03/05/2010, 00.00
INDONESIA
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Jakarta: government and opposition at loggerheads over Bank Century rescue

by Mathias Hariyadi
Parliament calls for a commission of inquiry to verify possible irregularities in the US$ 716 bailout. Golkar calls for the resignation of the vice president and the finance minister. The clash is symptomatic of a wider conflict between reformers who want to fight corruption and strong vested interests. Catholics hope to see “transparency” prevail.
Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono expressed his “full support” for Vice President Boediono and Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati, who are the centre of a storm regarding the bailout at taxpayers’ expense of Bank Century in November 2008.  The Indonesian parliament has decided to set up a commission of inquiry. Parts of the opposition, led by the Golkar party, want both the vice president and the finance minister to resign. Catholic leaders call for “transparency” and back “legal action” in case of violations of the law.

The controversy began when the government decided to bail out Bank Century with US$ 716 million in public funds. In reality, the bank rescue hides a political clash between reformers, who want to fight corruption and promote development, and parts of the opposition, tied to some powerful economic elites, who feel threatened by reforms.

The establishment of a commission of inquiry is seen by some as an attempt to discredit Vice President Boediono, a former governor of Indonesia’s central bank, and Finance Minister Indrawati, whilst undermining President Yudhoyono’s popularity

For local observers, financial tycoon and Golkar leader Aburizal Bakrie appears to be behind the political efforts to discredit the government. The Democratic Struggle Party (PDIP) of former President Megawati and Islamist Prosperous Party (PKS) are also part of the anti-government front.

In a televised address to the nation, President Yudhoyono defended Boediono and Indrawati, insisting that the bank rescue was necessary to avoid an economic disaster and panic among depositors, as occurred during the Asian financial meltdown of 1997-1998.

The president said the country was lucky to have such individuals at a time of economic crisis, because both have "spotless track records in terms of competence, credibility, and personal integrity".

Yesterday, Indrawati stated that she would cooperate with any investigation and respect the parliament’s conclusion.

Catholic leaders have also entered the fray, calling for transparency and legal action should the allegations prove correct.

Speaking to UCA News, Mgr Martinus Dogma Situmorang, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Indonesia and bishop of Panang (West Sumatra), said, “The decision to take legal action is good and has to be implemented”. The case should be “followed up immediately so that society will believe” it is being taken seriously.

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