

Jakarta Post - February 28, 2007

Ridwan Max Sijabat, Jakarta – The House of Representatives will set up a special committee to investigate the 1997 abduction of 17 democracy activists, alleged to have involved former president Soeharto and Army generals.

The decision was made in a plenary meeting presided over by Deputy House Speaker Zainal Maarif on Tuesday.

A recommendation on the issue had come from the law commission, which had previously failed to press the Attorney General's Office to investigate the case, came on the heels of increasing public pressure.

The National Commission on Human Rights has described the abductions as "gross human rights violation(s)".

Attorney General Abdul Rahman Saleh told a recent hearing with the law commission that he was reluctant to investigate the case because his office had no preliminary evidence.

Many legislators are still skeptical of the House's commitment to the investigation and of political parties to giving their full support to a thorough investigation, despite Tuesday's decision.

"Such weak political support is indicated by the small number of legislators in attendance at the plenary meeting when the decision was made," said Djoko Susilo of the National Mandate Party.

Only around 60 legislators attended the plenary meeting, which was declared valid as more than two-thirds of the 550 House legislators had signed the register.

Ali Mochtar, a Golkar Party legislator, said he was afraid the investigation would become a political game as there was no guarantee that the President would set up an ad hoc court to bring to justice those involved in the case. "The stagnant investigations into the so-called Semanggi and Trisakti tragedies in 1998 and 1999 are bad precedents, because both the House and the government are apparently buying time," he said.

Trimedya Panjaitan, chairman of the law commission and a legislator from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), said both the commission and the PDI-P were committed to resolving the human rights abuses.

"We don't want to be indebted to the people and any human rights violation case must be investigated thoroughly by the Attorney General's Office," he said.

Trimedya said the committee, whose members are expected to be taken from the defense and law commissions, would look for possible human rights abuses in the case as its main task.

"The commission has as its main task looking into how the abduction was conducted and to look for possible human rights violations in the case. Finally, justice must be upheld," he said.

The 13 activists abducted for criticizing Soeharto's regime were Petrus Bima Anugrah, Herman Hendrawan, Suyat, Wiji Thukul, Yani Afri, Sonny, Dedi Hamdun, Noval Al Katiri, Ismail, Ucok Siahaan, Hendra Hambali, Yadin Muhidin and Abdul Nasser.

Some were students while other were supporters of the ex- Democratic People's Party and then Megawati Soekarnoputri-led camp of the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI).

The rights body has asked to interview Soeharto and his close aides in the military, such as former Indonesian Military commander Gen. Wiranto, former chiefs of the Army's Special Forces (Kopassus) Lt. Gen. Prabowo Subianto and Muchdi Purwopranjono, and former chief of Jakarta Military Lt. Gen. Sjafrie Sjamsuddin.

Indonesia dilutes anti-pornography bill

Reuters - February 28, 2007

Jakarta – Indonesian lawmakers have watered down an anti- pornography bill following criticism that it could restrict freedom and threaten the country's tolerant tradition, the parliamentary speaker said on Wednesday.

Controversy over the bill has exposed deep divisions within the world's largest Muslim nation and various groups on both sides of the debate have held street protests over the issue.

"A law must not create divisions within the nation and must be accepted by all citizens," House of Representatives speaker Agung Laksono told foreign reporters.

Major parts of the draft aim to shield the young from pornographic material and lewd acts, but also contains provisions that could jail people kissing in public and criminalise many forms of art or traditional culture that hinge on sensuality.

Laksono said the draft had been revised to take into account cultural traditions and local sensitivities. "In places like Bali and Papua, bare-breasted women are a daily sight. If such things are banned it will be against local customs," he said.

Laksono said he hoped the bill, which was first drafted 10 years ago, would be passed before the end of this year and its name has been changed from the Anti-Pornograhy and Pornographic Action Bill to just the Pornography Bill.

Supporters of the bill, particularly Islamic groups, say tough measures are necessary to protect the public from corrupting Western influence.

Although illegal, explicit material is available with relative ease in Indonesia, and television programs regularly feature bared flesh and sexual innuendo.

Critics say if passed, such a law could pave the way for vigilante groups to take the law into their own hands under the pretexts of upholding morality.

Militant Muslim groups in Indonesia, particularly since the fall of the autocratic Suharto presidency in 1998, have sporadically taken vigilante action against red-light areas or liberal publications deemed offensive.

Seizing on the decentralization that accompanied Suharto's fall, some regions have passed restrictive laws designed to ensure public morality, raising concern among some more liberal groups.

Indonesia security pact rethink urged

Australian Associated Press - February 26, 2007

The widow of an Indonesian human rights activist who was fatally poisoned on an international flight has called for Australia to rethink its security treaty with Indonesia.

Munir Talib Sahir became violently ill on a Garuda flight to Amsterdam in September 2004 and was pronounced dead shortly before arrival. An autopsy revealed he had died from arsenic poisoning.

A Garuda co-pilot was found guilty of his murder in December 2005, but the Supreme Court quashed the conviction 10 months later, citing insufficient evidence.

Munir's widow Suciwati told a parliamentary inquiry into the security treaty that her husband had been killed because he dreamed of democracy for Indonesia.

"Munir had a dream of having Indonesia with democracy, of having Indonesia with human rights, and also having military professionals," Suciwati, speaking through an interpreter, told the joint standing committee on treaties.

"But just because he had this dream he was killed, because he was very vocal and very active in criticising military abuses and also criticising government abuses in order to have a better government, democratic government and professional military."

Suciwati said she believed her husband's murder was a conspiracy involving airline officials and state intelligence agencies.

She appeared at the inquiry with Indonesian Solidarity, a group calling for the security treaty to be rejected.

Indonesia Solidarity has raised concerns over the commitment to non-interference in each country's internal affairs and provisions allowing cooperation between intelligence and law enforcement agencies in both countries.

Its concerns were echoed by an Australian civil rights group, which called for the agreement to be rewritten to protect Australian travellers from the death penalty in Indonesia.

Civil Liberties Australia said six of the Bali Nine drug smuggling ring were on death row because of information given to Indonesian authorities by the Australian Federal Police.

"We now have six Australians on death row – sentenced to death in Bali – as a result of that," spokesman William Rowlings told the hearing.

"We don't believe it's appropriate for the Australian Federal Police to pass intelligence to the Indonesians or any other government or any other police force where it could result in Australians or the nationals of those countries or any other countries suffering the death penalty.

"The reason for that is that we support this parliament. This parliament legislated that the Australian standard would be that the death penalty doesn't apply, so we should not export that death penalty."

NGO drafts regulation on victim restitution

Jakarta Post - February 23, 2007

Jakarta – A coalition of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) is drafting an alternative regulation on compensation and restitution for the victims of human rights abuse and crime, at the same time as the government is drafting its own.

"We want to give some input to the government team currently discussing the regulation on compensation and restitution, and we are collecting public opinion on the current situation as well as all regulations related to these matters," Illian Deta Arta Sari, of the Coalition for the Protection of Witnesses and Victims, said Thursday.

The coalition comprises organizations including the Indonesia Corruption Watch, the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (KONTRAS), Elsam, the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta) and the LBH APIK women's organization.

The coalition says there are already regulations related to compensation, such as Law No. 20/2000 on human rights trials and Government Regulation No. 3/2002 on compensation, restitution and rehabilitation for victims of gross human rights violations. However, they say the implementation of these laws and regulations has not been effective.

"We want to make sure that this new regulation benefits the victims, including those in human rights cases," said Illian.

"Most regulations in this country are more offender-oriented, and pay less attention to the victims," said Fachri Bey, a senior lecturer in Victimology and Child protection at the University of Indonesia.

He cited the example of the Commission on Truth and Reconciliation, which requires victims to forgive perpetrators as a condition for compensation.

