The State Palace has weighed in on the mounting controversy over the Home Affairs Ministry’s bid to inaugurate a district chief who is currently in jail and due to stand trial for corruption following his arrest in October.
Julian Aldrin Pasha, a spokesman for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, said in Jakarta on Friday that the president had been following the developments in the case of Hambit Bintih, the head of Gunung Mas district in Central Kalimantan, and called on Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi to consider the public outrage engendered by his dogged attempt to get Hambit sworn in simply because it was required by law.
“What we have to consider here in addition to the letter of the law are the moral and ethical factors and how this case is perceived by the public,” Julian said.
He added that Yudhoyono had ordered Gamawan to find “the best possible solution” to the case to ensure the public’s sense of justice was not undermined, but also that the Gunung Mas administration was not left with a power vacuum.
Speaking separately, however, Gamawan played down the public outrage over his move, saying the public “doesn’t understand the law.”
“My ministry is just carrying out administration. The people don’t understand about the law, but the law must be carried out,” he said following a meeting with legislators at the House of Representatives.
He said that under the 2004 Regional Governance Law, an elected district head must be sworn in by the prescribed date, and that Hambit’s status as a criminal suspect was not considered the “permanent obstacle” that under the law would obviate his inauguration.
“We can’t just inaugurate the deputy district head, because Hambit was the one who was voted into office, not the deputy,” Gamawan said.
A similar defense was offered up by Djoko Suyanto, the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, who said on Friday that the call for Hambit to be inaugurated had come from the Gunung Mas district legislature and the Central Kalimantan governor, and that the Home Affairs Ministry was simply carrying out the letter of the law.
Djoko said the president understood the public sentiment against the planned inauguration, but insisted that the law could not simply be flouted because of the bad precedent that it would set.
The statements came in response to the announcement a day earlier by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) that it had rejected Gamawan’s request for Hambit, who is in the KPK’s custody, be allowed to be inaugurated for a second term in office after winning re-election — under highly suspect circumstances — in a Sept. 4 poll.
Busyro Muqoddas, a deputy chairman of the KPK, said on Thursday that the insistence by the Home Affairs Ministry to proceed with Hambit’s inauguration regardless of his criminal status — for allegedly bribing the Constitutional Court’s chief justice in connection with a dispute filed by a rival over the election results — was both puzzling and counterproductive.
“Even if he were to be inaugurated, there would be no point because he wouldn’t be allowed to serve, so it would all just be a waste,” Busyro said in a text message to the Globe.
He slammed the planned inauguration as setting a poor precedent for efforts to clean up the government, and faulted Gamawan for being a stickler about bureaucratic procedure at the expense of doing the morally right thing.
“It would be very dignified indeed if the minister had sided with the ethical and moral choice in this matter instead of pushing ahead with regulations that in the end eschew moral leadership,” Busyro said.
The KPK, he went on, would always treat corruption as a moral scandal, and thus would never be able to rationalize the appointment of a graft suspect as a public official on purely administrative grounds.
Hambit, the incumbent in Gunung Mas, was declared the winner of last September’s election with 52 percent of votes, with his closest challenger, Jaya Samaya Monong, getting 38 percent.
However, Jaya contested the results at the Constitutional Court, claiming widespread poll fraud, including the mobilization of minors by the incumbent’s camp to cast votes, as well as the recognition of hundreds of votes in favor of Hambit from a nonexistent ward and the disqualification of hundreds of ballots from one of the challenger’s strongholds.
Hambit was arrested in Jakarta on the night of Oct. 2, in a series of raids that also netted Akil Mochtar, the chief justice of the Constitutional Court, and charged with bribing the judge for a favorable ruling in the election dispute.
Akil was also charged in the case and accused of taking up to Rp 3 billion ($246,000) in kickbacks from Hambit, as well as Rp 1 billion in connection with another dispute being heard over an election in Lebak district in Banten.
The KPK is investigating whether he took bribes in any of the dozens of other election disputes that he heard during his four years at the court.
Despite the controversy, the Constitutional Court went on to rule on Oct. 9, just a week after the arrests, that Jaya did not have a case, effectively upholding the victory for the now-jailed Hambit.
The KPK has indicated that its case against the disgraced district head will be ready to go to court soon. Under the Home Affairs Ministry’s own guidelines, a public official must be suspended once they are indicted, which would render Hambit’s inauguration meaningless, as the KPK has argued.