Indonesian panel to decide Speaker's fate

House Speaker Setya Novanto (centre) is accused of attempting to secure shares in Freeport McMoran's Indonesian unit in return for helping the miner extend its contract to operate in Indonesia's Papua province.
House Speaker Setya Novanto (centre) is accused of attempting to secure shares in Freeport McMoran's Indonesian unit in return for helping the miner extend its contract to operate in Indonesia's Papua province.PHOTO: REUTERS

House ethics council to weigh if hearing into kickbacks allegation should be open to public

The fate of Indonesia's House Speaker Setya Novanto could be sealed on Monday after the House of Representatives ethics council opted to proceed with a hearing over his alleged role in eliciting kickbacks from United States copper and gold miner Freeport McMoran.

Mr Setya is accused of attempting to secure shares worth more than US$1 billion (S$1.4 billion) in Freeport's Indonesian unit in return for helping the miner extend its contract to operate the world's biggest integrated gold mine in Indonesia's Papua province.

"On Monday we will find out how this case will proceed. If they decide on an open hearing, chances for Setya Novanto to survive would be slim," Mr Rendi A. Witular, a managing editor of Indonesia's largest English newspaper The Jakarta Post, told The Straits Times.

The 18-strong ethics council will meet to decide whether the hearing - which may take about a month to reach a ruling - will be open to the public or held behind closed doors, said Ms Titi Anggraini, executive director of the Jakarta-based Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem).

Last week, Energy Minister Sudirman Said lodged a complaint against Mr Setya with the Parliament ethics committee, alleging that the House Speaker had used the names of the president and vice-president to demand a stake in Freeport's Indonesian unit. Mr Sudirman has given the ethics council a transcript and an 11-minute portion of a 120-minute recording of a June meeting between Freeport's Indonesian head, Mr Setya and businessman M. Riza Chalid.

In a case that had hogged front page headlines in Indonesia, Mr Setya, who is a leading figure in the opposition Golkar party, has repeatedly denied that he improperly mentioned President Joko Widodo's name, saying he was just joking about wanting the miner's shares.

The ethics council deputy chairman, Mr Junimart Girsang, of the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party - Struggle (PDI-P), said on Wednesday that he was offered a 20 billion rupiah (S$2 million) bribe by an unknown person and Ms Titi said that his statement should convince the ethics committee to ensure transparency.

"This is a reminder that they should hold the hearing open to the public. This case has (received) top public attention. A closed-door hearing would raise suspicion and support some speculations that the case will be settled politically," Ms Titi told The Straits Times.

Civil society leaders from many quarters, religious leaders and students have been prolific in expressing their concerns over corruption on television and social media. The case was recently a top trending topic on Twitter in Indonesia.

Mr Haedar Nashir, chairman of Muhammadiyah, Indonesia's second largest Islamic organisation, said leaders must voluntarily step down if they are found to have committed any wrongdoing, to avoid embarrassing themselves even further. "The board of ethics must disclose to the public everyone that is involved," Mr Haedar told reporters.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2015, with the headline 'Indonesian panel to decide Speaker's fate'. Print Edition | Subscribe