"The government's draft also lacks the victims' perspective, and doesn't guarantee fulfillment of the rights of victims," he said, adding that the mechanism to get compensation was complicated and long.

"This new government regulation should provide simple and easy access for victims to get their compensation," Illian said.

 War on corruption

SBY slammed for meddling in Yusril spat

Jakarta Post - February 26, 2007

M. Taufiqurrahman, Jakarta – Anti-graft activists have deplored President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's move to involve himself in the conflict between the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) and State Secretary Yusril Ihza Mahendra.

Activist Ridaya La Ode Ngkowe, deputy working board coordinator of the Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW), said over the weekend that Yudhoyono's involvement in the affair would set a bad precedent for future anti-graft campaigns.

"What Yudhoyono has done indicates that politics takes precedence over law enforcement, and that he preferred to resolve the Yusril-KPK row in a political manner," Ridaya told The Jakarta Post.

Yudhoyono intervened Friday in the week-long spat over procedural oversight in procurement projects by calling a snap Cabinet meeting to discuss the matter.

Ridaya said Yudhoyono needed to come up with a legal solution to the spat and not just help reach a political compromise between Yusril and the KPK's chairman, Taufiequrrachman Ruki.

"Instead, he decided to approve the direct appointments in government-funded projects carried by both sides," he said, adding that the decision contradicted a 2003 government regulation on government-funded procurement projects.

The likelihood of the conflict ending anytime soon, however, is slim with Ruki vowing to press ahead with the KPK's investigation of Yusril over the procurement of a fingerprint scanning machine, and Yusril calling auditors to launch an investigation of the anti-graft commission.

Yusril accused the KPK chairman of failing to hold an open tender in the procurement of wiretapping devices worth Rp 34 billion (US$3.7 billion).

Yusril launched the attack after being questioned by the anti- graft commission for violating the government regulation in the procurement of a Rp 18.4 billion fingerprint scanning machine.

The KPK also acted over suspicions that mark-ups and bribery were involved in the procurement project.

Speaking after the Cabinet meeting Friday, Yudhoyono said that appointing suppliers rather than holding a public bidding was sometimes appropriate under certain circumstances.

Meanwhile, executive director of the Indonesian Procurement Watch (IPW), Budihardjo Hardjowiyono, said that Yudhoyono's statement authorizing a direct appointment could set a bad precedent for future procurement projects.

"Officials, be they governors, regents or majors, could make similar decisions about not holding a public bidding in government-funded procurement projects as the President himself has done," Budiharjo told the Post.

The chairman of the Indonesian Procurement and Distribution Firms Association, John Palinggi, said direct appointments were closely related to corrupt and mark-up practices. "In Indonesia, some 63 percent of direct appointment cases show the tendency of corrupt and mark up practices," John was quoted as saying by detik.com news portal.

"We don't need to focus on the direct appointment mechanism as there is already a presidential decree on it. But we have to focus on possible accompanying corruption cases."

Plot thickens as Yusril renews attack on KPK

Jakarta Post - February 23, 2007

Jakarta – The plot has thickened in the spat between State Secretary Yusril Ihza Mahendra and the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), with the former accusing the latter of being a corrupt institution that requires a thorough audit.

Yusril said Thursday that the Attorney General's Office's antigraft team and the State Development Finance Comptroller ought to launch an investigation of the KPK over allegations of corruption.

"All institutions in the vicinity of the State Palace, including the State Secretariat, have been targeted in an antigraft probe and only the KPK has so far eluded the probe," Yusril told reporters on the sideline of bilateral talks between President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badhawi.

Tension brewed between the state secretary and the KPK after the former filed a graft complaint against the commission's chief, Taufiequrrachman Ruki, last Friday.

Yusril accused Ruki of failing to hold a public bidding for a government-funded project, which ended in the procurement of wiretapping devices worth of Rp 34 billion (US$3.7 billion).

He accused Ruki of violating a 2003 government regulation that required the participation of as many bidders as possible in the procurement of goods for government-funded projects worth more than Rp 50 million.

Yusril launched an attack on the KPK a day after he was questioned by the antigraft commission for violating the same government regulation.

In 2004, when he was Justice and Human Rights Minister, Yusril oversaw the procurement of the Rp 18.4 billion fingerprint scanning machine at the ministry.

The KPK said the procurement of the wiretapping devices had won approval from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, which was stated in a letter signed by Yusril himself.

On Thursday, Yusril used plain language in accusing the KPK chief of padding the price of the wiretapping devices. Quoting telematics expert Roy Suryo, Yusril said the price paid for the devices was too high. "Just like what (Roy) has said, the price tag is between Rp 8 billion and Rp 12 billion (for the wiretapping devices)," Yusril said.

Yusril maintained that he was not guilty of the allegations made against him, which pertained to the procurement of the fingerprint scanning device. He laid the blame on his successor, current Justice and Human Rights Minister Hamid Awaluddin.

"Two days after I signed the document awarding the contract I was relieved from my position. So the implementation of the project fell into the hands of the new minister," Yusril said.

Meanwhile, Ruki has finally broken his silence on the matter and denied he was engaged in a personal conflict with Yusril.

"There's no such thing as spat between the KPK and the state secretary, Yusril and Ruki. It's conceived by the press," Ruki, who just returned from Manado, North Sulawesi, told reporters at his office.

 Jakarta/urban life

Floods put dwindling lakes under the spotlight

Jakarta Post - February 26, 2007

Adianto P. Simamora, Jakarta – Most small lakes in Greater Jakarta are getting shallower as local authorities are not prioritizing their protection, an official said last week.

Even worse, the water in some lakes is no longer fit to be used even for agricultural activities.

"About 60 percent of the roughly 200 lakes in Jakarta, Bogor, Depok, Tangerang and Bekasi were damaged in 2002. It might have now soared to 80 percent," Antung Deddy, assistant deputy for river and lake protection at the ministry told The Jakarta Post.

He said that several factors were damaging the lakes, which serve as catchment zones in the wet season and water reserves during the dry season.

"The heavy sedimentation make the lakes get shallower, thus degrading their ability to contain rainwater," he said. "The rising population of Greater Jakarta is the main cause (as it) converts the lakes into residential areas. Many residents often claim them their own property," he said.

He said that the residents also used the lakes as dumps for both domestic and industrial waste. "People remain unaware about the importance of the lakes. They can contain rainwater and prevent flooding," he said.

Antung said that the administrations of Jakarta, West Java and Banten signed a memorandum of understanding to restore the lakes in 2004. "But there has been no real action yet to implement the agreement," he said.

The agreement, outlining 21 actions to take place between 2004 and 2010, was signed by three governors, three regents and four mayors in Greater Jakarta.

Data from the ministry shows the average area of the lakes is six hectares, with a depth of about five meters. The largest lake is Garukgak in Tangerang, at 130 hectares. As of 2003, there were only 1.4 million ha of lakes in the region, a sharp decrease from the previous year's 2,3 million ha.

The Public Works Ministry has calculated that if the government could return the lakes' area to 2.3 millions ha, they could contain about 116.8 million cubic meters of rainwater. Thus, if the volume of rain falling in Jakarta reached 15,000 cubic meter per second, the capital would be free of flooding

Jakarta alone currently has 42 lakes, but five of them have been converted into business areas.

"Another 16 lakes with a total of 168.4 ha, Rawa Kendal and Rorotan lake in North Jakarta, Penggilingan Lake and Segaran and Dirgantara lakes in East Jakarta have been receding due to land conversion," the ministry said

In Bogor, 93 lakes with a total area of 500,130 ha have shrunk by 29 percent. "The local people converted the lakes for agricultural areas,"the ministry said.

Of the 93 lakes, locally known as situ, 15 are in poor condition, while two other have been transformed into part of the West Java turnpike, in Babakan Madang, and a school, in Gunung Putri.

Sukiswanto of the Bogor Road and Water Agency said that most of the remaining lakes were experiencing sedimentation, usually caused by poor maintenance.

