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Indonesia News Digest 34 – September 9-15, 2007

News & issues

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 News & issues

Building permits a cash cow in Depok

Jakarta Post - September 15, 2007

Depok – The Jakarta suburb of Depok might have lost tens of billions of rupiah from building permits, as money that should have gone to the city administration was allegedly directed to officers' personal accounts instead, a watchdog said Friday.

Coordinator of the Depok branch of the Indonesian Forum for Budget Transparency, Roy Prygina, said based on the data from Depok's City and Architecture Planning Agency there were 635 buildings and 159 towers without building permits in the city.

"If the average levies for building and space usage permits amounted to between Rp 50 million (around US$5,320) and Rp 100 million respectively, the total potential fund is in the tens of billions of rupiah," he said.

"The question is: If the owners of these buildings paid for permits, then where did the money go? Did it go to the city administration, or to officers' personal accounts?" Roy said, as quoted by Antara.

He said the agency lacked transparency with the public and coordination with other government institutions.

Depok Council member Qurtifa Wijaya, said the increase in buildings without permits in the city was attributed to a lack of control, regulations and good services.

He also attributed the problem to "deals" made by officers and staff members of the Depok administration with owners of illegal buildings.

Cigarettes instead of sex, not after it, prostitutes told

Jakarta Post - September 14, 2007

Wahyoe Boediwardhana, Malang – Malang regency public order officers have banned sex workers from operating during Ramadhan and are making efforts to secure them jobs in cigarette factories as an alternative means of income.

Investigation and disciplinary division head of the public order police unit Ihnawul Muslimin said the initiative was aimed at minimizing the number of sex workers in the regency. It would also equip them with the necessary skills to seek other means of income so they do not return to sex work, he said.

"We can't ask them to stop operating during Ramadhan without giving them an alternative means of income, as this is our moral obligation.

"The closure of brothels should be followed up with solutions. Sex workers should be introduced to positive activities, at least during the month of Ramadhan, so they can live a more meaningful life and (hopefully) not return to their old trade," said Ihwanul on Monday.

The regency administration will provide training and capital to sex workers to buy tobacco and paper so they can produce hand- rolled cigarettes, which will then be supplied to cigarette factories.

Malang regency is home to 321 large and small scale cigarette factories, 193 of which are currently operational and located in 33 of the regency's districts.

Data at the Malang regency Health Office shows that at least 486 sex workers currently operate in several red-light districts in the regency.

Observations conducted by officers and activists in the field indicate that a sex worker who usually serves two to three customers per day can earn Rp 50,000 (approximately US$5.50) daily, after deducting lodging and meal expenses and payment to pimps. Meanwhile, a cigarette factory worker can earn Rp 40,000 a day.

"This program will be carried out not only during Ramadhan, but also after the holy month," Ihwanul said. He added the program, which had been ongoing for the past year, was initially strongly rejected by various parties, such as pimps and others who felt they would be deprived of their incomes.

As a consequence, many cigarette companies – which were initially willing to employ the sex workers – retreated as they, as well as the sex workers, received threats.

Last year, the regency administration introduced the program at a brothel in Suko village, Sumberpucung district, where around 70 sex workers operated. Only around 15 percent of the sex workers were willing to take part in the program and were hired by three factories.

Ihwanul then familiarized the public with the program and coordinated with cigarette companies, the Malang regency police, the local social welfare office and community figures to help sex workers who wished to leave their old profession.

"Three factories have stated their cooperation and will accept the sex workers. They will be chosen from the red-light areas nearest to the factories so they don't have to spend extra money on transportation."

The regency administration's policy to close down brothels and entertainment establishments during Ramadhan is also aimed at minimizing the spread of HIV/AIDS.

President's visit to Bandung draws hundreds of protesters

Jakarta Post - September 13, 2007

Yuli Tri Suwarni, Bandung – President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's visit to Bandung on Wednesday was marked by two separate protests attended by hundreds of people.

Yudhoyono was in Bandung to deliver a speech at the 51st anniversary of Padjadjaran University (Unpad) at its campus on Jl Dipatiukur.

The People's Petition Front, comprising dismissed employees of state-owned aircraft manufacturer PT Dirgantara Indonesia (PT DI), and workers and students from the Association of Islamic Students (HMI) staged a rally on Jl Japati, around 500 meters from the university campus, while dozens of students from the Students' Executive Board (BEM) protested on Jl Dipatiukur, some 200 meters west of the venue.

Violence broke out when hundreds of dismissed PT DI workers and students attempted to break through the police barrier at the eastern end of the campus. The protesters attempted to push against a five-tier blockade of police before finally being driven back from the area.

Many protesters were injured during the melee, prompting them to retaliate by bombarding security personnel with shoes, sandals, plastic bottles and glasses.

Similar unrest broke out on Jl Dipatiukur, when members of the Greater Bandung BEM were forced back some 300 meters by police. No one was hurt or arrested in the clash, but police seized speakers and flags from the students,

A former PT DI employee, M. Shidarta, said the protesters had wished to speak directly with the President to urge the government not to interfere with the bankruptcy ruling handed down by the Commercial Court.

"We've always been deprived of our rights and never benefited from the unfair retrenchment scheme. Now, if the judge is fair, why should we be defeated just for the sake of a few people?" Shidarta argued.

Students voiced their disappointment with the government's slow progress in dealing with the Sidoarjo mudflow disaster, corruption and poverty.

In his speech in front of scholars at the university, Yudhoyono said Indonesia now ranked 50th in terms of global competitiveness, a significant improvement compared to its 2005 ranking of 69th. "Indonesia was at one point dubbed the new Asian economic tiger in the 1990s, but we were struck by bad luck due to the (1997-98) economic crisis. But, we will rebound to our heyday," he said.

After inaugurating Unpad's new administrative building and signing the stamp for the university's 50th anniversary, the president's entourage paid a visit to ailing former minister of home affairs M. Ma'ruf in Bandung's Parakan Saat area.

Government 'fails to develop healthy communication'

Jakarta Post - September 13, 2007

Jakarta – Poor communication by the government with its people and its neighbors has seen the birth of an unfavorable national security agreement and massive protests against a fuel conversion program, a university-based communication expert said Wednesday.

Effendy Ghazali from the University of Indonesia said the government had to communication with and involve its people more before making crucial decisions involving social welfare or security.

Effendy said the conversion from kerosene to gas stoves was a perfect example of the government's failure to understand its people's needs.

And the government's inability to stand tall against Singapore during the latest defense agreement talks has put the archipelago in danger, he said.

The kerosene conversion project should have seen the government offer gas stoves as an alternative to kerosene stoves, rather than ordering state-owned oil company Pertamina to pull kerosene from the market, Effendy said Wednesday.

"They should let the people themselves decide whether they want to use gas. The government also has to stimulate the growth of gas usage by giving incentives or discounts to the people when they purchase their second cylinder. The people would then automatically want to use the gas stoves... but don't force them," he said.

Two months ago, thousands of people from Jakarta, Bekasi, Tangerang and Depok, grouped under the Kerosene Users Forum, held a mass rally in front of a Pertamina depot in Plumpang, North Jakarta. They demanded the government cancel the conversion program, saying it would only increase financial burdens on low- income families.

The State Ministry for Cooperatives and Small and Medium Enterprises launched the kerosene conversion program last year to reduce the government's subsidy burden, which hit around Rp 40 trillion last year.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono responded to complaints by ordering the ministry and Pertamina to evaluate the program and to introduce kerosene back into the local market.

Permadi, a member of the House of Representatives Commission I overseeing national defense, said the government had also failed to establish communication with neighboring countries, particularly Singapore.

He said the government was under huge financial constraints, which saw the country disabled when debating international issues. Permadi said the defense agreement between Indonesia and Singapore was an important example of how the neighboring country viewed Indonesia's government.

Indonesia signed a Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA) with Singapore this year, in return for an agreement on corruption suspects. The defense agreement has authorized Singapore to use specified Indonesian territory for its military training programs. "Our government's (lack of strength and dignity) has endangered the whole nation," Permadi said.

But the Coordinating Minister on Politics, Law and Security Widodo AS said the government had successfully promoted the public's right to communicate their wishes through the 2004 general election.

"We now have our freedom of expression guaranteed by the law," Widodo said. "We also have the press to criticize the government. This didn't happen before," he said.

Indonesia's Freedom of Expression Law No.9/1998 guarantees every citizen the right to express their opinion in public, as long as they obey the law and adhere to regulations on public order.

SBY stalls police reform: Observers

Jakarta Post - September 12, 2007

Imanuddin Razak, Jakarta – Internal reforms for Indonesia's police force have been put on hold because President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has not officially inaugurated the body responsible for implementing change, police experts and observers said.

"The Presidential decree on the establishment of the National Police Commission was signed in May 2005," the Indonesian Institute of Science (LIPI) researcher Indria Samego said.

"But the President has yet to inaugurate the commission," said Indria, who is also an advisor to National Police chief Gen. Sutanto.

"The commission... (has to) draft policies for the police and give recommendations to the President on the replacement and appointment of the National Police chief."

Indria was speaking at a discussion on police reforms at the Santika Hotel in West Jakarta on Tuesday.

Former Police chief Gen. (ret) Awaloeddin Djamin said the police commission had done nothing, despite its formal existence.

"The strength of the national police commission rests on the President's trust," Awaloeddin said. "How can it start to work if it has yet to be inaugurated," Awaloeddin, who is also an advisor to the police chief, said.

Police observer Fajrul Falaakh criticized the police commission for not being more proactive.

"The commission's establishment is constitutionally legal," Fajrul said. "They could actually start to do their job without necessarily waiting for the (President's) inauguration ceremony."

The nine-member commission was established after legal recommendations around the nation's police force and a stipulation in the presidential decree on the police commission.

The commission is led by Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, Widodo A.S. and (former) Home Minister M. Ma'ruf. Commission members include (former) Justice and Human Rights Minister Hamid Awaluddin, Adnan Pandupraja, Novel Ali, Sukarni Ilyas, Ronny Lihawa, Laode Husen and Erlyn Indarti.

