PI/Supreme Court Chief Retained Despite Scandals

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PI/Supreme Court Chief Retained Despite Scandals - 03 May 06 12:42

From Paras Indonesia http://www.parasindonesia.com/read.php?gid=290

May, 03 2006 @ 10:09 am

Supreme Court Chief Retained Despite Scandals
Roy Tupai

Don’t expect criticism of Indonesia’s notoriously corrupt judiciary to end any time soon. Supreme Court chief justice Bagir Manan, who is embroiled in a bribery scandal and has a history of highly questionable verdicts, has been re-elected to remain at the helm of the country’s top judicial institution until 2011.

Manan, who is also fiercely opposed to efforts to expose and fire corrupt judges, was appointed Supreme Court chief in May 2001 and scheduled to end his term on May 18, 2006. He was re-elected on Tuesday (2/5/06) by 44 of the Supreme Court’s 48 active justices.

Supreme Court deputy chief for supervision Gunanto Suryono received two votes, deputy chief for national administration Paulus Lotulung received one vote, and another vote was declared invalid.

Cynical observers immediately assumed the court had engineered the four non-Manan votes in a feeble effort to make it look as if the election was not rigged.

Supreme Court secretary Rum Nessa, who chaired the election process, denied there had been any shenanigans and said a recent plenary meeting had determined that Manan was the best candidate.

Anti-corruption activists are still hoping the government and parliament will join forces to fire Manan and find someone with a cleaner reputation to replace him.

Manan was to have retired this October, when he will turn 65 - the mandatory retirement age for judges. But he last year extended the retirement age to 67. That means he is now due to resign on October 6, 2008. Observers say there’s nothing to stop him from again extending the retirement age.

Speaking to reporters after his re-election, Manan claimed he would willingly retire and not seek to serve out his second five-year term until 2011. "If I really have to retire, yes it will be retirement then. It must not be five years. So we should not discuss this now,” he was quoted as saying by detikcom online news portal. He said a new election could be held after his retirement.

He claimed his re-election took him by surprise, admitting he had not considered himself worthy of another term in office. "I felt I was not the best of those available. I had not been thinking about being re-elected.”

Nevertheless, Manan said he was pleased with the result of the election. "I’m happy and grateful to God because my friends still believe in me to lead the Supreme Court as chief justice.”

Law Students Protest
Members of the Indonesian Law Students Association (IMHI) protested outside the Supreme Court during the election, accusing Manan of corruption and incompetence. They listed four main reasons why Manan should step down immediately.

First, there were indications he was involved in the payment of a Rp6 billion bribe by former dictator Suharto’s half-brother Probosutedjo to the Supreme Court.

Second, the Supreme Court failed to deal with numerous controversial cases under Manan’s tenure from 2001 to 2006.

Third, Manan has refused to cooperate with the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) and Judicial Commission, which were set up in an effort eliminate institutional graft.

And fourth, judges presiding over the ongoing corruption trial of Probosutedjo’s lawyer recently rejected the prosecution’s demand to summon Manan as a witness, even though the case is centered on allegations that he was to have received the lion’s share of the bribe.

“Bagir Manan cannot set a good example as Supreme Court chief because we see has failed to make any achievements,” IMHI coordinator Fiktor Tanisa was quoted as saying by detikcom.

The student protesters sang songs calling on Manan to quit. They also carried banners and posters with slogans such as ‘Don’t Let Bagir Manan be Supreme Court Chief Again’ and ‘Bagir is the Bastion of the Judicial Mafia’.

The students were unable to discuss their concerns with the Supreme Court justices, who were preoccupied with a banquet held after Manan’s re-election.

‘Leadership Crisis’
Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) deputy coordinator Danang Widoyoko lamented Manan’s re-election, saying he had failed to reform the judiciary. "We cannot have high hopes for the Supreme Court to be capable of creating legal certainty in this country because it is still lead by Bagir Manan," he was quoted as saying by state news agency Antara.

Danang said he did not know whether Manan would attempt to stay on after reaching the retirement age in 2008.

Legislator Benny K. Harman of parliament’s Commission III on legal affairs said Manan was the best of a bad bunch of senior judges. "Bagir is the best of the ugliest. And at this time he is the appropriate choice,” he was quoted as saying by detikcom.

He said Manan was re-elected because most other judges lack the capacity to become chief justice. He said parliament was to blame for the “leadership crisis” in the Supreme Court because it had appointed the senior justices.

"Don’t blame those who do not have any ability. This is because it was parliament that determined them as senior justices,” said the Democrat Party member.