Bogor's lakes, Jasinga, Lewiliang, Parung, Jonggol, Ciawi and Cibinong, range from one to 35 hectares in size.

Sukiswanto said it was hard to prevent lakes being converted into land. "To restore the lakes we will need a huge amount of money, but as some of the lakes are under the authority of the provincial government, we must wait for their initiative," he said.

The lakes in Depok are an indispensable source of groundwater to Jakarta and are now also in a poor state because residences have been built along them. "At least 23.4 hectares of the lakes have been affected due to severe sedimentation and illegal occupancy," he said.

The lakes of Tangerang are in the worst condition, however. The 38 lakes originally had a combined area of 1,065 ha – now they cover only 686.7 ha. The government has allocated Rp 250 billion to restore the lakes, either through leaning or dredging, as part of efforts to avert future floods in the capital.

"We are still mapping the lakes. The Public Works Ministry will lead the restoration job this year as part of the government's master plan to cope with floods in the coming years," he said.

The city administration said it had not received any orders from the government to restore Jakarta's lakes.

"It is a new program. We are not yet ready to restore the lakes because we don't have a budget allocated for them" said Daniel Abbas, who oversees environmental damage control at the Jakarta Environmental Management Agency.

Jakarta has repeatedly asked neighboring administrations to preserve their water catchment areas in order to reduce the risk of flooding in the capital.

[Theresia Sufa in Bogor contributed to the story.]

Poor management worsening water deficit: Study

Jakarta Post - February 24, 2007

Anissa S. Febrina, Jakarta – Jakartans may think they have seen it all when it comes to environmental disasters, but it is a good bet that the worst is yet to come, a study reveals.

By 2015, the city will face a water supply deficit three times more severe than the current situation, the study – which was released late last year by the National Development Planning Board's (Bappenas) water and irrigation directorate – said.

It said that in less than a decade only 65 percent of the demand for water in the city could be met. Climate change and poor water management are the main causes of the worsening water shortages.

In 2005, supply from both the city water operators and individual wells covered only 88 percent of demand.

With a projected population of 12 million people and increasing economic activity, Jakarta's annual demand for water will stand at around 660 million cubic meters by 2015.

By that year, the city will see a deficit of 274.4 million cubic meters, or more than 30 percent of the actual need for water.

Currently, the water deficit is covered by the exploitation of groundwater. Residents continue to dig deeper in order to tap an ample supply of fresh water, while commercial building operators seek approval to extract groundwater from deeper levels.

It is estimated that about 41 percent of the some 10 million people now living in the city rely on groundwater for their daily water needs.

Ideally, only up to 40 percent of the potential groundwater reserve should be extracted. In 2005, groundwater extraction had reached 47.5 percent of the 532 million cubic meters of potential reserve.

Reckless groundwater exploitation is also said to be one of the causes of the water shortages as it has prompted land subsidence and salt water intrusion. The diminishing number of water catchment areas is another contributor.

"If there is no infrastructure intervention, the shortages will get worse. The water deficit is also a cause of the heightened flood risk," the report said.

As the problem occurs not only in Jakarta, but all over Java, administrations should not seek solutions alone.

When the city faced tap water shortages last year due to the declining supply from Jatiluhur dam, city water operators quickly sought other sources, including from neighboring Tangerang.

The same scenario could not be applied should massive water shortages occur in 2015, as Tangerang – and even water reserve areas like Depok and Bogor – will also face higher water deficits.

Building infrastructure alone will not solve the problem, if there are no efforts to rehabilitate and conserve catchment areas, the report said. It is a choice between action or reaction. Jakarta, make your choice.


Indonesian 'mud volcano' woe could widen, say experts

Agence France Presse - February 28, 2007

Jakarta – A danger zone declared around an Indonesian "mud volcano" spewing vast amounts of toxic sludge, which has displaced 15,000 people, may have to be widened, an expert said Wednesday.

A taskforce declared a 440-hectare (1,087-acre) area – including four villages submerged by the mud – uninhabitable after the crater began oozing in May in Sidoarjo district, East Java.

But geologists say a wider area could be affected by subsidence as a result of the phenomenon and could see more people forced from their homes.

"The latest data, from January, showed that there is an elliptical area of about 1.5 kilometres (about one mile) wide and 3.0 kilometres long... that may suffer from subsidence because of the mud outflow," said geologist Adang Bachtiar.

Some places had already sunk by up to one metre (yard), he added.

The wider area covers the main mud crater and areas the mud has yet to reach, but the geologist said it was still too early to order an evacuation.

Workers at the site of the mud crater, which lies near Indonesia's second largest city of Surabaya, are trying to plug the hole with chains of heavy concrete balls.

But by noon Wednesday they were still repairing equipment and a dyke holding back the sludge, team spokesman Rudi Novrianto told AFP.

The audacious but experimental concrete ball plan aims to slow the toxic mudflow by about 50-70 percent.

Five chains of concrete spheres have been dropped into the steaming mud hole since Saturday. The team aims to drop 374 chains in total, though the figure could rise.

Exploratory drilling in May last year by local gas company PT Lapindo Brantas pierced an underground chamber of hydrogen sulphide, forcing hot mud to the surface.

The sea of mud has inundated hundreds of hectares of land, including villages, factories, rice fields and a key highway. It is also threatening to swamp an important railway, which is to be rerouted.

Experts are unsure how long the crater will spew mud if left unchecked, some suggesting it could be years.

Walhi backs police fight againts logging

Jakarta Post - February 24, 2007

Jakarta – A leading environmental organization has praised police action against a company accused of illegal logging, but says it wants the authorities to take a harder line against the crime in the future.

The Indonesian Environmental Forum (Walhi) said the organization supported National Police chief Gen. Sutanto in setting up a police line around the production area of PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP) after the company was suspected of illegal logging practices.

"This is what we have been waiting for. PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper has been exploiting the natural forest in Riau," Chalid Muhammad, the national executive director of Walhi, told reporters Friday.

"We hope the police will follow up this move by charging the company's directors as suspects," Chalid said, adding that the police chief should be consistent and not be afraid of officials who might be backing the company.

Troy Pantouw, PT RAPP's public relations manager, declined to comment on Walhi's accusations. But he said that PT RAPP had always been careful in conducting its business and had always obeyed the government's regulations, including those on logging.

"Our company will be cooperative with the police and the authorities regarding the matter," Troy said when asked about the police's move to restrict the company's activities in Riau.

A coalition from the police's head office and the directorate general of forestry banned operations at the factory area of the company in Pangkalan Kerinci, Pelalawan regency in Riau on Thursday last week, Detik.com news portal reported.

PT Riau Pulp and Paper is a subsidiary of the Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings group, owned by Sukanto Tanoto, who is listed as Indonesia's wealthiest man by Forbes magazine.

Johny S. Mundung, Walhi executive director in Riau, also said that the police had made a big move against PT RAPP, one of the biggest pulp and paper players in the country. He added that it was nothing new for the pulp and paper industry to use illegal logs from the country's forests.

According to Walhi, the pulp and paper industry in the country needs up to 27.71 million cubic meters of wood per year, some 80 percent of which comes from forests instead of industrial plantations.

Sidoarjo roads clear, but anger, bitterness remain

Jakarta Post - February 24, 2007

Indra Harsaputra, Sidoarjo – Police dispersed frustrated residents Friday who had been blocking main roads and railways in Sidoarjo, East Java, upsetting motorists and causing major traffic congestion.

Desperation was in the air as hundreds of protesting residents, whose homes in the Tanggulangin Sejahtera housing complex have been submerged by hot mud gushing from a Lapindo Brantas, Inc. gas exploration site, tried to make their plight heard.