But it remains unclear whether the President still has to inaugurate the commission. Ma'ruf was ill for some time before being replaced by Mardiyanto late last month and Hamid Awaluddin was replaced by Andi Mattalatta in May.

The police commission is considered by many as the most acceptable solution to manage internal reform within the police force.

"Putting the National Police under the Home Ministry is a long- term issue," said a military and police observer with the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

Kusnanto Anggoro said, "We (the nation) need to reform the ministry first prior to putting the police under supervision".

"We may put the police under such a ministry if we establish the Homeland Security Ministry, which would supervise the police force. The Home Ministry would then supervise domestic political affairs only," Kusnanto said.

Chairman of the National Law Commission (KHN) J.E. Sahetapy has asked the police not to be afraid of handling any cases – including high-profile ones.

"The word 'afraid' must not be in the dictionary for the police force," Sahetapy said.

"And the police must thoroughly investigate the (2004 murder) of rights activist Munir. They should not pretend they know nothing, and they must not become apathetic spectators while anarchy and human rights violations occur in many parts of the country."

Sahetapy said internal police reforms had been poorly implemented. He said National Police chief Gen. Sutanto's long- time campaign against gambling had failed because it had not received support from the lower-ranking police officers across the country.

"This is not a good situation for internal police reform efforts," Sahetapy said. "We cannot expect officers to be loyal (to the police chief's orders) regarding high-profile cases."

Consumer confidence still on tiptoes

Jakarta Post - September 12, 2007

Urip Hudiono, Jakarta – Rising prices and uncertain job prospects are still dampening the confidence of Indonesia's consumers, although there are hopes of clearer skies ahead, the latest surveys show.

In a Bank Indonesia consumer confidence survey, the overall consumer confidence index for August rose for the third straight month by 1.7 to 98, signaling that more consumers expect the current conditions as regards prices, jobs and incomes, and their ability to purchase durable goods to eventually improve.

By contrast, a separate survey by the Danareksa Research Institute (DRI), shows that most consumers are still wary of the current economic situation and beyond, with last month's overall consumer confidence index dipping by 2 percent to 84.5.

Both monthly indices are still below the minimum 100-point level that signals optimism on the economy.

The central bank's survey, which was conducted on 4,650 households in 18 major cities, showed that consumers on average felt they were better off now in terms of incomes and jobs than six months ago, and will continue to do so at least until the end of the year.

Most consumers saw the prices of goods and services creeping up over the next six months, with the highest inflationary pressures occurring within the next three months up until the year's end.

This, along with expectations of better incomes and job prospects, has left consumers slightly more confident that they will be able to save more – also as a result of higher deposit rates – and buy more durable goods, such as cars and household goods.

The expectation index component of the BI survey – which gauges consumer perceptions of the future – increased 2.4 points to 109.6, higher than increase of 1 point (to 86.5) in the present situations index.

Meanwhile, DRI's survey, conducted on 1,700 households in six main areas in the country, showed that consumer confidence in August weakened – after rising in July – as a result of recent prices rises.

Both components of the overall index declined, with the present situations index falling by 1.4 percent to 65.4, and the expectations index by 2.4 percent to 98.9.

"Our latest survey shows that consumers are more worried by inflation, reflecting fears that food prices will surge during the upcoming fasting month of Ramadhan," said DRI head Purbaya Yudhi Sadewa.

"There is a high probability that prices will indeed trend higher on a more sustained basis for the rest of this year."

On-year inflation rose to 6.51 percent last month from 6.06 percent in July, the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) reported earlier this month.

Purbaya said that traders during Ramadhan – which starts Sept. 13 – usually take advantage of increased demand to up prices, although after the Idul Fitri holidays – which marks the end of Ramadhan – prices historically return to normal levels.

Many consumers were also concerned about their job prospects, which affected their income expectations and spending plans ahead.

"Indeed, jobs are naturally hard to get at this time of the year as companies are reluctant to take on new employees until after the Idul Fitri holidays," Purbaya said.

East Java poverty alleviation failing

Jakarta Post - September 12, 2007

Indra Harsaputra, Surabaya – Despite numerous government poverty-alleviation programs, the number of low-income people continues rising, underlining the difficulty of eradicating poverty in the country.

An economic observer in East Java, Wilopo, said of the province's 36 million people in 2006, 13 million were low-income. That figure is up from 10.5 million in 2005. Wilopo said this was the result of the fuel price hikes in 2005.

The provincial economy took another blow with the 2006 mudflow disaster in Sidoarjo, which paralyzed the economic sector in the province, which cut major transportation links, forced factory closures and destroyed infrastructure.

Unemployment in the province jumped to 1.96 million people as a direct result of the mudflow, which submerged at least 20 large factories, putting about 3,000 people out of work.

In response, in 2006 the East Java provincial administration launched a program to offset the effects of the fuel price increases and alleviate poverty. Part of the program has been introducing labor-intensive projects to provide jobs for low- income people.

The administration also has offered programs such as the village/subdistrict economic empowerment program, provided soft loans to prospective migrant workers through employment agencies and loans to small and medium enterprises, on the condition they hire low-income people and do not lay off workers.

However, many of these initiatives, such as soft loans aimed at developing micro businesses in villages, have failed because of unpaid loans by debtors.

Head of the Regional Resources Research and Development Center at November 10 Surabaya Institute of Technology, Agnes Tuti Rumiati, said a number of low-income people who received soft loans to set up small businesses spent the money instead on food and other basic necessities.

"I was surprised that the number of poor people had risen although the government disbursed soft loans in Tuban. But after I checked into the matter, some of them had spent the loans to buy rice and other foodstuffs," she told The Jakarta Post.

Agnes said the government needed to conduct a comprehensive study on poverty in East Java, to determine the true needs of low- income families in East Java.

Military launches peat land project

Jakarta Post - September 11, 2007

Palembang, South Sumatra – The Sriwijaya Military District Command in South Sumatra is overseeing a pilot project on the utilization of peat land for agricultural purposes.

The project, on 50 hectares of land in Kayu Agung district, Ogan Komering Ilir regency, was inaugurated by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Joko Santoso on Saturday.

By developing the peat land for agricultural purposes, the military hopes to curb fires and at the same time address the problems of poverty and unemployment. "If the project proves successful, it will not only be felt by residents of Ogan Komering Ilir, but all Indonesians," Joko said.

Joko said the military would provide security for the project to help ensure its success. "If all 1.3 million hectares of peat land was developed like this, there would no longer be fires....," he said.

Ogan Komering Ilir Regent Ishak Mekki said about 48 percent of the regency was forested, with 75 percent of this area swamps and peat land.

PTDI workers protest as asset confiscation process begins

Jakarta Post - September 11, 2007

Yuli Tri Suwarni and Andi Hajramurni, Bandung/Makassar – Despite opposition to the Commercial Court's verdict declaring state- owned aircraft company PT Dirgantara Indonesia (PTDI) bankrupt, moves to execute the decision are proceeding.

More than 1,000 employees of the company staged a protest at the company's compound in Bandung, West Java, on Monday, to welcome the arrival of Taufik Nugraha; the curator appointed by the court to count the company's assets and temporarily control them until an appeal from the firm has been processed.

Taufik, of the Nugraha Wibawa and Partners office based in Jakarta, arrived at the company's compound accompanied by an assistant. Taufik declined to make a comment before entering the compound.

On Tuesday, PTDI was declared bankrupt by the Commercial Court on the grounds it was on the verge of demise and had several long- overdue debts, including pension payments amounting to Rp 200 billion (US$22.20 million).

PTDI said it would appeal to the Supreme Court, claiming it was still operating and had orders from overseas that would see it through to at least 2017. "We have come here to present reports to the management regarding our duty," Taufik's unidentified assistant said.

When Taufik held a meeting with members of the company's board of directors, employees unfurled banners which read, among others, "Only stupid people declare PTDI bankrupt" and "Those who declare PTDI bankrupt are the nation's traitors". They also chanted, "Turn down the bankruptcy verdict, Turn down the bankruptcy verdict".

The employees urged their colleagues and management to continue struggling to keep the company afloat. They urged others to carry on with work as usual to provide good service to customers so the company would not suffer penalties.

Frans Iskandar Ralie Siregar, the company's director of finance and administration, said since the issuance of the verdict he no longer had the authority to withdraw money. However, based on an agreement with the curator, the company's operational activities have been allowed to run as usual, but under the curator's supervision.

"The curator has agreed the company should not stop operating, to avoid fines. We will also appeal," Ralie said. "If our appeal is turned down, it will be the end of everything... But surely that will not happen."

Vice President Jusuf Kalla said in Makassar, South Sulawesi, on Monday that PTDI would meet all its obligations to its 6,500 former employees later this week, in a move to convince the court to annul its verdict. He said there had been meetings between representatives of the former employees and the company's board of directors.

"I have asked them to settle the issue in Bandung spirit," said Kalla, referring to the spirit of the city in defending the best interests of the nation.

 West Papua

More troops eyed for Papua by 2014

Jakarta Post - September 13, 2007

Jakarta – The Indonesian Army has proposed a third infantry division for their Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad) in Papua, which would see more guards made available to patrol Papua border areas and other conflict-prone regions.

The Army needs financial assistance from the government however before its proposal can be realized.

"Indonesia is a huge archipelagic country, which is geographically and politically strategic among the international community," Army Chief of Staff Gen. Djoko Santoso said.

He spoke to reporters after chairing the handover ceremony for the post of Army's Special Forces (Kopassus) chief from Maj. Gen. Rasyid Qurnuen Aquary to Brig. Gen. Soenarko at the Kopassus headquarters in East Jakarta on Wednesday.

"We need a strong armed forces to maintain the unity of our country. If we can secure financial support from the government, the third infantry division of Kostrad is expected to be established by 2014," Djoko told Antara.

He said they have also considered establishing more cavalry and engineering battalions to guard the country's border areas and conflict zones.