He said while most of the Supreme Court’s judges are old and set in their ways, the younger judges are no better because they are also incapable of adopting progressive thinking. "Which of the young ones are good? I haven’t found any. There aren’t any with progressive thinking.”

Despite his pessimism, Harman expressed hope that Manan would be able to straighten out the judiciary across the country “in order to stop the judicial mafia”.

Denny Indrayana, director of justice watchdog Indonesian Court Monitoring, said the judicial mafia would continue to thrive due to Manan’s re-election. He said the 44 senior justices voted for Manan because their only desire is to maintain the crooked status quo.

"I am very disappointed in this. They should really be opposing the judicial mafia, but they actually want the status quo and re-elected Bagir. So how can there be judicial reform?” he was quoted as saying by detikcom.

He lashed out at Manan for failing to come up with a clear mission statement on how to reform the judiciary. He said the senior justices were undoubtedly unified behind Manan because he firmly opposes the Judicial Commission’s plan to evaluate judges and dismiss any found to be corrupt.

Indrayana said the refusal of judges to allow Manan to be summoned as a witness in the Probosutedjo-Supreme Court bribery case was a glaring example of legal discrimination. “The law is still discriminatory. Bagir has to become a witness as a prerequisite for eradicating the judicial mafia.”

Zero New Plans
Manan said he would come up with a blueprint for the Supreme Court’s work for the next five years, but admitted he did not yet have any new programs, ideas or policies.

"There isn’t anything yet. But I will continue to carry out my work in accordance with the blueprint… That’s my obligation, to prepare the blueprint later,” he said.

Manan proudly said the Supreme Court had performed well under his leadership. Citing an example, he said that from 2005 to March 2006, the court had dealt with 15,500 cases from a backlog of 29,000 cases. "If this speed can be maintained, hopefully there will no longer be any backlog by the end of 2006 or early 2007.”

He said the Supreme Court could achieve greater success with more funding from parliament. “That would facilitate our work,” he added.

Judges Deny Conspiracy
Supreme Court spokesman Djoko Sarwoko and deputy chief for special crimes Iskandar Kamil denied that Manan’s re-election was due to engineering. They said the fact that Manan did not win all votes was proof there was no conspiracy. They also said the majority of justices voted for Manan without hesitation because they were impressed by his good track record, managerial skills and various achievements.

Appalling Track Record
Here are just a few examples of why anti-corruption activists feel Manan deserves the boot.

Upon assuming office in 2001, Manan promised that one of his top priorities would be to "clean-up the house" by taking action against corrupt judges. But since then, the Supreme Court’s disciplinary committee has investigated only a handful of judges on suspicion of taking bribes and exonerated all of them. This was most glaringly obvious in 2003, when the committee exonerated three Jakarta Commercial Court judges, who had allegedly received bribes to declare the local unit of Canada-based insurance firm Manulife bankrupt even though the company was solvent. The Supreme Court defended its move, whereas the now-defunct Audit Commission for Public Servants’ Wealth found two of the judges had failed to clarify discrepancies in their wealth and had been dishonest.

In February 2004, the Supreme Court controversially overturned then parliament speaker Akbar Tanjung’s corruption conviction and three-year jail sentence. When a lower court judge resigned in protest at the ruling, Manan accused him of lying.

In September 2004, the Supreme Court refused to reinstate then Bank Indonesia Governor Syahril Sabirin’s corruption conviction and three-year jail sentence.

In July 2005, Manan headed a panel of Supreme Court judges that cut the prison sentence of former dictator Suharto’s youngest son, Hutomo ‘Tommy’ Mandala Putra, from 15 to 10 years for murdering a Supreme Court judge and other offenses. Observers said it was utterly reprehensible and cowardly of Manan to reduce the sentence of a villain who had killed an honest judge.

In September 2005, Manan headed a panel of judges presiding over Probosutedjo’s appeal against his corruption conviction. Controversy erupted when the KPK arrested Probosutedjo’s lawyer and five Supreme Court officials on suspicion of involvement in bribery. The lawyer said she had paid a bribe of Rp6 billion – of which Rp5 billion was intended for Manan – in order to have Probosutedjo’s conviction overturned. Probosutedjo admitted to paying the money, as well as another Rp10 billion to lower courts. Manan denied any involvement and appointed a new panel of judges to handle the appeal. Probosutedjo was subsequently jailed and the lawyer is now on trial. Manan has repeatedly refused to cooperate with officials investigating the case.

In January 2006, Manan questioned the legality of the government’s plan to replace unprofessional judges. He said there was insufficient legal basis for the Judicial Commission’s move to evaluate the performance of all Supreme Court judges and remove those found to be crooked or lacking integrity.