Before dispersing the protesters, the police negotiated with them. Sidoarjo Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Utomo Heru Cahyono tried to persuade the residents to let 15 big vehicles trapped on the blocked turnpike pass, but his pleas were rejected. The police then helped the big vehicles get through the blockage slowly, and the residents gave up and returned to their shelters in Pasar Baru Porong market.

Heru said the effort to disperse protesters was undertaken simply to assist the drivers of the blocked vehicles. "They need to eat. They haven't gone home for two days. If they continued to stay here, what would happen?," he was quoted by Antara as saying.

The protests have forced 40 trains to be canceled or rerouted. Hundreds of truck drivers and other motorists have been sleeping in their vehicles and beside the road, without access to bathing facilities or food.

Driver Totok, 39, said he could only sit under the shadow of his truck, which had been blocked since the protest started on Thursday.

"I tried to convince the protesters to open the roadblock since all the truck drivers were tired and hungry. But they didn't want to open the blockade. I was upset but the police stopped me," he told The Jakarta Post on Friday.

One of the protesting residents, Pudjiono, said they were forced to block roads and other facilities because Lapindo had violated its promises to pay compensation.

"We've staged protests many times but have only been given promises. We are people and our patience has its limit. This time the residents are upset and frustrated," he said.

The housing complex residents are disappointed because they were denied compensation to help them relocate. They demanded to be given similar compensation to victims in four other villages swallowed by the mud.

Residents of the villages were given Rp 2.5 million (US$271) per square meter of house and land affected by the so-called mud volcano.

More than 15,000 people have had to flee their homes, and the mud has submerged villages, factories and fields since it began pouring from the gas exploration site late last May.

After meeting with representatives of the housing complex residents, East Java Governor Imam Utomo said he would work to get them cash compensation. "We will bring the case to the President in hopes of getting the best solution for residents," he said.

Lapindo, however, has insisted it will not pay cash compensation to residents of the complex, saying the area was not included in the compensation scheme it agreed to with the government.

Meanwhile, an effort to slow down the mudflow by partially plugging the crater with concrete balls on chains has been further delayed. "We have not secured the cables yet," Rudi Novrianto, the spokesman for the government team handling the crisis, told AFP.

The attempt involves dropping hundreds of concrete balls chained together in groups down the vent of the mud volcano from a cable held by two cranes. The balls are expected to slow the mud volcano's output by between 50 and 70 percent.

Indonesia mulls concrete solution to mud

Associated Press - February 23, 2007

An Indonesian official has hit back at critics of a plan to control a gushing mud volcano by dropping concrete balls into its crater, saying something must be done to stop a nine-month-long eruption that has displaced 11,000 people.

A team of geologists and engineers hope the plan, believed to have never been tried before, will reduce the amount of mud flowing from the geyser at a gas exploration site on Java island by up to 70 per cent. The mud is now surging out at a rate equivalent to about a million oil drums a day.

The plan follows an abandoned attempt to block the flow by pouring in concrete. Critics have said they doubt the new attempt will work, and that it may be dangerous or cause the mud to flow out from different points.

"Those experts can say what they want, but we have to do something," said Rudi Novrianto, a spokesman for a government task force handling the disaster. "There is no time to debate and sit around."

The team had planned to begin releasing the balls on Friday, but were forced to postpone the operation until a later date – possibly as soon as Saturday – due to technical problems, he said.

Engineers will release five of the chained cement balls, each weighing up to 250kg, and monitor the effect before gradually releasing more balls into the hole, Novrianto said.

He said laboratory tests by geologists at Indonesia's most respected university had indicated the plan will work.

Mud volcanoes are fairly common along volatile tectonic belts such as the one running below Indonesia, and in areas where there are rich oil and natural gas deposits.

Opinions differ about the cause of the mud flow, but experts agree it could continue for years.

Some scientists suggest the rupture was triggered by faulty gas exploration techniques by operator PT Lapindo Brantas. Other research suggests it is the result of increased seismic activity, with the mud flow starting two days after a major earthquake.

The mud has inundated several villagers and scores of factories in one of Java's most densely populated areas. Some of the mud is being channelled to the sea, while the rest is being contained behind dams.

Lapindo is a subsidiary of PT Energy Mega Persada Tbk, controlled by the family of Indonesian Welfare Minister Aburizal Bakrie. He has said repeatedly the geyser was sparked by the earthquake and that his company bears no financial liability.

Indonesian 'mud volcano' victims block roads, railway

Agence France Presse - February 23, 2007

Jakarta – Hundreds of residents whose houses have been submerged by a "mud volcano" blocked a main road junction and railway, causing major congestion near Indonesia's second largest city.

A gas well near Surabaya in East Java has spewed steaming mud since May last year, submerging villages, factories and fields, and forcing more than 15,000 people to flee their homes.

Around 500 protestors demanding compensation blocked the road junction, which is one of the main southern entrances to Surabaya, and an adjoining railway line, causing huge tailbacks and virtually paralyzing the railway system connecting the provincial capital to other parts of East Java.

Police dispersed protestors but they moved south towards Sidoarjo, 20 kilometres (12 miles) away, to continue their protest.

State news agency Antara quoted Surabaya police chief Anang Iskandar as saying about 1,000 police dealt with the incident. "We will be firm if they block (this) road again," he said, adding that police would consider using force if necessary.

Protestors said they would keep blocking main roads to Surabaya until their demands for compensation were met. "We will stay here until we are compensated of our losses," protest coordinator Agus Haryanto told AFP.

Railway officer Sudarsono told ElShinta news radio "the protest that started Thursday afternoon at 3:00 pm (0800 GMT) had caused a 5-kilometre (section) to be impassable."

"We have (had) to re-route trains between Surabaya and Malang," he said, adding that at least 40 scheduled train were cancelled or rerouted. Some of us met with the governor this morning and they offered to relocate us, but we want cash not being relocated," Haryanto said.

Haryanto, who has lost his house, said he had been forced to stay in a temporary shelter with his wife and young child after his house was inundated with the noxious mud. "Only the roof is visible now," he said.

Efforts to slow the massive mudflow by plugging the crater with concrete balls have been further delayed. "We have not secured the cables yet," Rudy Novrianto, spokesman for the government team handling the crisis, told AFP.

The attempt to plug the "mud volcano" involves dropping hundreds of concrete balls chained together in groups from a cable held by two cranes, into the well, which is operated by PT Lapindo Brantas. The concrete balls are expected to slow the outflow by between 50 and 70 percent.

The advancing sea of mud has blocked a nearby main road and is now threatening to swamp a key railway, which is to be rerouted away from the danger zone. However, several geologists have said the scheme is likely to fail.

Welfare minister Aburizal Bakrie claimed last month that the flow was a "natural disaster" unrelated to the drilling activities of Lapindo, which belongs to a group controlled by his family. However, a study by British experts said the eruption was most likely caused by drilling for gas.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has already ordered Lapindo to pay 3.8 trillion rupiah (420 million dollars) in compensation and costs related to the disaster.

Mud volcano conclusion disputed

Jakarta Post - February 23, 2007

Alvin Darlanika Soedarjo, Jakarta – A British volcanologist is disputing a government-sponsored conference's conclusion that the Sidoarjo mud disaster was caused by tectonic forces.

"It's unfortunate that the (Indonesian) government concludes the mud disaster in Sidoarjo is a natural phenomenon," Richard Davies, a mud volcano specialist and professor at England's Durham University, told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

He said drilling activities by Lapindo Brantas Inc. were the likeliest cause of the massive outpouring of mud. "The chance that the mud erupted because of the drilling activities is 90 percent. I feel quite strongly about this."

Davies added that the chance of the mud volcano being triggered by an earlier earthquake in Yogyakarta was 1 to 2 percent, while the chance that both the drilling activities and the earthquake played a role was 8 percent.

Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT) chairman Said D. Jenie said Wednesday that global experts who met for a workshop in Jakarta concluded that the mud was caused by natural tectonic activity.

