Jakarta lawmakers want minister sacked

Critics say Trade and Industry Minister broke law in trade deal, accuse her of arrogance in refusing to answer charges.

Indonesian legislators are calling for Trade and Industry Minister Rini Soewandi to be sacked, over the controversial purchase of Russian fighter jets.

Anger has been mounting over her refusal to attend a hearing on the US$192.6 million (S$340.1 million) scandal, named ‘Sukhoi-gate’ after the jets.

Politicians warned yesterday they would recommend a discharge from government if she ignores another summons to appear before a parliamentary commission.

Much of the pressure to get her sacked comes from Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri’s Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle party (PDI-P), which sees Ms Rini as a means to deflect blame from the President, especially with an election coming up next year.

The head of the PDI-P faction in Parliament, Mr Roy Janis, told The Straits Times: ‘As a minister, she should be responsible for her actions. We want her to stand before Parliament and tell us what happened. If she refuses, we want her out of government.’

Ms Rini was the main advocate of the counter-trade deal with Russia to raise Indonesian exports.

In return for Russia buying around 30 commodities from Indonesia, Jakarta will buy four jets and two helicopters.

Witnesses at a recent parliamentary hearing said the minister pressured Indonesian businessmen into accepting the arrangement.

In the process, her critics say, Ms Rini violated defence and budgetary laws.

Part of the payment for the planes will come from national food agency Bulog. This has led farmers to protest outside Parliament. Bulog’s job, they say, is to stabilise commodity prices, not buy fighter jets.

Ms Rini has so far refused to appear before Parliament. When she was summoned on Tuesday, she sent a note saying she was busy on an official trip to Central Sulawesi.

Mr Roy said: ‘This smacks of arrogance. For a long time, she has been exploiting her close relationship with Ibu Mega… We can’t allow that.’

The minister is one of Ms Megawati’s most trusted lieutenants, joining her on official and private trips.

But her connections have apparently upset others in the political establishment, who accuse her of ‘hiding under the cover of her godmother’.

Her behind-the-scenes manoeuvrings and economic plans have also pitted her against several ministers.

Recently, she has become embroiled in open spats with economic czar Dorodjatun Kuntjoro-Jakti and the finance and agriculture ministers over policy issues.

While MPs are threatening her over the Sukhoi-gate saga, they can do little if she retains the President’s support.

An insider said: ‘Rini was just following orders but she did it in a clumsy and stupid way. That is her only sin. Megawati still has a soft spot for her.’

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