The establishment of a third division was first suggested in the early 1980s. "But the idea (was not made a) reality until I became Army chief," he said.

"The expansion (of Kostrad) is necessary... to establish a stronger defense system. Ideally, Kostrad must have three divisions. But financial constraint has... (seen us with) two infantry divisions and an infantry brigade," he added.

Currently, Kostrad has two divisions – the first is in Cilodong, Bogor, south of Jakarta and the second is located in Malang, East Java.

 Human rights/law

Press Council condemns Telkom for releasing phone logs

Jakarta Post - September 15, 2007

Jakarta – The Indonesian Press Council condemned Friday state- owned telecommunication services provider PT Telkom for giving the text messaging records of a journalist to law enforcement official.

Earlier this week, Jakarta Police summoned Tempo magazine journalist Metta Dharmasaputra for questioning concerning a tax fraud case after getting his text messaging records from PT Telkom.

The record contains messages sent between Metta and Vincentius Amin Santoso, a former employee of oil and fats producer PT Asian Agri, who provided information to Metta about the tax fraud.

Vincentius and his two colleagues, Hendry Susilo and Agustinus Ferry Sutanto, were sentenced last August to 11 years in prison for money laundering by the West Jakarta District Court.

"Telkom should explain to us why they gave such information to law enforcers but then declined to mention the reason. We are afraid that if it could happen to a journalist, it could then happen to anyone," Indonesian Press Council member Abdulah Alamudi told a press conference Friday.

He said PT Telkom would only be justified in giving information to officers under strict investigation conditions.

Alamudi said the Press Council would invite all parties involved to explain their part in the case and then the council would hold a plenary meeting before they issued recommendations.

The telecommunications law, along with article 87 of Government Regulation No. 52/2000 on Telecommunications, requires an official written request from law enforcement authorities before either text- or voice-based records can be released.

The 1999 Telecommunications Law stipulates that telecommunications providers must release information records to investigators conducting investigations of special criminal activities under an official request made by the appointed investigators, the Attorney General or the chief of the National Police.

According to article 42 of the telecommunications law, the special criminal activities include trafficking in psychotropic and narcotic drugs, corruption and other criminal activities that carry prison sentences of more than five years.

Vice president of the public and marketing communications division of PT Telkom Eddy Kurnia denied allegations that Telkom had violated the law by giving the information to the investigators, saying it had already complied with the proper regulations.

He added that the company had consulted its legal division before granting the request. "We decided to give the information because we had received an official request from law officers," he said.

A law expert from the University of Indonesia, Indriyanto Seno Aji, said PT Telkom and the law enforcers had obviously violated the telecommunications law as tax fraud was not classified as a special crime under the Criminal Code.

Article 57 of the telecommunications law stipulates that telecommunications service providers that violate the obligation to guarantee a subscriber's privacy face a maximum of two years in prison and/or a maximum fine of Rp 200 million (US$21,327).

"Telkom had no right to give the text message record to investigators even though they had an official request letter because tax fraud is simply not classified under special crimes," he told The Jakarta Post.

Strong evidence against Soeharto, says AGO

Jakarta Post - September 15, 2007

Desy Nurhayati, Jakarta – The Attorney General's Office (AGO) said Friday it is ready to use "strong evidence" to prove Soeharto illegally channeled funds from his Supersemar Foundation to his family and confidants, instead of giving the money to recipients of the scholarship scheme.

The first court session for the civil case against former president Soeharto and the foundation has been scheduled for September 24.

AGO prosecutors and the former president's lawyers failed to reach any agreements after several mediation meetings held over the last three weeks.

AGO's director for civil and state administrative crimes Yoseph Suardi Sabda said their evidence included documents signed by Soeharto for the disbursement of funds to a number of institutions, as well as other documents concerning the foundation's activities.

Soeharto established the foundation based on a government regulation in 1976 to provide scholarships to needy students using donations collected from businessmen.

In the last mediation meeting on September 4, the former president's lawyers said they were optimistic about winning the case. They said their client had not violated any regulations during his tenure as the foundation's chairman.

Soeharto's lawyers disagreed with the prosecution's demand for the former president to admit he had broken the law and to reimburse to the state losses incurred.

"We'll see in the trial whether they can prove Soeharto donated all (the foundation's) funds (properly)," the AGO's Yoseph said.

"It is stipulated in the foundation's statutes all funds should be used for scholarships. Not under any circumstances or with any reason are funds allowed to be used for another purpose – and if they did so, they misused the funds. They should be able to give a clear explanation if they did not," he said.

The AGO alleges half the foundation's money was illegally channeled to Kosgoro cooperatives and the Nusamba group of companies managed by Bob Hasan, one of Soeharto's confidants. The case involves alleged state losses of US$420 million.

In July, the AGO filed a civil lawsuit against Soeharto and the Supersemar Foundation at the South Jakarta District Court and demanded the return of around Rp 15 trillion (over US$1.5 billion).

The initial hearing was held on August 9 at the South Jakarta District Court and ended with both sides being told to undergo mediation to settle the case – a compulsory function before a case can go to trial.

Yoseph said there would possibly be opportunities for opposing parties to hold negotiations outside the court in order to seek the most feasible solution, including the compensation amount.

The AGO would bring several witnesses in the following court sessions if necessary, he said.

Soeharto happy with his victory

Jakarta Post - September 13, 2007

Jakarta – Former President Soeharto is pleased with the Supreme Court's ruling of his lawsuit against Time magazine, his lawyer said Wednesday.

"He was happy with the ruling and thanked his lawyers," M. Assegaf, one of Soeharto's lawyers told detik.com.

Assegaf said Soeharto was informed by his family and his other lawyers, Denny Kailimang and Juan Felix Tampubolon.

The Supreme Court ruled on Aug. 30 a report in Time magazine's Asia edition regarding corruption allegations against Soeharto and distributed internationally on May 24, 1999, was libelous and insulting to the plaintiff.

They ordered Time's publisher and several of its journalists to pay Rp 1 trillion in compensation to the former president for defamation.

"The problem is whether they will pay the compensation or not. If they won't, their assets will be seized," Assegaf said.

Indonesia still tarnished by activist murder

Reuters - September 12, 2007

Ed Davies and Ahmad Pathoni, Jakarta – Indonesian human rights activist Munir Thalib, who died in agony of arsenic poisoning on a Garuda flight in 2004, made plenty of enemies in his career – including from the ranks of the country's powerful security forces.

Three years on, the failure to bring anyone to justice for the murder has raised questions over President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's commitment to human rights and legal reform, as well as the accountability of a number of state agencies.

Munir, only 38 when he died, was an outspoken critic of Indonesia's military and its heavy-handed methods in quashing dissent in separatist hotspots such as Aceh, Papua and East Timor.

As well as tackling abuses by the military, the human rights lawyer defended labor activists and dissidents, particularly during the harsh rule of former President Suharto.

His work earned him a number of awards, including a Right Livelihood Award, often called an "Alternative Nobel Prize" – as well as numerous death threats.

But even though President Yudhoyono vowed to get to the bottom of the murder case when he was elected in 2004 – and has come under pressure from Washington and top UN human rights officials not to let the case slide – progress has been slow.

"Munir's murder case is one chance for the country to break the chain of impunity," said Asmara Nababan, an activist and former member of the national commission on human rights.

"We have seen signs of progress in the case, but for police and other law enforcement agencies to work effectively, a commitment from the top is needed," he told Reuters.

Pollycarpus Priyanto, an off-duty pilot for national carrier Garuda, was jailed for 14 years in 2005 after being found guilty of the murder, but the conviction was overturned last year by the Supreme Court, citing a lack of evidence and witnesses.

Munir's widow, Suciwati, led a public outcry after the release of Priyanto, who has been accused of links to the state spy agency, which has its roots in much feared military and civilian intelligence agencies used by Suharto to crush dissent.

Prosecutors filed a case review in July, submitting what they say is fresh evidence Priyanto poisoned the activist at an outlet of the Coffee Bean chain while he was in transit at Singapore's Changi airport – and pointing to a conspiracy by linking the spy agency and Garuda officials to the case.

Courtroom drama

After the overthrow in 1998 of Suharto, the former general who ruled for 32 years, Indonesia has transformed into a young democracy with open political debate and wide-ranging freedoms.

But critics say many of those guilty of rights abuses remain unpunished and endemic corruption persists, despite pledges by Yudhoyono, also a former general, to tackle these issues.

The attempt to overturn the Supreme Court decision to acquit Priyanto has, at times, made gripping drama in court.

Before the start of another review hearing on Wednesday, Priyanto dismissed the proceedings. "This is another episode of a soap opera. There will be other episodes in the future," he told reporters.

In August, Indra Setiawan, the former president of state carrier Garuda, told the court that before Munir's death, he had received a letter from the state intelligence agency asking him to allow Priyanto to be a flight security officer.

Prosecutors also played a taped phone conversation in which Priyanto told Setiawan the attorney general and the supreme court's chief justice were "our men."

Priyanto, who once appeared in court wearing a hat emblazoned with an Indonesian flag, admitted the voice on the tape was his, but said he only intended "to comfort Setiawan." He has denied the charges against him.

His lawyers said on Wednesday that the move by prosecutors to file a case review was legally flawed, saying under Indonesian law only defendants or their heirs could do so.

"There is no new evidence or new circumstances. What happened is prosecutors significantly altered the indictment," lawyer Wirawan Adnan told the court.

Operating above the law

New US forensic examination based on the type of arsenic used to kill Munir indicates he was poisoned while in transit. In the appeal, prosecutors presented witnesses who said they had seen Priyanto with Munir at a coffee shop in Changi airport.

One of these witnesses, veteran Indonesian pop singer Raymon Latuihamallo, later recanted a statement to police in which he said he had seen Munir and Priyanto together, saying he had been pressured by authorities to make it.

Rights groups say Indonesia still has a long way to go in making some state agencies fully accountable.