Some said the disaster, dubbed 'Lusi', an acronym for Lumpur Sidoarjo (Sidoarjo mud), would have occurred eventually with or without the company's drilling activities.

Critics have said the conference invited only scientists who believed the mud geyser was triggered by a natural phenomenon, such as the May 27, 2006 earthquake, which happened two days before the mud eruption.

Davies was not invited as a speaker but attended part of the BPPT conference.

He said any efforts to stop or curb the mudflow would be highly dangerous. He added that the system of mud walls built by the national mudflow response team to control the sludge also posed a threat.

"People should just leave the (mud volcano) alone. The embankment is dangerous. If it collapses, it could create an intense hazard," Davies said.

"The latest plan to drop chains of concrete balls (inside the main geyser) to slow down the spewing mud is an interesting experiment. But again it's unlikely to work," he added.

National mudflow response team spokesman Rudy Novrianto said Thursday that the team was ready to drop the concrete balls inside the Banjar Panji I well on Friday, wind and weather permitting.

"The execution is not as easy as we had thought. We tested and found that dropping the balls and pulling the cable (back up) afterward was really hard."

The national team, which was established by presidential decree last September and has received funding from Lapindo, will complete its term on March 8.

NGO says high-ranking military, police keep pet orangutans

Jakarta Post - February 22, 2007

Apriadi Gunawan, Medan – Environmental activists Wednesday accused powerful military and police officials in North Sumatra and Aceh of keeping endangered orangutans as pets.

The organization interviewed black marketers and villagers who peddle orangutans, asking them who they sell to and who in their village owns the animals. The results suggested a total of 100 Sumatran orangutans were being kept in private homes.

"Out of 100 orangutans that came from Gunung Leuser National Park, almost 70 percent are estimated to be in the hands of high ranking military and police officials and the rest are kept by local officials, businesspeople and villagers," SOCP scientific director Ian Singleton said Wednesday.

He said the officials used various methods to get their pets, from hunting the oranguatans to buying them illegally from traders. Some had received the endangered animals as gifts.

He said it was not hard to get Sumatran orangutans on the black market since they were traded in several places in Aceh and North Sumatra.

"If you want to buy orangutans in Medan, just go to Jalan Bintang. For those who have no idea about the place, they might think it's not an orangutan trading place since the sellers don't show the animals in their shops. But if you tell the traders that you want to buy an orangutan, they have them," Singleton said.

According to Forestry Ministry data, there are about 62,000 orangutans in the country, 7,500 of which are in Sumatra. But conservationists said the populations are fast declining due to deforestation and illegal animal trafficking.

Singleton said the 1990 Law on natural resources and ecosystem conservation prohibits a person from capturing, injuring, keeping, killing, or trading a protected animal, dead or alive.

Those violating the law can face five years jail and a Rp 100 million (US$10,869) fine.

"Officials who keep the orangutans at home certainly know about the law but they don't respect it. That's a sign of their arrogance," Singleton said.

The head of North Sumatra's Natural Resources Conservation Agency, Djati Witjaksono, said Wednesday that the center was aware many officials keep orangutans at home. He said several efforts had been made to confiscate the orangutans, but had met with resistance.

He said the center confiscated an orangutan belonging to an official two days ago. The eight-year-old orangutan, which escaped from its cage, has been sent to an orangutan quarantine center run by SOCP in Sibolangit, Deli Serdang regency, North Sumatra. Singleton said there were some 18 Sumatran orangutans at the group's quarantine center, confiscated from various people.

"All of the orangutans being placed at SOCP will eventually be released back into the Sumatran forest," he said.

Djati said the agency had proposed that North Sumatra Governor Rudolf Pardede issue an instruction prohibiting civilian, military and police officials from keeping orangutans.

"The proposal is currently being processed at the North Sumatra Environmental Impact Management Agency and hopefully, it can take effect this year," he said.

Protesters rally against Newmont expansion

Jakarta Post - February 22, 2007

Panca Nugraha, Mataram – Dozens of environmental protesters rallied in Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara, on Wednesday against the issuance of a permit to expand mining company Newmont's operations, an accusation which the company denied.

The protesters, members of the Community of Environment Messenger group, gathered at the office of West Nusa Tenggara Governor H.L. Serinata.

They demanded that the administration reject the application of PT Newmont Nusa Tenggara for a permit to expand its operations, citing the potential for environmental damage.

"We demand that the governor does not issue the permit. We don't want this just for the sake of money, people are being sacrificed," said protest coordinator M. Tohri.

The group claimed the company planned to use the permit to bury leftover mining materials in the Batu Hijau copper and gold mine in West Sumbawa. They said the proposed area constituted 38 hectares of land in Latar forest.

"The problem is that the location is part of a protected forest, and we suspect the expanded area will not only be used to buy leftover mining materials but will also be exploited," Tohri said.

"There are many protected species in the forest, including deer and rare birds."

As the governor was in Jakarta, the protesters met with the governor's assistant on the economy and development, Abdul Malik, who promised to deliver the group's comments to the government.

After the meeting Abdul told journalists that the company had made a proposal for a permit, but that the administration had not yet given an official response.

"The proposal has been made but the administration is still studying it. We'll see if (the permit) is against the existing law and whether it will disadvantage people. But so far, no permit has been issued, it's still being reviewed," he said, adding that the company's latest permit application pertained to land already within the agreed contract.

Meanwhile, the company has denied it planned to expand the Batu Hijau mine, and said it had not put forth an application to the provincial administration to do so.

"This is a misunderstanding. There is no proposal for an expansion permit," Kasan Mulyono, the company's public relations manager, told The Jakarta Post.

Kasan said the company's recent proposal for a permit was routine for mining operations and was part of its contract. He did not elaborate on exactly when old permits required renewal.

Futhermore, he said the proposal was sent to the Forestry Ministry in Jakarta and not to the provincial administration.

"So it's not true that there are mining activities outside the area agreed to in the contract. This is just a misunderstanding," he said.

According to its 2004 report, the company is a joint venture with the Nusa Tenggara Mining Corp. of Japan, the majority of which is owned by the Sumitomo Corp. and an Indonesian firm, PT Pukuafu Indah. Newmont is the operator and holds a 52.9 percent interest.

Copper and gold porphyry deposits in Batu Hijau were discovered in 1990, and commercial production began there in 2000. Under the current plan, the mines resources are predicted to last until 2034.

 Health & education

Food crisis raises fear of disease in children

Jakarta Post - February 24, 2007

Yemris Fointuna, Kupang – Tens of thousands of malnourished children in East Nusa Tenggara will be at risk of marasmus if attention is not given to the matter by the government and related institutions, a health official said Friday.

Marasmus, a severe form of malnutrition, involved the chronic wasting of fat, muscle and other tissues.

Head of East Nusa Tenggara Health Office, Stef Bria Seran, said that 29,480 children under the age of five suffered from serious malnutrition across the province.

The children, he said, were at risk of marasmus if the government and related institutions continued to pay no attention to their plight.

Currently, he said, 120 children under the age of five suffered from marasmus. Eighty-six of these lived in West Sumba, 15 in Kupang, 10 in East Flores, six in Timor Tengah Selatan and three in Belu.

"We're worried that thousands of malnourished children might suffer from marasmus as well. This situation has shown that food (shortage) is a serious matter within each family," Stef told journalists Friday.

He said malnourished children would become increasingly susceptible to diseases if food shortages remained in family households.

"Reports that we received showed that in 16 cities and regencies, 154,126 children were threatened by malnutrition. Since January this year two children have died due to marasmus," Stef said.

The administration has attempted to lower the number of malnourished children in the province by revitalizing 8,798 integrated health posts throughout villages.

The posts, which offered health services to mothers and children, were common in the 1990s, but suffered a decline following reforms, which shifted attention to economic and political issues.

