Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Editorial: Is Muhaimin corrupt?

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is facing yet another test of his commitment to fighting corruption as the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) digs deeper into a bribery case allegedly implicating a member of his Cabinet.

It appears that Yudhoyono faces a dilemma, as the Cabinet member involved is Manpower and Transmigration Minister Muhaimin Iskandar, whose National Awakening Party has been the President’s loyal coalition partner, both in good times and in bad.

The KPK has arrested two ministry officials, I Nyoman Suisnaya and Dadong Irberelawan, as well as businesswoman Dharnawati in connection with the case, which revolves around a Rp 1.5 billion (US$175,500) bribe paid to accelerate an infrastructure project in a resettlement area in the West Papua capital of Manokwari.

Dharnawati said through her lawyer that the money was meant for Muhaimin as an “Idul Fitri bonus”. Muhaimin has denied the allegations.

However, it remains for the KPK to determine if the minister is in the clear or not. KPK deputy chairman M. Jasin said on Monday that investigators have arranged a questioning session with the minister in the near future.

According to an investigation conducted by Tempo magazine, Dharnawati, who works for PT Alam Jaya Papua, was allegedly asked to pay Rp 7.5 billion, to be split between Muhaimin and the House of Representatives’ budget committee.

The payments excluded a 10 percent “commission” allegedly demanded by the politicians for a Rp 500 billion tender granted to the company to build infrastructure in resettlement areas in 19 regencies across the country.

The company could only afford to pay Rp 1.5 billion, which Dharnawati later allegedly handed to Nyoman on Aug. 25. KPK investigators caught the suspects while in the act that day.

Of course the KPK should and cannot unquestioningly accept Tempo’s findings, which have no legal weight and might be inaccurate. The KPK will have to rely on the facts and evidence its investigators discover, regardless of Dharnawati’s accusations or Muhaimin’s denials.

Without a doubt, politics are and will be at play in the bribery case, given Muhaimin’s status as the chairman of a party that supports Yudhoyono’s government. The situation is exacerbated by the KPK’s corruption investigation of Muhammad Nazaruddin, the former treasurer of Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party.

The fact that the KPK previously waited for ministers to step down before investigating them in earnest for corruption allegations shows how politics have impeded the antigraft campaign in the country. This has happened despite the President’s vow to stay away from the legal process conducted by the KPK against his aides.

Muhaimin, who has emerged as a seasoned politician since reform, should wary of using politics to weather this crisis. In interview given to local journalists in his hometown, Jombang, in East Java over the weekend, Muhaimin made an unprecedented move to declare his party’s support for a House move to exercise the right to express an opinion in connection with the controversial Bank Century bailout if the ongoing legal process to settle the case stalls.

As a former deputy House speaker, Muhaimin is well aware that such a move would lead to impeachment of Vice President Boediono, whom the House blames for the Rp 6.7 trillion bailout.

The only way to prove his leadership in the nationwide fight against graft is for the President to throw his weight behind the KPK investigation and ask Muhaimin to focus on the legal process.

For the sake of equality before the law, the same standard should apply to all Cabinet ministers, including those from the Democratic Party.