Once-Top Indonesian Reformer’s Feet of Clay

Sports minister, once thought presidential material, is named a corruption suspect

Indonesia's Youth and Sports Affairs Minister Andi Mallarangeng,  a one-time voice of the new reformasi Indonesia, resigned Friday after being named a suspect on corruption charges by the country’s anti-graft watchdog.

Mallarangeng, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s handpicked choice to lead the Democratic Party until he was pushed aside by party leader Anas Urbaningrum – who is also expected to be named a suspect in the same corruption probe – had been seen as a possible future president not long ago. .

The charges had long been expected, dealing with the construction of the scandal-plagued athletes’ village for the 2011 Southeast Asian Games. A widening ring of top Democratic Party officials has been snared in the probe, including the onetime party treasurer, Muhammad Nazaruddin, who has been jailed on bribery charges and who has been an invaluable witness central to the case. Earlier this week Nazaruddin submitted documents to the KPK that he said proved that Anas and secretary general Edhie Baskoro Yudhoyono -- Yudhoyono's son -- were aware of the flow of corruption-tainted funds.

Mallarangang “is a huge disappointment to a lot of people because he was once thought to be clean and an example of a new breed of political leader,” said a veteran Jakarta-based political analyst. The act is yet another indication that the Corruption Eradication Commission is drawing ever closer to the circle that surrounds the president himself.

Mallarangang is not the only disappointment. After Indonesia climbed slowly up the Berlin-based Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index from the time Yudhoyono came into office, the country slid from 100th of 186 in 2011to 118th of 176 this year, tying with Madagascar, Egypt, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic, as the scandals have taken their toll.

Mallarangang maintained his innocence. "I am certain that the many accusations that have been leveled against me are not true," he said, adding that he hoped that "truth and justice" would eventually prevail. He said he had been speaking out against graft and corruption from the time he was a college student.

With Mallarangang and Urbaningram seemingly enmeshed in the charges, the slow-moving train wreck that is the leadership of SBY’s party seems to be speeding up. When SBY first came into office at the start of his first term, he was given high marks for pushing reformasi, cleaning out the vast web of corruption that had infected Indonesian politics and society during the 39-year reign of the strongman Suharto. His cadre of bright young reformers were looked upon by international investors as emblematic of that push for reform. That reputation now lies in wreckage.

"This is getting closer and closer to SBY," a veteran risk consultant said of Mallarangeng's resignation. "It was time for Andi to fall on sword for the President. But it won't stop here." The KPK, as the corruption watchdog is called, appears to be picking up speed in its own determination to clean out Indonesia’s top rungs. It detained the former traffic police chief. Inspector. Gen. Djoko Susilo this week and also some time ago netted Siti Hartati Murdaya Poo, the wife of one of the country’s richest Chinese industrialists, Murdaya Poo. Ranked by Forbes the 19th richest businessman in the country, Siti Hartati is the chairwoman of the Indonesian Buddhist Association.

The KPK has compiled an enviable conviction rate since the organization’s establishment in 2002, pulling down an astonishing 100 percent of the cases it has prosecuted in relation to bribery and graft involving government procurements and budgets. However, perhaps 20,000 cases have been reported to the agency, which is overwhelmed by the magnitude of Indonesian corruption.

Mallarangeng was named a suspect on Dec. 3, according to KPK chairman Abraham Samad, on allegations of abuse of power to benefit himself or others, and causing losses to the state. The charge carries up to 20 years in jail and fines of up to Rp1 billion. The Supreme Audit Agency, which audited the sports project, said it was full of irregularities that had potentially cost the state up to Rp243 billion in losses.

The results of the audit also showed that Andi was responsible for presiding over procedural malpractice related to his ministry’s budgeting, according to the statements, allowing his secretary, Wafid Muharram, to sign the procurement contract, against a government regulation requiring contracts of more than Rp 50 billion to be signed by the minister himself.

“People are really sick of the sleaze,” said a political observer. “I think the KPK may be getting too strong and popular to be stopped. The ultimate beneficiary could be a potential presidential reform candidate in 2014.”

So far, no such candidate has emerged although Prabowo Subianto, the head of the Gerindra Party and currently the leading candidate in opinion polls to replace Yudhoyono, is seizing on the issue as part of his campaign.

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