In the East Nusa Tenggara regency of Timor Tengah Utara, up to 80,582 children under the age of five were believed to be malnourished.

Non-governmental organization activist Sarah Lery Mboeik urged the provincial administration and legislative members to allocate "pro-people" funds in the hope of lowering the number of malnourished children there. "The administration, as the one responsible for managing the budget, always blames nature of causing food crises. On the other hand, it allocated little funds to ensure food security and better healthcare," said Sarah, who is the director of the East Nusa Tenggara People's Advocacy and Development Center.

She said funds allocated to deal with healthcare problems in several subdistricts would not be substantial enough to deal with the malnutrition experienced by thousands of children under the age of five.

She said the group had received a report that in the Naioni subdistrict of Maulafa the administration had allocated a healthcare budget of Rp 9 million for 9,000 residents.

"It means each resident is entitled to only Rp 1,000 for healthcare. This budget management showed the administration was not sensitive in managing the budget to improve people's welfare," she said.

Student activist Ambrosius feared the number of malnourished children would continue to increase if the government and related institutions did not intervene.

"The malnutrition problem has been going on for years and the number of affected children has continued to increase, making people wonder what the administration has done to promote healthy living and ensure food security for the people," said the student of Kupang-based Artha Wacana Christian University.

 Transport & communication

Indonesia to ban old jetliners

Associated Press - February 28, 2007

Chris Brummitt, Jakarta – Indonesia is planning to ban local carriers from operating jetliners more than 10 years old as part of a safety campaign following a string of crashes and accidents, the government said Wednesday.

The plan is likely to be unpopular with Indonesia's booming airline industry. Most experts say that maintenance of a plane and the number of takeoffs and landings it has performed – not its age – are the most important factors in preventing accidents.

It also may force some out of the more than 20 Indonesian airlines out of business or into mergers with rivals, an aviation analyst said.

"The main thing is we need a renewal of our fleet," said Transport Minister Hatta Rajasa after a Cabinet meeting held on board the presidential train – a decision taken to highlight the government's concerns on transport safety after several deadly accidents on air, land and sea.

Transport Ministry spokesman Bambang Ervan said the proposed regulation, which Rajasa said would not need parliamentary approval, would ban "all jets used for commercial purposes" that were more than 10 years old.

Rajasa, who has been under pressure to resign following the accidents, said the government also was planning a ban on old ferries, but gave no more details.

On Jan. 1, a 17-year-old jetliner crashed into the sea in eastern Indonesia, killing all 102 people on board. Last week, a 12-year-old plane operated by the same budget airline had a hard landing, buckling its body.

Neither official said when the proposed ban would be implemented. Policy announcements by Indonesian government ministers frequently come to nothing or end up being watered down.

Currently, the age limit for planes in Indonesia is 20 years.

Tengku Burhanuddin, secretary general of the Indonesian National Air Carriers Association, said the body had yet to be informed of the plan. "We want to know what the reasons for this are," he said.

Aviation analyst Dudi Sudibyo said the average age of Indonesia's more than 300 jets was around 10.5 years, meaning massive investment in the industry would be needed if the plan was enforced.

"(Rajasa) has been too quick in taking action and had not calculated what the industry needs," he said. "The age of a plane is not the only measurement of its safety." He said, however, that forcing the airlines to modernize their fleet would likely lead to a much needed consolidation of companies.

"What Indonesia needs is five or 10 big airlines, not the 23 there at the moment," he said.

[Associated Press writers Irwan Firdaus, Zaki Hakim, Anthony Deutsch and Ali Kotarumalos contributed to this report.]

Death toll in Indonesia ferry fire at 49

Associated Press - February 26, 2007

Irwan Firdaus, Jakarta – Authorities vowed Monday to investigate why accident investigators and reporters were allowed to board a fire-gutted Indonesian ferry that then capsized, killing one person and leaving three others missing.

"This is a bitter experience for all of us," said Setyo Rahardho, the head of the National Transport Safety Commission. "Journalists will not be allowed to accompany investigators any more."

The Levina 1 caught fire Thursday early into a voyage from the capital, Jakarta, sending hundreds of panicked passengers jumping into the Java Sea.

At least 49 people were killed, and the Indonesian Red Cross said the number could be nearly three times that according to relatives still seeking lost loved ones. More than 290 people were rescued.

Roni, who goes by only one name, said his 23-year-old cousin, Rudi, called him on a fellow passenger's mobile phone to say he was boarding the 2,000-ton ship, but has not been heard from since.

"We can't find him on the list of dead or missing," he said, waiting with seven other family members at Jakarta's main port on Monday. "We've given up hope of finding him alive, but maybe they'll find his body."

The fire was Indonesia's second major maritime disaster in recent months, with the death toll steadily climbing day by day.

Adding to tragedy, at least 16 accident investigators and journalists were taken by police boat to tour the ferry wreckage that tugboats had pulled to waters near Jakarta's port on Sunday.

Soon after the party boarded, the vessel listed sharply and sank within five minutes, witnesses said. A cameraman was killed, while three people were still missing.

TV footage taken before the craft sank showed that many of those on board were not wearing life vests. Officials have said vests were available, but police did not make wearing them a condition of joining the trip.

Ferries are the cheapest and most popular form of public transportation in Indonesia, a vast nation of 17,000 islands, but safety standards are poor, leading to hundreds of deaths each year.

Indonesia has been hit by a string of transportation disasters in recent months. In late December, a passenger ferry sank in a storm in the Java Sea, killing more than 400 people. Days later, a passenger plane operated by the budget airline Adam Air crashed into the ocean, killing all 102 people on board.

More than 120 missing after ferry blaze

Agence France Presse - February 23, 2007

Jakarta – More than 120 people are still missing after a deadly fire on board an Indonesian ferry, the Red Cross has said.

"One hundred and twenty-two people are still reported missing by their families," Heri Asmedi from the Indonesian Red Cross told AFP on Friday.

Sixteen people, including an 11-month-old baby, have been confirmed dead after Thursday's blaze on the Levina I car ferry shortly after it left the Indonesian capital.

"So far 300 people have been saved, 18 of them injured," Asmedi said, adding that three of the injured are still in hospital.

More than 200 passengers and crew leapt into the water as the blaze raged out of control after the ferry left Jakarta's Tanjung Priok harbour. Dozens of survivors suffered burns in the fire, which scorched the superstructure and burnt most of the paint off the Levina I.

The manifest recorded 227 passengers for the voyage to Bangka island off Sumatra, 500 kilometres (310 miles) north of Jakarta, but the ferry was apparently carrying well in excess of 300 people.

"The number of passengers is more than what was declared in the manifest, so we are still checking the exact numbers of people still missing," said national police spokesman Bambang Kuncoko. He said 281 people had been rescued so far. "We are still searching for more survivors," he added.

The Antara news agency and Indonesian television reported that five navy ships were keeping up the search for survivors. The ferry's skipper and four crew members are under police investigation.

Transport Minister Hatta Rajasa was quoted by Antara as saying that the fire appeared to have been sparked by one of the lorries on the ferry's car deck.

A series of Indonesian transport accidents have killed more than 450 people in two months.

Lax enforcement of safety regulations, poor maintenance and a lack of investment in transport infrastructure have been blamed for the air, sea and rail accidents, which have become a regular occurrence.

Ferries are a crucial link between the archipelago nation's 17,000 islands and frequently carry more people than officially acknowledged.

 Armed forces/defense

Presidential push needed on TNI's internal reform

Jakarta Post - February 27, 2007

Usman Hamid and Lisa Misol, Jakarta – Two and a half years after the House of Representatives passed landmark legislation to improve the accountability of the Indonesian military (TNI), reform is stalled. High-level political leadership is needed to give the reform drive a much-needed boost.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono needs to accelerate the full implementation of the changes mandated in the 2004 TNI law (Law 34/2004) to help reform the armed forces. The president has rightly instructed the TNI leadership to continue internal reforms, but currently there is no momentum for positive change.