The Commission for Disappeared Persons and Victims of Violence, a group founded by Munir, said in a report at the end of last year that despite some improvements, the nation's security forces were still operating above the law.

Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group, a friend of Munir, wrote in the Jakarta Post soon after the murder that the activist was a key player in helping bring democracy to Indonesia. He stood up to people in power, he made them angry, he got threat after threat after threat, and he never gave up.

'Time' ruling 'evil omen' for journalists

Jakarta Post - September 12, 2007

Jakarta – Indonesia's Press Council described the Supreme Court's decision ordering Time magazine to pay former president Soeharto Rp 1 trillion (US$106 million) as an "evil omen" for local journalists covering corruption stories.

Council vice chairman Leo Batubara said the Supreme Court justices should have implemented the 1999 Press Law, as was done by other justices when they examined a libel case brought against Tempo magazine by businessman Tommy Winata in 2006, instead of using the Criminal Code.

Leo said the usage of the Criminal Code in cases relating to the media would paralyze journalists' creativity as they would become anxious when covering stories about corrupt officials.

"I hope that every media corporation throughout the country will unite to stand against the ruling by pressing the judges to use the Press Law when dealing with press-related cases... So they cannot effectively use the Criminal Code in settling legal disputes with the media," he told The Jakarta Post.

Article 18 of 1999 Press Law states that all media corporations that print articles making allegations against individuals or institutions must also print all responses from the accused party or face fines of up to Rp 500 million.

The panel of Supreme Court justices ruled on Aug. 30 that a report in Time magazine's Asia edition that made corruption allegations about Soeharto and was published and distributed internationally on May 24, 1999, was libelous and insulting to the plaintiff.

The justices have ordered Time's publisher and several of its journalists to pay compensation of Rp 1 trillion to the former president for defamation.

The panel of three justices was made up of presiding judge German Hoerdiarto, Muhammad Taufiq and Bahaudin Qaudry.

Alliance of Independent Journalists chairman Heru Hendratmoko said the ruling also jeopardized the existence of Indonesian media companies because it could be used to bankrupt them through the courts.

"The ruling, once again, has (resulted in the) deterioration of the country's image in struggling to reach a better level of democracy and freedom of expression," he said.

The Time article stated that the magazine had traced the accumulation by Soeharto's family of $15 billion during an investigation by a number of its correspondents in 11 countries over a period of four months.

The magazine said it found documents proving that the Soeharto family had received around $73 billion in assets, although the amount had allegedly been reduced over the years by mismanagement and the 1997 financial crisis.

Indonesian Time contributor Jason Tedjakusumah, who was among the list of defendants, said he would discuss further steps to be taken with the magazine's lawyer, Todung Mulya Lubis. Todung said he would request a judicial review to the Supreme Court over this case.

"We will do everything required to struggle for the freedom of expression through media publication. Now I am going to ask for a copy of the ruling in order to prepare to initiate a judicial review," he told reporters.

Soeharto's lawyer, Juan Felix Tampubolon, said he was satisfied with the Supreme Court's ruling, saying that Time magazine had failed to prove its evidence in the lower courts. He said Time magazine had learned an important lesson because they were covering stories based on opinion instead of fact.

Time vows to fight defamation win by Indonesia's Suharto

Agence France Presse - September 11, 2007

Jakarta – A lawyer for Time magazine in Indonesia vowed Tuesday to fight a Supreme Court decision awarding former dictator Suharto 106 million dollars in a defamation suit he filed against the publication in 1999.

The ruling, announced Monday, overturns two lower court decisions and also orders the magazine to apologise to Suharto in the Indonesian media and Time's regional editions for an article alleging that he corruptly amassed wealth.

"This is a blow to freedom of the press, and it means it is not safe for the press to work," Time lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis said. "So Time will take any legal measures available to defend freedom of the press, because this is important to uphold justice and the truth."

The decision was ironic, Lubis told AFP, given that the court system is set to hear a civil case against Suharto seeking to retrieve 1.5 billion dollars in state assets and damages over corrupt actions. "We have to read the verdict before planning what legal measures to take... Time will not give in or accept the decision and will take appropriate legal measures," he vowed.

Many activists in Indonesia are already irate that the 86-year- old ex-president has avoided being brought to trial over persistent allegations of graft involving himself and his cronies during his 32-year, iron-fisted rule. A long-running criminal case against the former strongman was abandoned in May last year on health grounds.

Suharto had been seeking more than 27 billion dollars in the defamation suit filed against the Asian edition of US-based Time over a May 1999 article claiming he had stashed his ill-gotten gains abroad.

Time said in the article that it had traced some 15 billion dollars in wealth accumulated by Suharto and his six children following a four-month investigation by its correspondents in 11 countries. The 15 billion dollars, the article alleged, included nine billion dollars in cash that was transferred from a Swiss to an Austrian bank shortly after Suharto stepped down amid bloody unrest in May 1998.

The magazine also said it had documented that more than 73 billion dollars that passed through the Suharto family's hands during his rule. The holdings were allegedly eroded by mismanagement and the 1997-98 financial crisis.

Under Indonesian law, the only legal avenue open to Time now would be to file a request for a judicial review, for which new evidence or a procedural dispute needs to be claimed. "I hope Time can respect and accept the Supreme Court's decision with a big heart because they have made untrue reports," one of Suharto's lawyers, Mohammad Assegaf, told AFP.

 Environment/natural disasters

Indonesia spared massive damage as fresh quake hits

Agence France Presse - September 13, 2007

Presi Mandari, Bengkulu – Huge aftershocks rumbled across Indonesia's Sumatra island on Thursday but officials said damage from a massive quake that killed 10 people was not as bad as first feared.

As another powerful quake struck a few thousand kilometres (miles) away, authorities sought to ferry aid supplies to villages and outlying areas where scores of homes were flattened.

But it appeared the country had been spared the scale of devastation first feared when the 8.4-magnitude quake struck at dusk Wednesday – welcome news for terrified residents who had spent the night outdoors.

Officials however warned the death toll could still rise. In many places, telephone lines and electricity were down, and emergency teams were racing to remote areas to assess the extent of casualties and damage.

The quake was strong enough to shake buildings in Thailand and Malaysia and triggered a tsunami alert as far away as East Africa, raising memories of the December 2004 catastrophe that killed 220,000 people.

It struck on the eve of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and was followed Thursday by dozens of aftershocks and several tsunami warnings.

Meanwhile another quake hit the northern tip of Sulawesi on Thursday with a magnitude of 6.2, according to the US Geological Survey, some 2,700 kilometres (1,690 miles) to the east of the Sumatra epicentre. It prompted another tsunami warning, but there were no initial reports of damage and the alert was later lifted.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla expressed his relief at the lack of damage from Wednesday's quake. "Yesterday we expected massive destruction. But from the reports coming in this morning we are grateful that the damage is not as big as we thought," he told a press briefing.

Many residents said it was a miracle there had been so few casualties.

Officials in Bengkulu, closest to the epicentre of Wednesday's undersea quake, said six people had been killed in the area. Four were killed elsewhere, while dozens more were injured.

"It's a miracle that nobody in this village was killed," said 42-year-old Mukhtar, a resident of the nearby village of Kota Agung where scores of homes collapsed.

Many people said they believed they had survived because they rushed out of their homes as soon as they felt the ground rocking.

But Hartini, 35, said her family now had nothing left. "I rushed out of my house as I felt a soft shaking," she added. "But then the shaking grew stronger and stronger, and in seconds, in minutes, my house collapsed. It was completely flattened.

"I'm already a poor person and with this tragedy I'm becoming poorer," she said. "I don't know what to do."

More than 130 buildings or homes collapsed in the quake while nearly 4,000 other were seriously or partially damaged across Bengkulu, a provincial official at the disaster control centre said.

Bengkulu's provincial police chief said the priority now was guarding homes left empty by their owners and cleaning up damaged mosques to enable evening Ramadan prayers to be held.

Hundreds of kilometres away from the epicentre in Medan, Indonesia's third-largest city in North Sumatra, blackouts made the faithful pray Wednesday by candlelight, kerosene lamps and light bulbs rigged to car batteries.

Meanwhile Indonesian ministers rushed in to see what rescue and relief efforts were needed. In Jakarta, relief aid was being loaded onto aircraft including tonnes of food and medicine, an ambulance, generators and other supplies.

Most of the houses which toppled were thought to be on South Pagai island, where authorities could not immediately be reached. Houses there are typically made of light materials, which would reduce casualties.

The quake was powerful enough to slosh the water out of swimming pools in Jakarta, hundreds of kilometres away, and scare workers out of their high-rise towers in Malaysia.

In Bangladesh, hundreds of thousands of people on the coast ran for higher ground after a tsunami warning there.

Indonesia sits on the volatile "Ring of Fire", a massive zone of volcanic instability that encircles the Pacific.

Humans the main culprits in Indonesia's natural disasters

Jakarta Post - September 13, 2007

Adianto P. Simamora, Jakarta – Humans remained the number one cause of disasters in Indonesia in 2006, according to the government's environmental report released Wednesday.

The fifth edition of the report named forest fires, the mudflow in East Java and flooding in several regions as the country's worst disasters.

"In 2006, we more frequently recorded disasters than in previous years," State Minister for the Environment Rachmat Witoelar told reporters after the launch of the 279-page report.

The ministry issued the first environmental report in 2002. The latest report also noted that air and water pollution had worsened in Indonesia.

Deputy minister for technical facility development and capacity building Isa Karmisa Ardiputra said haze from forest fires had blanketed Sumatra and Kalimantan as well as neighboring countries and worsened air quality in the effected areas.

Indonesia exported thick haze to Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam and Thailand during peak forest fires in August, the report says.

It also says the smoke shrouds about 524 million hectares of land on Sumatra and Kalimantan islands and raises particulate matter pollution to an alarming level.

"In Jambi, the unhealthy air hit 20 days from September to October," it says.

The report also quotes reports from Singapore's major publisher Singapore Press Holding as saying that traffic accidents rose 170,000 cases from 60,000 cases in Singapore due to thick smoke haze from Indonesia last year.

