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Walhi Contends Corruption in Indonesian Mudflow Aftermath

The Indonesian Forum for the Environment reported on Tuesday the possibility of corruption in the handling of the Sidoarjo mudflow disaster to the Corruption Eradication Commission.

Spokesman Erwin Usman of the forum, also known as Walhi, said it suspected that graft may have played a part in dropping the probe into PT Lapindo Brantas — suspected of causing the disaster — and how the government took emergency relief funds from the state budget.

“We consider that there were possibilities for the misuse of authority after the East Java Police dropped the criminal case in 2009, citing lack of evidence to determine whether it was a natural disaster or due to human error,” Erwin said.

He also said Walhi suspected more abuses concerning the lack of follow-up on an appeal filed over the South Jakarta District Court verdict in 2008 that rejected Walhi’s claims that Lapindo was responsible of causing environmental damage in Sidoarjo.

In March 2006, mud began spewing from a crack near a gas drilling well operated by Lapindo, a company under the umbrella of the Bakrie group, which is controlled by the family of then Coordinating Minister for People’s Welfare Aburizal Bakrie. The mudflow inundated hundreds of hectares of homes, fields and industries and left thousands of people homeless.

The exact cause of the mudflow remains unclear. Near the end of the previous House of Representatives’ five-year term in September, the legislature declared the disaster had natural causes, contradicting findings of international geologists that the disaster was triggered by human error.

Last week, the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas-HAM) also declared that human error had caused the mudflow and announced that it would establish a special team to investigate possible crimes committed by Lapindo.

Erwin said Walhi was also questioning the government’s disbursement of Rp 4 trillion ($424 million) from the state budget to help the victims. The money was disbursed even before the courts could decide on who should be responsible to pay the cost of controlling the mudflow and sheltering and compensating the victims, he said.

“The policy regarding the disbursement of funds prior to any legal decision is risky,” Erwin said.

Walhi also suspects procedural violations in the use of state budget funds to pay for the mudflow losses.

“We are hoping that the KPK [Corruption Eradication Commission] can get on the case, considering that it is no longer under investigation or in court,” he said, adding that irregularities were suspected in the mechanism of using funds from the state budget and whether the money went to the right people.

Erwin also said corruption was suspected in the official decision to drop the criminal investigation of Lapindo over the mudflow.

KPK spokesman Johan Budi said it would look into Walhi’s report based on the commission’s standard operational procedures.

“The KPK only has the authority to handle corruption allegations which are linked to the government and law enforcement,” said Johan, as quoted by the state news agency Antara.

He said the KPK had already recommended that if the mudflow were found to be caused by human error, the government should seek reimbursement of the funds used for reconstruction and disaster relief.

[Fidelis E Satriastanti]

(c) The Jakarta Globe

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