The government has yet to adopt regulations to implement the TNI law's important provisions that ban military business activities and require the Indonesian government to take over all military businesses by 2009. Earlier this month one official announced that a draft presidential decree implementing the law was awaiting the president's signature, only to be contradicted by another official, who said the palace had sent the draft decree back for revisions.

This back-and-forth, and the lack of a clear deadline to produce a new text, shows that government officials are in no hurry to act. This is also evident from the draft proposal, which envisioned the creation of a new body that would take over the task of transforming military businesses currently assigned to an inter-ministerial team. That move could further delay action to assert government control over the military's enterprises.

Moreover, the draft proposal outlines numerous exceptions that would allow many businesses to remain with the military, which would render the reforms meaningless. In the meantime, the absence of clear rules has mean that sales, transfers, or closures of military businesses have taken place without adequate oversight, contrary to the spirit of the TNI law.

What explains the delay and the incomplete nature of the government's plans so far? Indonesian officials were asked this question last year, when Human Rights Watch first issued a report on military finances. In meetings and in public statements, the officials offered a few unconvincing explanations.

First, they pleaded poverty, claiming that the government cannot yet afford to raise the official budget enough to make up for the income lost if the military is forced out of businesses. But this is false logic, since it wrongly assumes that the sprawling network of military-owned businesses bring in funds that greatly subsidize the official budget.

To the contrary, the official review of the businesses listed in a TNI inventory confirms that many are now facing collapse and present a potential liability. Years of mismanagement and corruption, coupled with a lack of reinvestment, have bled many TNI businesses dry.

In other words, keeping military businesses would do little to satisfy the military's desire for a larger budget and might even drain funds. So while there are reasons to have a serious debate about military finances overall, military business reform should not be held hostage to the military's desire for ever larger budgets.

Second, Indonesian officials repeatedly claimed that many of the military's enterprises serve mainly to benefit poorly-paid troops. The Indonesian government fails to provide for the basic needs of the troops, so they and their families are naturally grateful for any help they get with housing, healthcare and education costs. But the welfare support of military foundations and cooperatives has been vastly overstated. In many cases regular troops get only some small symbolic assistance, such as an annual holiday gift that is worth less than their contributions.

Research has repeatedly shown that these institutions become a front for illegal activity, not a vehicle to benefit rank-and- file soldiers. Studies published by Kontras and Human Rights Watch give examples showing that military pursuit of profits comes at the cost of community members' human rights.

Third, the Secretary-General of the Ministry of State-Owned Enterprises, Said Didu, who heads the inter-ministerial team assigned to supervise the handover of military businesses, said the task is one of the most difficult he has encountered. He has suggested it may not be complete by the 2009 deadline, considering the number of businesses to be reviewed-more than 1500, according to a TNI inventory.

The dismantling of military business is undoubtedly complex, but the right approach is based on a very simple premise: Money- making is incompatible with the military's proper role.

At times government planners also claim they lack the authority to take over most of the businesses, which are privately registered or owned via nominally-independent foundations or cooperatives. However, the TNI law clearly demands that the government take over all businesses owned and operated, whether directly or indirectly, by the military.

Some officials, usually in private, also argue that it is unfair to demand the military make changes that are not being imposed across the board on all government ministries. They voice special resentment that the Indonesian Police (Polri), which also has many business interests, is not currently subject to a legal mandate to give these up. A separate initiative to tackle police business would be welcome. But it would be nonsense to delay much-needed military reform until the police are subject to a parallel requirement.

Taming the military is admittedly a tall order in Indonesia. Yet if the government is going to make good on its reform agenda – and honor the law – it must show the will to act. There is no good reason why the government has to leave everything in military hands while it sorts through the scores of businesses the TNI has acknowledged it owns.

[Usman Hamid is the Executive Director of Kontras (the Commission for "Disappeared" Persons and Victims of Violence), which published a 2005 research report on military business and human rights. Lisa Misol, a Senior Researcher at Human Rights Watch, is the author of a June 2006 report on military self-finance and human rights that the group dedicated to the late Munir. The bahasa Indonesia translation of the HRW report is now available at www.hrw.org/indonesian.]

Yudhoyono tries to bring TNI, police together the military way

Jakarta Post - February 24, 2007

Jakarta – Marching is nothing unusual for members of the National Police and the Indonesian Military (TNI), but the activity took on a new meaning Friday.

Given the tension that has been brewing between the TNI and the police over the bill on national security, the public could be forgiven for thinking that when President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono gathered over 1,000 soldiers and police officers for a walk, it must have been an effort at reconciliation.

High-ranking officers including National Police chief Gen. Sutanto, TNI commander Air Chief Marshall Djoko Suyanto and chiefs of the three military branches took part in the program, which kicked off early Friday morning in Cibubur, East Jakarta.

To lend more credibility to the exercise, Vice President Jusuf Kalla was also in attendance, rubbing shoulders with a number of senior ministers including Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Widodo Adi Sutjipto, Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono and Home Affairs Minister M. Ma'ruf.

The latter two have been at the center of the storm during the controversy over the national security bill.

The bill, being prepared by the Defense Ministry, has met with protests from the police, who say it runs counter to the reform agenda. The police oppose the bill because it would give authority to the military to deal with national security. The bill also places the police under the Home Ministry, in the same way the military is under the Defense Ministry.

House of Representatives Speaker Agung Laksono has warned the police and military to stop quarreling as the rift could lead to clashes between soldiers and police officers in the field.

Highlighting tensions between the two bodies, soldiers and police officers exchanged fire early last week in Puncak Jaya, Papua, killing one police officer.

Speaking after the marching program, Sutanto denied that the event was held to help reconcile the military and police.

"There is no such thing as reconciliation. This kind of program has become a regular program for us, actually. As for high- ranking officers we frequently play golf and tennis," Sutanto said. Djoko denied there was a hidden agenda behind the event.

The event had actually been planned for some time by the National Police Headquarters. The TNI Headquarters also denied suggestions that the activity was politically motivated.

"The Cibubur program was part of the TNI and police commitment to maintaining togetherness, which is very important for us," TNI spokesman Col. Ahmad Yani Basuki was quoted by Antara as saying.

 Opinion & analysis

The nuclear conspiracy

Jakarta Post Editorial - February 26, 2007

The government's plan to build Indonesia's first nuclear power plant, tentatively set to begin 2011, is moving forward with the public given little or no chance to have its say. Going nuclear, with all its implications, including in particularly the issue of public safety, is a very serious business and any decision should first be put to the people, for an extensive public debate or a referendum.

Yet, the story of Indonesia going nuclear smacks of a conspiracy by the state. The public has been consistently excluded or sidelined from virtually the entire decision-making process.

As it stands at the moment, the government has decided to build a 4,000 megawatt nuclear plant near Mt. Muria in Central Java, targeting 2011 for the start of construction and 2018 for the beginning of operation. The government is currently shopping around for the most suitable technology, while also working on the regulations and safety aspects, in order to ensure compliance with global standards.

An international conference is being planned for April, aptly titled INDONUCLEAR 2007 – Nuclear Energy For Peace and Welfare, as part of the official campaign to solicit public support for the project.

One can't avoid the impression that going nuclear for Indonesia is a done deal. Even the decisions on the dates and location are already being made. It now boils down to which technology to use and which contractor to employ.

But not so fast. First we should take a look at the flawed manner in which the Nuclear Energy Law, the basis for all decisions related to going nuclear, was enacted in 1997.

In the early 1990s, there was a heated debate about whether or not Indonesia should go nuclear. Public sentiment then, still colored by the nuclear accident in Chernobyl, Ukraine, was heavily against acquiring nuclear power.