The suffocating smoke from the forest fires has been blamed on local farmers and companies clearing land for new plantations by using illegal slash-and-burn methods during the dry season.

The second worst disaster, according to the report, is the hot mudflow in Sidoarjo, East Java. The report says the disaster has affected residents socially, economically and environmentally.

In May 2006 a gas drilling well owned by PT Lapindo Brantas hit a underground mud volcano. Since then, mud has spewed from the site, leaving more than 9,000 people homeless. Coordinating Minister for the People's Welfare Aburizal Bakrie's family has a controlling stake in Lapindo.

The report said the levels of metal pollutants in the mud – including zinc, copper, lead and cadmium exceeded tolerable limits. The ministry said the metals, along with fenol pollutants, had reached the Porong River in October, raising concerns about local wildlife and fish stocks.

Meanwhile, floods hit almost every provinces in the country last year, caused by poor land use management by city administrations and widespread deforestation. The report recorded there 44 big floods and 31 landslides last year.

Jakarta's water sources drying up: WWF

Jakarta Post - September 10, 2007

Adianto P. Simamora, Jakarta – A recent study has predicted less rainwater will flow to the Citarum river basin in West Java as a result of warmer temperatures and vast changes in land use.

Citarum, the largest water basin on the island of Java, is the key source of water for both West Java and Jakarta.

The study, conducted in April by WWF Indonesia and the Meteorology Laboratory of the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), found that temperatures in the Citarum river basin would significantly increase by 2020, both in the rainy and dry seasons.

The study predicts the average temperature in the rainy months will be 26.1 degrees Celsius in 2020, up from 24.7 degrees in 2001. During the dry season, the average temperature will soar to 30.7 degrees, up from 27.1 degrees in 2001.

"This increase in temperature will be caused by global warming," the head of the study, Armi Susandi of the ITB, told The Jakarta Post on Saturday.

It was predicted the level of rainfall during the rainy season will jump to between 239 millimeters and 1,377 mm in 2020, up from between 249 mm and 746 mm in January 2001.

"Such big downpours could be a blessing and solve water scarcity problems. But on the other hand, it would lead to more natural disasters such as floods and landslides, especially if there is no effort made to replant the forest area around Citarum so as water can be retained," he said.

Armi said ongoing rapid land use changes in the Citarum area would further prevent rainwater from reaching the basin. The study said the direct runoff of rainwater was between 337 mm and 414 mm in 2001. "Thus, with rainfall of 420 mm in January 2001, over 70 percent of rainwater became runoff," he said.

The study predicts the runoff rate may reach 651 mm due to rapid deforestation for urban development around the Citarum basin. "This will cause huge floods, landslides, the overflow of rivers and harvesting failures," he said.

The Citarum river basin takes up 6,080 squares kilometers of land, with the river stretching 269 kilometers. Data from the West Java administration shows about 11 million people live in the basin, with over 1,000 companies operating in the area. The Citarum river basin is a water source for the Jatiluhur, Cirata and Cikumpay reservoirs.

Jakarta's tap water operators have complained in recent times of a decrease in the supply of water from the Jatiluhur reservoir in Purwakarta, West Java. The Jatiluhur reservoir supplies 80 percent of water to over 700,000 water consumers across the city.

The study predicted the Cirata reservoir, located in the southern part of Citarum, would be affected the most by the changes. The water from the Citarum river basin is used primarily for irrigation, agriculture, fishery, industry and hydropower purposes.

The West Java environmental agency reported that some 54 percent of forest in the Citarum area had been converted in the period between 1983 and 2002. The agency also said vast areas of agricultural land had been converted into housing complexes or industrial land, further contributing to the decease in water catchment areas.

The agency said the number of housing complexes jumped by 233 percent between 1983 and 2002, with industrial land use increasing by 868 percent during the same period.

WWF Indonesia's climate change coordinator Ari Muhammad said stakeholders in the Citarum river basin needed to make efforts to adapt to minimize the impact of global warming in the area. "It is urgent that stakeholders make an effort to re-green the area and improve spatial planning," he said.

 Elections/political parties

Kalla rejects Golkar Party convention proposal

Jakarta Post - September 15, 2007

Jakarta – Golkar Party chairman Jusuf Kalla has rejected the idea of holding a party convention to select a candidate for the 2009 presidential election.

Kalla, who is currently Vice President, said he was against choosing a candidate through a convention process because it would not guarantee a candidate who represented the core interests of the Golkar Party, as was the case in 2004.

The party's 2004 convention resulted in the selection of former general Wiranto as the candidate for president and Salahuddin "Gus Solah" Wahid for vice president.

"Gus Solah is not from Golkar Party," Kalla said. "So, if the (convention) results did not represent the interests of Golkar, why should we continue (with the mechanism)," Kalla told detik.com.

He said further the selection mechanism for Golkar's presidential candidacy through a convention was not recognized in the party's statutes. The statutes, he said, regulated Golkar presidential candidates could only be determined through the party's national leadership meeting.

"So we will not be like the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P). In our system, we have to choose the best person who can get the best results."

Even though some people considered the convention a good process, Kalla said he was concerned about the background of the people who attended such meetings, including actors and comedians. "That doesn't show the greatness of a party," he said.

Deputy Chairman of Golkar Party and House speaker Agung Laksono said he shared Kalla's view. He said the party would likely select a presidential candidate through a national leadership meeting.

"I have talked to the (Golkar) chairman and other members and we have decided that there will be no convention like we did in 2004," Agung Laksono told detik.com Wednesday. He said the party would not name its candidate as quickly as PDI-P.

"The appointment of a candidate from the Golkar Party who will run in the presidential election will not be done at this moment in time – maybe a few months prior to the election," Agung said.

Asked whether he was interested in running in the 2009 election, Agung said, "I'm not interested in talking about that".

Previously, Yuddhy Chrisnandi, a Golkar legislator in the House, said there were eight people who would likely try for the presidential candidacy including Kalla, House Speaker Agung Laksono, Industry Minister Fahmi Idris, Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Aburizal Bakrie, Golkar chief patron Surya Paloh, former Golkar chairman Akbar Tandjung, National Resilience Institute Governor Muladi and Constitutional Court President Jimly Asshiddiqie.

Mega unlikely to win in 2009 election

Jakarta Post - September 13, 2007

Jakarta – Former vice presidential candidate Salahuddin "Gus Solah" Wahid said Wednesday it would be difficult for former president Megawati Soekarnoputri to win the 2009 presidential election.

"I think Megawati is unlikely to win the election since she does not serve as president and she once lost the presidency in the 2004 election," Gus Solah told detik.com.

Megawati was nominated by her Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) to run for the 2009 election during the party's national meeting here Monday.

Gus Solah said her nomination showed the country lacked new leaders. "This indicates... those who will likely run in the next election will all be old figures like Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Wiranto and Megawati," he said.

Megawati agrees to run in 2009 presidential election

Jakarta Post - September 11, 2007

Ridwan Max Sijabat, Jakarta – Former president Megawati Soekarnoputri has accepted a nomination by her Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) to run for the presidential election in 2009.

"On the basis of the party's recommendation, Bismillahirrahmanirrahim (In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful)... in my capacity as chairwoman of PDI-P, (I) am ready to be nominated by PDI-P as a presidential candidate in 2009," she said at a closing ceremony of the party's national meeting on Monday.

Her acceptance was lauded by more than 16,000 party executives from all over the country singing the Maju Tak Gentar patriotic march.

Megawati made the decision after party executives from across the board joined a day-long coordination meeting to show their unanimous determination to support her for presidency. In addition, a meeting attended by around 1,500 party executives from provinces and regional branches on the weekend recommended Megawati run for presidency.

Taufik Kiemas, who gave a kiss to Megawati following her acceptance, said his wife accepted the nomination after being convinced by the district executives. District executives and their constituents would become the backbone of the party's political machine for the presidential election, he said. "We won't let the 2004 failure reoccur."

He called on the party to work harder to win local elections in the coming two years and to strengthen the party's solidity for the legislative and presidential elections.

Chairman of the PDI-P faction at the House of Representatives Tjahjo Kumolo said he was proud of Megawati's acceptance. He said he agreed the district executives would need to work hard to prepare a political machine that could win the election.

"With the presence of district functionaries, the party is expected to get at least 20 percent in the 2009 legislature election," Tjahjo said. "This will ensure the party has a ticket to nominate its own presidential candidate."

Cornelius Lay, a political observer from the Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, said Megawati's nomination was a good sign for the nationalist group.

"This is a good start for Megawati to come back to power, but Megawati's success will depend on the party's performance in the legislative election," he said.

"If PDI-P gains a major victory, it could nominate presidential and vice presidential candidates from within the party. But if it maintains the 2004 performance it will likely have to form a coalition with other parties to field their candidates."

Cornelius said if this occurred, Megawati would likely be nominated as a vice presidential candidate.

Megawati was president from 2001 to 2004. She was defeated by Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Jusuf Kalla in the second round of the 2004 presidential elections.

A number of state officials and senior politicians attended the Monday meeting to share their views with participants. The dignitaries included the Constitutional Court President Jimly Asshiddiqie, Supreme Court Chief Justice Bagir Manan, Bank Indonesia Governor Burhanuddin Abdullah and Golkar Party chief patron Surya Paloh.

Bagir Manan said he shared the party's concern over the country's deteriorating sovereignty and the government's poor performance. Surya Paloh said he wanted to stress all nationalists parties should cooperate to uphold sovereignty, Pancasila state ideology and the 1945 Constitution.

All talk no action, parties told to reform

Jakarta Post - September 11, 2007

Jakarta – Indonesia's political parties have to do more and talk less to improve their public image, the Reform Institute said.

Executive director of the institute Yudi Latif said political parties had to improve social welfare and avoid establishing any more "just for show" wing organizations.

He said parties had to establish recruitment systems to ensure new members had the ability to work with people, before concentrating on further education for existing members.

"Without improvement that touches people in the heart, it will be useless to talk about wing organizations set up by political parties," Yudi said. "Political parties have to contribute to efforts to improve real conditions," he said Sunday.

Many political parties in Indonesia have decided to expand their voter base by establishing wing organizations. Earlier this year, the nationalist-secular Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) set up a Muslim-based wing organization called Baitul Muslimin (the House of Muslims).

And the United Development Party (PPP) plans to expand its voter base via new professional groups and a group focused on first- time voters. PPP is trying to improve its image from an Islamic- based conservative party to a moderate Islamic political party.

But the University of Indonesia's political expert Arbi Sanit said the government with the House of Representatives had to improve the national party system, which allowed political parties to participate as long as they were able to meet the electoral threshold of 3 percent.

"Political parties will never reach their target... or be able to perform better political work... if we have more than 20 political parties in the country," Arbi said. "The government must do something to decrease the number of parties in order to give the ruling party more focus for their programs."

The Home Affairs Ministry and the House are currently discussing a package of bills on the national political system, which includes a debate on the electoral threshold.

 Jakarta/urban poor

Beggars to pay high price for city's clean-up

Sydney Morning Herald - September 15, 2007

Mark Forbes, Jakarta – "Money mister," are the first words from sweet-faced, five-year-old Lia's mouth as she scampers between cars at a busy Jakarta intersection. They are also the third, fourth, fifth and sixth words.

Many thousands live a hand-to-mouth existence on Jakarta's grimy streets, squatting beside highways or train tracks, begging or busking for a couple of dollars a day.

Like Lia and her family, they have been driven to the jam-packed capital by the impoverishment and lack of opportunity across Indonesia.

An estimated 2 million Jakartans live in abject poverty, scrabbling for the few work opportunities available. Some try to sell trinkets or rice cakes, some scavenge and some beg.

This week's start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan – which urges an avoidance of vice and promotes charity – usually means a surge in takings. But it also saw an announcement from Jakarta's administration that beggars, and those who give to them, will be prosecuted.

The by-law will also apply to buskers and the capital's 200,000 or so street vendors. It has been linked to attempts to evict squatter communities and seize their land.

To some, it demonstrates an arrogant Indonesian elite attempting to sweep the poor out of sight and ignore the causes of their plight.

For city administration spokesman Arie Budhiman, it is a question of creating an orderly city. "Every city has rights to be a clean, ordered and convenient city," Mr Budhiman says. "As you know, Australian cities are very nice – we want to be like that".

Beggars will have a three-month education and grace period, before facing arrest by 20,000 public order officers, he said. Then they must "help themselves" and return to their villages. "They come over to Jakarta by their own decision, so now they have to go back there by their own effort. If not, they will face sanction," he said.

"Everybody faces sanction, including people who give them money. The media should not glorify them, as if being a beggar is a profession that needs to be defended."

The head of the Urban Poor Coalition, Wardah Hafid, believes the poor need protection from the administration's "program of beautification and power abuse". "The root cause of the problems is poverty and job opportunity; they are just bypassing this issue," Mrs Hafid said.

She believes moves to evict squatters are driven by a desire to skim some of the income from selling the land they occupy to private interests.

The anti-begging by-law will prove unenforceable, she said, providing another opportunity for corruption and forcing beggars to bribe police. Several beggars and buskers said they had already been questioned by police, but had no alternative means of survival.

Budi works an intersection with his wife and child near the luxury mall Plaza Senayan, earning about $5 a day. Without it, they would not survive, he said. "The Government should provide jobs before banning us from doing what we are doing now."

Jumping on Jakarta's crowded buses, Raymond and his friends strum guitars and sing for donations. They would also like work. "What else can we do?" Raymond asked. "We don't want to create chaos. We simply want to get something to eat." They would continue to busk despite the ban and try to run if police came, he said.

Mr Budhiman, said claims that beggars had no alternative were a "beggar's mentality, the mentality of lazy people; they can only beg people to help them".

"If you do a research about these people you will know that they belong to a syndicate that manages beggars. These people are willing to exploit other fellow human beings, including children," he said.

Some criminals did organise beggars, said Mrs Hafiid, but they are the ones who should be arrested, not the beggars. Health care, education and work were the only long-term solutions. "Many people have no alternative, they have no job, they have no skills, they have to go to the streets," she said.

[With Karuni Rompies.]

Increased poverty a real threat with new bylaw

Jakarta Post - September 15, 2007

Jakarta – Opponents of the controversial new bylaw banning beggars and street vendors have said the threat of increased poverty across the city should be strong enough to make Jakarta's administration sit up and listen – if not annul the bylaw completely.

The Institute for Ecosoc Rights has calculated street vendors in Jakarta can earn a combined total of about Rp 13 trillion (US$1.38 billion) per year or some Rp 35 million per day. The calculation was made based on city development planning agency data collected in 2006 on 141,071 registered street vendors.

"It's a lot of money compared to the city's 2007 budget of Rp 17.97 trillion," researcher Sri Maryanti said Friday. "The poverty rate will increase if the city administration banish those vendors."

The new ordinance, which would replace the 1988 ordinance on public order, bans anyone from opening businesses on streets, sidewalks, pedestrian bridges and other communal areas. It would also prohibit people from donating money to beggars, buskers and street children.

Academics, observers and legal experts have condemned the ordinance, saying it was "ridiculous" and "inhumane" because it discriminates some minority groups.

On Friday, the Poor People Alliance met with the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) to complain about the newly endorsed bylaw. The alliance said the ordinance would block the urban poor's ability to create a life for themselves.

Ex-busker Wawan said the city administration should find people a job if it wanted to ban begging and street vendors. "I will support the bylaw if the government can find the people a job," the 17-year-old said.

Wawan today works at the Jakarta Center for Street Children (JCSC) and said, "No one wants to go begging for the rest of their lives".

Nurkholis Hidayat from the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute said the bylaw was against citizen rights. "It's worse than the previous regulation in 1988, which was used by the Jakarta administration to fight against us, the urban poor," Nurkholis said.

"Public order officials often use violence to organize street vendors, beggars, buskers and sex workers. But these people are only trying to look for money."

Street vendor Rio from the Urban Poor Society Union said the government should give people in need access to technology, education and housing if it wanted to eradicate poverty, instead of endorsing such bylaws. "This (ordinance) shows that the Jakarta administration doesn't care about us," Rio said.

Transgender sex worker Ines said the new bylaw was discriminatory because sex workers were not allowed to operate in sidewalks.

Komnas HAM Deputy Chairman M. Ridha Saleh said the commission would summon the city administration soon to discuss about the bylaw. "We'll ask the administration why it tried to excise the people's right to live in the city," Ridha said.

He said he would create an evaluation team to assess the performance of public order officials. "We've heard reports officials conduct violence against the urban poor, such as street vendors, sex workers and street children. We hope that we can take some action in this matter."

Buskers, street children say bylaw disregards the rights of poor

Detik.com - September 14, 2007

M. Rizal Maslan, Jakarta – Jreng... jreng.... Dung... dung... dung... Buskers and street children strumming guitars and pounding drums. The buskers in front of the office of the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) were not there to protest the commission, but to call for the bylaw on public order to be revoked.

Some 30 people from the Poor People's Alliance (ARM) were calling on Komnas HAM) to pressure the Jakarta regional government and the Jakarta Regional House of Representatives (DPRD) to revoke the new bylaw. Their reason, if the law comes into effect the poor will be the ones that will shoved aside and become the victims of violence.

The protesters arrived at around 1pm on Friday September 14. Aside from buskers and street children, a number of non- government organisations are also part of ARM. These NGOs include the Jakarta Legal Aid Foundation (LBH), the Jakarta chapter of the Indonesian Environmental Forum (Walhi) and the Jakarta Center for Street Children.

During the action they brought banners with messages such as "Stop arresting street children", "Reject the bylaw on public order" and "The DPRD are oppressors, the governor is an oppressor, Komnas HAM must fight".

"We came here because we wanted make a complaint and reject the imposition of the bylaw. Because the substance of the draft bylaw is worse that the earlier bylaw, and attacks the poor even more", said LBH Jakarta lawyer Nurkholis Hidayat.

According to Nurkholis, an evaluation of the previous Bylaw No. 11/1998 on Public Order showed that local government officials and security personnel acted more repressively. The local government failed to pay attention to residents' right to a place to live, a job, social security and a reasonable standard of living which is in fact guaranteed by the state.

"The Jakarta government, city public order officials and the civil service police became perpetrators of violence and further impoverished residents. In looking at the substance of the public order bylaw it provides no chance to the people to access information or access a livelihood in Jakarta", said Nurkholis.

It is not just poor residents who are vulnerable to public order operations, but also the middle- to upper-class who interact with the poor. "This totally disregards Law No. 39/1999 on Human Rights. Because of this therefore it must be revoked and Komnas HAM must investigate previous case of violence committed by local government officials", asserted Nurkholis. (nvt/sss)

[Translated by James Balowski.]

Begging bylaw denounced as inhumane

Jakarta Post - September 13, 2007

Jakarta – The Jakarta chapter of the Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association (PBHI) has urged the Home Ministry not to endorse the new bylaw on public order that bans donating money to beggars, buskers and street children.

"This policy is inhumane. It discriminates minority groups, such as the urban poor and certain ethnic groups," the association's chairman Dedi Ali Ahmad said Wednesday at his office in Salemba, Central Jakarta.

"Besides, the City Council did not involve the public when drafting this bylaw, as stipulated in Law No. 10/2004 on law regulations. "The Home Ministry has the right to cancel bylaws that contradict public interests or a higher law," he added.

The ordinance, which was endorsed by the City Council on Monday, must be submitted to the ministry to be legalized in 60 days.

Dedi said the association would file a judicial review with the Supreme Court if the ministry decided to pass the bylaw.

The newly endorsed bylaw became controversial after academics and observers condemned the ordinance, saying it was "absurd" and "ridiculous". They said the bylaw would not alleviate poverty in the city, which has been a major problem faced by the administration for years.