But the government of then president Soeharto slipped a bill into the legislative agenda in 1997. That being an election year, most members of the House of Representatives were in no mood to oppose the government, fearing they would not be returned to their cozy parliamentary seats by the all-powerful Soeharto. One press clipping from those days reported that when the House eventually endorsed the bill on nuclear energy, only 65 representatives remained in the plenary hall, far short of the necessary quorum.

Yet, the law not only has survived several regime changes as democracy has taken root, but it has been picked up and turned into policy by subsequent democratically elected presidents. President Abdurrahman Wahid, who led the anti-nuclear campaign in the 1990s, signed the ancillary regulations to the 1997 law in 2000. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono included nuclear reactors among the future sources of electricity in his 2005 National Energy policy blueprint. In December, the government introduced regulations on the licensing regime for nuclear reactors.

It is even sadder to note that all of this is going on right under our nose. Indonesia's nuclear plan is going ahead with little public opposition. The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) has led practically a lone campaign opposing the planned construction of the nuclear reactor. For some unexplained reason, the campaign has drawn little public attention, let alone support. Our silence effectively makes us part of the conspiracy.

Going nuclear is such a major step for any nation that the public should be included in the decision-making process. The flaws in the way the 1997 law on nuclear energy was enacted, as well as the absence of extensive public debate, should be sufficient grounds to have the law repealed. That's what the Constitutional Court is for.

If the country is going to turn to nuclear energy, we may as well do it right from the beginning. A strong law, one that has gone through the public scrutiny, is what Indonesia needs. The last thing we want is to add nuclear accidents to the long list of devastating man-made and natural disasters that seem to haunt this nation. And we owe this not only to ourselves, but to our children and grandchildren, who would be left to clean up the mess in the event of a nuclear accident.

Fighting the curse

Jakarta Post Editorial - February 24, 2007

It looks as though Indonesia is yet to be free of disasters. With the Jakarta floods receding and the capital's residents counting their losses, a ferry caught fire 80 kilometer's off the city's coast on Thursday. At least 16 people were killed and another 17 remain missing.

The ship fire happened just a day after an Adam Air plane made a "hard landing" at Juanda airport in Surabaya. All 148 passengers and crew were uninjured, but coming less than two months after the Adam Air flight in January that vanished carrying 102 people, it caused some panic.

In the same way, the fire that engulfed the Levina 1 on Thursday came on the heels of the capsizing of the Senopati Nusantara in the Java Sea two months ago, an accident that killed dozens and left hundreds missing.

The wreckage of both the Senopati Nusantara and the Adam Air flight have still not been found. Neither have the causes behind their ends.

Many people will be easy to believe that the nation has been cursed and look for superstitious answers to the calamities. Others blame nature, or accept the catastrophes as tribulations from God.

There is nothing wrong with the argument that disasters are a test of faith and thus should lead humans back to religious.

But to be honest, most accidents or disasters are man-made and therefore preventable. Floods and landslides could be avoided by stopping deforestation or setting up suitable flood control schemes. Earthquakes and tsunamis are natural disasters, certainly, but efforts can be made to minimize the damage and casualties.

All the recent transportation and natural disasters are explicable and one can easily conclude that human error was behind all of those tragic events.

The Levina 1 was reportedly overloaded when it embarked on its journey to Bangka Island in South Sumatra and was carrying chemicals, which allegedly sparked the blaze.

The government has decided to ground Adam Air's fleet of Boeing 737-300s following the accident in Surabaya, in order to examine the aircrafts' air worthiness, which is the correct thing to do. The decision was made despite their airline's claim that the plane that landed in Surabaya had passed airworthiness tests. The tougher and more persistent the control measures, the safer air transportation will be.

Several former Adam Air pilots spoke out after the New Year's plane crash on safety procedures at the company, saying they had been forced to violate regulations in order to cut operational costs. Their statements must be substantiated, but there is much suspicion that low-cost airlines have compromised on safety to survive the tight competition.

In the case of the Senopati Nusantara, survivors said that the ship's engine had failed shortly before it was struck by rough tides, and that hundreds of passengers had not survived because they had been locked below decks.

These disasters speak volumes of the lack of precautionary measures the country takes. All measures are reactionary in nature and fade in a matter of months, returning everything to normal, as evident in the latest transportation accidents.

While it claims to be a religious nation, Indonesia fails to translate one teaching shared by the major religious, that as the most dignified creature, man is blessed with the ability to change his life or fate through his own efforts. God helps those who help themselves.

Same old mistake

Jakarta Post Editorial - February 24, 2007

The recent deadly flooding that submerged Greater Jakarta for one week left behind prolonged misery and remarkable damages. Not only because the floods killed 79 people and left more than 200,000 homeless, but also because the they caused a total loss of Rp 8.8 trillion (US$970 million).

What was apparent from the disaster was that there was a fatal blunder underpinning it.

According to Paskah Suzetta, the State Minister for National Development Planning, of the material losses counted, Rp 5.2 trillion was due directly to the damage and disruption of, among other things, infrastructure and economic activities in the city.

Of the direct losses, Rp 2.9 trillion was accrued by business players, including 75 large-scale industries operating in the automotive and electronics sectors.

The floods destroyed more than 200 schools, over 30 medical centers and religious facilities worth Rp 48.8 billion, as well as other public facilities worth Rp 69.9 billion.

Another Rp 3.6 trillion in indirect losses was also said to have resulted from the paying out of insurance claims.

The collective losses would have surprised many, not only because of the fact that Rp 8.8. trillion is quite a huge amount of money, but also because the city and central government had failed to allocate funds for the construction of the Eastern Flood Canal project, which has been on the back burner for years. The project is believed to be an integral part of Jakarta's flood control system. It was hugely ironic that such a preventable disaster struck because of a lack of sensitivity on the part of the central and provincial governments.

If all decision makers had had the broader vision to prioritize the flood control project, Rp 2.9 trillion would have been allocated for it and the impact of the floods could have been minimized.

Bappenas, however, calculated that the total losses of Rp 8.8 trillion accounted for only around 0.46 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), which was less than losses suffered in 2002. The 2002 flood, says Bappenas, inflicted a total of Rp 9.9 trillion in losses, comprising Rp 5.4 trillion in direct losses and Rp 4.5 trillion in indirect losses.

However "small" the Rp 8.8 trillion seems when calculated against the GDP, the fact remains that many people have been finding it hard spending between Rp 4,000 and Rp 7,000 when buying a kilogram of rice, and that Bappenas' statement trivialized the huge amount lost. Comparing the total losses with GDP is a bit irrelevant in such a situation.

Most flood victims, especially those whose houses were destroyed, have been finding it hard to get enough money to rebuild their homes.

Another blunder made by the government was also apparent when the 2007 floods had been expected after the 2002 floods. People and government officials had strong presuppositions that the 2007 flood was believed to repeat itself every five years. Still the signals were apparently ignored and no mitigating steps were properly taken.

Now, total losses from the 2007 floods were said to be less than those incurred five years ago. So what? Is this part of an effort to belittle the amount of the losses? Or perhaps an excuse to cover the insensitivity?

Frankly, Rp 8.8 trillion could have been used to fund the completion of the delayed flood control project, the reforestation project on the upper stream of Cianjur, West Jakarta, or the cleaning up of drains clogged with garbage. The amount may be inadequate for all these projects, but at least some could have been begun.

To be honest, the 2002 floods should have provided a meaningful lesson for the government from which to learn how to be aware and alert in the event of future floods. The fact that floods have visited Jakarta annually after 2002 is apparent proof that steps to mitigate and anticipate such events have not been properly taken.

Now, global warming wrought climate change is feared to affect the "normal" climate in Indonesia, and other disasters, including floods, will possibly occur with greater frequency.

The question is, will government officials remain slow in their response to signs of potential disasters and continue to spin their political rhetoric here and there?

Will the government make the same mistakes, and when another flood occurs calmly state that previous floods inflicted greater losses?

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