Dedi criticized several articles in the bylaw that state individuals are not permitted to beg for money in public spaces or ask for a parking fee without prior permission from the governor.

"These people have the right to earn a living. The city administration should help them find jobs rather than make up such absurd rules," he said.

Another article in the bylaw bans individuals or institutions from opening businesses on streets, sidewalks, pedestrian bridges and other communal areas.

The bylaw, which will replace a 1988 ordinance on public order, is aimed at making Jakarta cleaner and tidier. If the new ordinance is implemented well, then the city administration has done the right thing in proposing it, Dedi said.

"But I don't think it will work. The last time the administration made a regulation (on air pollution control), it didn't work. The administration doesn't have enough public order officials to enforce the ordinance," he added.

He also said he could not understand how the City Council could made such "petty" rules, such as prohibiting people from spitting or littering on public transportation. "The administration forces people to obey the rules without any coordination. This is an abuse of power."

Strongest resistance to new bylaw will come from the poor

Detik.com - September 12, 2007

Andi Saputra, Jakarta – The poor will be the ones who will put up the strongest resistance to the new bylaw on public order. The Jakarta Poor People's Alliance (ARM), which is made up of scores of non-government organisations from across Greater Jakarta is calling for the bylaw to be revoked.

They are opposing the bylaw that will prohibit people from begging and those giving money to beggars. Those who violate the law will be subject to fines of between 100,000 to 20 million rupiah.

According to ARM coordinator Irianto Indah Susilo from the Legal Aid Foundation Association of Indonesian Women for Justice (LBH APIK), the bylaw will close access by poor residents to economic sectors to improve their standard of living.

"The bylaw also conflicts with Law No. 39/1999 on Human Rights which regulates resident's standard of living. Based on these various consideration, ARM is calling on the Jakarta government to revoke the law", said Susilo at the offices of the Jakarta Legal Aid Foundation on Jl. Mendut 3 in Central Jakarta on Wednesday September 12.

Susilo added that the bylaw will in fact provide more freedom and opportunities for the provincial government to commit acts of violence and persecution against the poor as has so often been demonstrated by the civil service police. "So we are calling on all elements of society to oppose the bylaw", said Susilo. (ptr/nrl)

[Translated by James Balowski.]

Bylaw against beggars is 'absurd, ridiculous'

Jakarta Post - September 12, 2007

Mustaqim Adamrah, Jakarta – The newly endorsed bylaw on public order that bans donating money to beggars, buskers and street children has been called "absurd" and "ridiculous" by academics and observers.

"The ordinance is absurd. Can (the city administration and the City Council) say the ordinance will really 'alleviate poverty' in the city, eventually?" said Yayat Supriatna, a sociologist at Trisakti University.

"Both the city administration and the council should have realized before endorsing the bylaw that poverty issues in the city are only the tip of the iceberg."

On Monday all seven factions at the council agreed to pass the bylaw, which replaces a 19-year-old ordinance and is hoped to make Jakarta cleaner and more orderly.

The bylaw states that no "individual or institution may trade with street vendors or give money or goods to beggars, buskers or car windshield cleaners".

Another article also bans individuals or institutions from opening businesses on streets, sidewalks, pedestrian bridges and other communal areas not agreed upon by the city council.

"The fundamental thing here is that many beggars and street vendors are those who come from rural areas because they can't find jobs there and therefore, they are trying their luck here, the center of businesses," said Yayat.

"In the meantime, the administration hasn't always been ready for the massive influx of rural people, either on the policy side or in the city's facilities."

He said it was "odd" for the administration to complain that it was being burdened by poor people who made the city filth when it was not the administration that had provided jobs for them but "the Jakartans who do so because they feel sympathy, for example, for beggars and street singers. And this sympathy has become a business opportunity".

Yayat said there were currently more than 200,000 street vendors in Jakarta, who spent more than Rp 15 billion (US$1.6 million) every month in extortion protection and illegal fees, Yayat said, quoting the latest data from the Institute for Economics, Social and Culture Rights, an independent organization.

Urban Poor Consortium coordinator Wardah Hafidz said: "The City Council and the city administration are so stupid. Clearly, they didn't learn anything from the mistakes they made in the past."

Wardah said the administration had been thoughtless in its enforcement of the 2005 ordinance on air pollution control, which included among its stricture a ban on smoking in certain areas. "Due to the limited number of law enforcement agents, now the officials have to compromise with offenders," she said.

Psychologist Seto Mulyadi, who is chairman of the National Commission for Child Protection, said he welcomed the new ordinance as it would discourage street children from begging.

However, Seto said it could lead to an increase in the crime rate. Wardah said, "The number of crimes may increase as a result of the ordinance's enactment but that doesn't mean all poor people will become criminals," she said

Having been endorsed by the City Council, the bylaw must be submitted to the Home Ministry to be legalized. The ministry will then send the legalized bylaw to the state secretary to be recorded in the state archive before being passed to the city administration to be enforced, a process that is likely to take a year.

Bylaw bans beggars, buskers in the hopes of cleaning city

Jakarta Post - September 11, 2007

Mustaqim Adamrah, Jakarta – The City Council endorsed a new bylaw on public order on Monday, replacing a 19-year-old ordinance and banning donating money to beggars, buskers and street children.

Councilor Inggard Joshua or the Golkar Party said the administration needed to be serious in implementing the bylaw or it would be a waste of time and money. The enactment of the bylaw was the only key to public order, he said.

"The city administration has always conducted the 1988 ordinance in an on-and-off fashion," Inggard told Monday's plenary session at the council. The administration, he said, should look up to the city-state Singapore, which consistently enforced its public order regulations.

The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle's Tarmidi Edy Suwarno said the administration had failed to enact the 1988 ordinance because law enforcement agents were often soft on offenders.

The Prosperous Justice Party's Tubagus Arif said law enforcement agents must stop behaving in a repressive manner towards offenders.

Other party representatives urged the administration to give the public time to understand the new bylaw. "The administration should also educate the people, not only about the punishments, but also the results that will come," said Inggard.

"Don't blame everything on the people because they might not know that what they're doing is a violation (of the law). It is possible that a law enforcement agent's gross negligence has caused public disorder," said the National Mandate Party's Syamsidar Siregar.

Governor Sutiyoso said after the session: "It is true we're still weak in enforcing laws. But we need to realize that law enforcement will not succeed if the people are undisciplined." He said the law would be enacted "very soon".

The ordinance lays out punishments of a maximum of 180 days of imprisonment and a maximum of Rp 50 million (US$5,300) in fines for offenders.

Selected points in the new bylaw:

  • No unauthorized persons may manage traffic at intersections in return for money.
  • No unauthorized persons may collect money from public transportation drivers or cargo shipment drivers.
  • Public transportation passengers are not to litter, to throw chewing gum, to spit or to smoke inside the vehicle they are traveling in.
  • No individual or institution may squat or stand on benches in public parks, unless it is for city agency purposes. No individual or institution is to leave chewing gum on park benches.
  • All individuals and institutions must register any animals they own with the city administration.
  • No individual or institution may make, sell or possess fireworks or similar items.
  • All food stalls and restaurants must have a halal certificate displayed in an easily seen area.
  • All individuals and institutions are prohibited from soliciting donations in the street, markets, housing complexes, hospitals, schools, offices and on public transportation without the permission of the governor.
  • No individual or institution may force another individual to become a beggar, busker, street vendor or car windshield cleaner.
  • No individual or institution may become a beggar, busker, street vendor or car windshield cleaner.
  • No individual or institution may trade with street vendors or give money or goods to beggars, buskers or car windshield cleaners.

 Opinion & analysis

Beggar, thy neighbor

Jakarta Post Editorial - September 15, 2007

It's the season of giving – but you can't give. A fine of Rp 50 million (US$5,300) threatens anyone in Jakarta caught handing money to beggars, buskers, U-turn men or any other of their ilk.

Yet another controversial policy from departing Governor Sutiyoso, the newly endorsed bylaw on public order faces the challenging month of Ramadhan to unwittingly test, yet again, the credibility of the capital's leaders.

We trust that many residents would give the thumbs up to Sutiyoso for this contentious policy, which comes on the heels of an uproar over his plans to build a busway route through the elite suburb of Pondok Indah.

Without beggars and people asking for donations for mosques, Jakartans would be unburdened of the choice of whether to give in or dismissively wave them away like a feudal lord. A hefty fine would remind everyone that begging is a crime that takes two to tango, as the law against graft does.

This city has never had pretensions to welcome – let alone protect – the poor and destitute. Governor after governor has issued decrees to restrict newcomers to Jakarta. Pack up and go home if you don't have a job, the message has always been, this aspiring city doesn't want more slums and eyesores.

Each year, after the Idul Fitri holidays, a few hundred people get caught for failing to show their Jakarta IDs and are sent home on the next train. But each year tens of thousands manage to settle down, with the help of networks that inform them about the best available opportunities for income.

Begging and busking are among those opportunities. What is new about this public order bylaw is that anyone tempted to give a Rp 500 coin to a dirty faced child with a baby is now a criminal.

Bali's Denpasar has a similar ban in place, apparently with considerable success, if a cursory look at its cleaner streets is any guide. Mataram, the capital of Lombok, wants to follow in its neighbor's footsteps, to curb its own growing population of street children.

When reports revealed that Jakarta was to have this new bylaw, the question was if there would be any employment programs to go with it. Does Governor Sutiyoso and his incoming replacement, Fauzi Bowo, have a plan to create new jobs for the 3-in-1 jockeys, bottled water sellers, newspaper boys and toy sellers at the city's intersections? If not, public order officials will be chasing these people around for a long time.

Indonesia does not have the Western system of unemployment benefits. Few among the city's unemployed, estimated at some 600,000, can truly afford to be idle. Beggars and buskers – apart from the genuinely lazy and those recruited by criminal syndicates – are doing what they do because it is their last resort.

At every red light the motorist is then left to wonder which of these categories of beggar is the one approaching her window? One feels foolish enriching a criminal syndicate exploiting the poor or contributing to a prolonged habit. But knowing that there is no social safety net, one often ends up fishing out a rupiah note. It's much better than harboring a nagging guilt, and it makes the beggar or the noisy singer leave pronto.

Enter Ramadhan, when one is reminded to be charitable. Stinginess, after all, does not sit well with a whole month of fasting. When the bylaw takes effect people might still try to be on their best behavior and give food, for instance, instead of cash, to the multitudes who come from the villages to cash in on the annual season of giving.

While facing what many consider to be an unfair sanction on kindness, the public need to know how the administration will realistically change the city's massive informal sector. A large-scale cash-for-work plan, like those following natural disasters, could be one way to reassure us that the poor are being taken care of.

Another approach would be the promotion of growth in Jakarta's surrounding towns and villages, which could provide income for landless families which, we're told, are the source of most of the city's urban poor.

The fine could mean residents will now shun any extended hand. But until the question of what else is being done for the poor is answered, people should be forgiven for wondering if that single coin might just stop one youngster from plunging into desperation – and getting involved in crimes much more serious than evoking pity.

Sophisticated Yudhoyono will leave an impressive legacy

Sydney Morning Herald - September 15, 2007

Hamish McDonald – Alongside the Asia-Pacific Economic Co- operation summitry last weekend, there was an impressive roadshow from an Asian country that once dominated our regional outlook, but whose story has more recently been drowned out by the big- budget epics of China and India.

Last Sunday night, the Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, showed a new sophistication in his country's diplomacy, in a carefully crafted appeal in English for Australians and Indonesians to forget hostile stereotypes, even invoking the memory of Steve Irwin to make his point.

In different forums, some of his ministers – such as the Trade Minister, Mari Pangestu, and the Environment Minister, Rachmat Witoelar – were showing off the infusion of civilian expertise that the former general has handpicked for his cabinet. The progress they make in reforms, before Yudhoyono's term ends in 2009, will be important for our neighbourhood.

A handy take on progress came from the Australian National University's annual Indonesia "update" this month.

Ten years after the Asian financial crisis that precipitated the collapse of the Soeharto regime in May 1998, the economy is sustaining economic growth of about 6 per cent a year, despite tough measures such as the cutting of fuel subsidies last year. But it is still below the 7.5 per cent growth it averaged before the crisis, and unemployment is still massive, perhaps 30 per cent.

As the Australian National University economist, Chris Manning, points out, Indonesia has not got back into the large-scale manufacturing that flourished in the later Soeharto years, and relies more on small and medium scale sectors.

About 39 million of the 230 million population are below the Government's poverty line – 4 million more than in 2005. However, population growth is slowing and looks like levelling off at about 280 million mid-century – at which point the "furphy" about starving, landless Asian hordes arriving on our shores may recede from Australian thinking, hopes the ANU's veteran Indonesia specialist, Jamie Mackie, author of a new Lowy Institute paper on bilateral relations.

Against this tough background, the deepening of the country's democratic reforms is even more impressive. As well as three national elections since Soeharto, Indonesia has conducted about 320 elections for provincial and district chiefs and legislatures, replacing a system of top-down executive appointments and manipulated assembly votes. About 40 per cent of incumbents are tipped out, reports Douglas Ramage, the Asia Foundation representative in Jakarta.

Along with the decentralisation of power, economic activity and wealth is being dispersed, as measured by bank deposits and credit, which before 1999 were overwhelmingly held and disbursed by Jakarta bank branches, Dr Ramage said. Surveys show about 75 per cent of Indonesians say they are happy with the new political arrangement, despite the tougher economic times since Soeharto.

Addressing another Western fear, ANU political specialist Greg Fealy says political Islam is stagnating, and the once strong parties of leaders such as Abdurrahman Wahid and Amien Rais are in disarray. The main secular parties may take on an Islamic tone and promote a Muslim way of doing things in education or banking, but they are not pushing for an Islamic state.

The spread of sharia law by provincial and local governments seems to have stopped, and the Koranic code is not being enforced in some areas where it has been officially adopted. "No Islamic firebrands have been elevated in any local elections, anywhere in Indonesia," Dr Fealy reported.

Under Yudhoyono there's also been a long overdue attack on backward institutions. The national police force, detached from the Defence Ministry soon after Soeharto fell by President B.J. Habibie, is being re-educated as a crime-fighting and protective agency – rather than a repressive apparatus – through anew curriculum at its academy. "It's an example of how a deeply corrupt and brutal institution can change," Dr Ramage said.

The Finance Minister, Sri Mulyani Indrawati, sacked her director-general of taxation last year, and recently dismissed or transferred 1351 staff of the customs service at Jakarta's Tanjung Priok port, doubling the salaries of those remaining, to cut the notorious corruption. Throughput of containers has jumped dramatically. The judiciary and prosecutorial machinery remains problematic, witnessed by this week's Supreme Court decision upholding 1 trillion rupiah ($128 million) in damages awarded to Soeharto against Time magazine, or the early release of Soeharto's son Hutomo (Tommy) Mandala Putra from his jail sentence for a judge's murder.

The lagging investigation of intelligence links to the murder of the human rights lawyer Munir Said Thalib, by arsenic poisoning aboard a Garuda flight in 2004, still drags down Indonesia's international standing, as does reluctance to account for abuses in East Timor between 1975 and 1999.

Military reform has also slowed. The army retains its "territorial" role giving it domestic powers similar to an occupying colonial army. In 2004 parliament passed a law ordering the armed forces to divest all their business arms. "More than two years on, nothing's been done," said Clinton Fernandes, a specialist on the Indonesian military at the Australian Defence Force Academy.

The failure particularly aggravates problems in Papua, where the army has rotated several officers accused of serious abuses in East Timor earlier in their careers. It helps keep the region under a mantle of Soeharto-style fear and secrecy, subverting political efforts to calm separatism among the Papuans. With the army running protection rackets at big resource projects or protecting illegal loggers, it undermines the new effort to preserve forest cover.

Yudhoyono is a new and attractive face of Indonesia, able to address foreign audiences in English and postgraduate of US universities. Yet only in January last year, he became the first Indonesian president to recall an ambassador from Canberra, in the row over Papuan asylum seekers, a step that Soekarno never took at the height of "Konfrontasi", Soeharto during his many bilateral chills, or Habibie in 1999.

Whether we escape this diplomatic cycle of euphoria and dispute, and investors flood capital back into Indonesia, will depend a lot on how much progress the "Thinking General" makes, over the remaining two years of his term, in regulating his former army colleagues, backing Sri Mulyani in her bold anti-corruption drive, and tracing responsibility in cases like the Munir murder.

Bad time, bad news

Jakarta Post Editorial - September 13, 2007

Soeharto repeatedly won condemnation from media organizations around the world for muzzling journalists during much of his time as president. More than nine years after he was forced to step down, the ailing and aging former president is still taunting the media.

The Supreme Court has awarded Soeharto a hefty Rp 1 trillion (US$106 million) settlement from Time Asia magazine, which in 1999 published a series of articles about massive corruption scandals involving the former first family. The American-based weekly magazine, its editors, as well as Hong Kong and Indonesian-based journalists, have been ordered to pay damages for "destroying the good name" of the former strongman. The court also ordered Time to apologize to Soeharto by taking out huge advertisements in several publications around the world.

The Supreme Court decision is final. There is no recourse for Time but to pay up. The only way it can avoid paying the penalty is to file for a case review, and this is only possible if Time lawyers can find new evidence to support its defense for publishing the articles.

Although the odds are very much stacked against the magazine, we wish to let its owners and journalists know that we, and many in the media industry and journalism profession in Indonesia, are with them and will support their fight to have the ruling overturned, one way or another.

For, unless we challenge the Supreme Court, the verdict will have far-reaching negative consequences for the life of this nation, in terms of the integrity of the Indonesian courts in dispensing justice, in terms of the media's working environment and in terms of the ongoing anti-graft drive.

The Supreme Court, which has been beset with allegations of corruption, has again shot itself in the foot. The three justices on the panel hearing the Time case overturned earlier rulings by district and high courts, both of which dismissed the lawsuit filed by Soeharto.

This inconsistency between the lower courts and the highest court of the land defies logic. It fuels speculation that justice goes to the highest bidder, or in this particular case, to the more politically connected.

The Supreme Court is doing itself a great disservice. This was the same court that last year acquitted Tempo editors on criminal defamation charges, insisting that anyone with a complaint against the media must refer to the 1999 Press Law. That law accommodates the right of reply for those who feel defamed.

This is a legal course that Soeharto (or his lawyers) never pursued with Time. The celebrated 2006 ruling for Tempo should have been considered by the justices who heard Soeharto vs. Time case.

The latest Supreme Court ruling will have a chilling effect on the media and the journalism profession. No media outlet has the kind of money that the court ordered Time to pay, and most would fold under such a ruling. Many newsrooms will now shy away from reporting controversial stories or conducting their own investigations into corruption scandals and other forms of abuse. Public interest, the people's right to know, has been severely damaged.

The Indonesian media, freed from the censorship and harassment that Soeharto inflicted during his 30-year reign, has played a role in unveiling and reporting power abuse scandals since the end of the corrupt New Order regime in 1998.

Tempo magazine, one of the few local publications with a strong investigative reporting tradition, has uncovered many cases of abuses of power before the authorities stepped in. Consider it one of the public duties of the media in a democracy.

Time's 1999 articles headlined "Soeharto Inc." should be seen as part of the drive to make the former president and his children accountable for their actions. The article sought to answer the question that was in the minds of many people, then and today: how much money is the Cendana family worth, and how much of that wealth is legitimate?

More than nine years after he stepped down, Soeharto remains a free man, as do his children who continue to control the business empires they built during the reign of their father largely through family connections.

Once again, the Indonesian people are the losers. Soeharto and his children may soon be laughing all the way to the bank to cash in the Time check. Even though he is no longer president, Soeharto has outwitted us once again, with the help of friends still in powerful places.

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