Jakarta warns local leader who blocked runway

Jakarta warns local leader who blocked runway

JAKARTA - A local leader in Indonesia's East Nusa Tenggara province, angry that he could not get an airline ticket to fly home, ordered a blockade at his airport to prevent the plane from landing.

The incident last Saturday sparked an uproar, highlighting a negative impact of the country's decision to decentralise the government 15 years ago. Since then, there have been reports of locally elected leaders abusing their authority.

The Indonesian government yesterday ticked off Mr Marianus Sae, the chief of Ngada regency, for ordering the airport closure, which it said was unlawful and could endanger passengers.

Mr Marianus was trying to get a Merpati Nusantara Airlines flight home from Kupang, the provincial capital, to attend a last-minute but important local assembly meeting.

Unable to get on the flight, he telephoned his team and staff in Ngada and ordered them to drive to Ngada's airport and park their cars on the runway so that the Merpati plane would not be able to land.

The action closed the airport for about two hours and forced the Merpati plane to turn back.

It was revealed that minutes before the plane took off, Merpati officials had told Mr Marianus they managed to get him a seat on the plane, but he declined the offer, saying he had already bought a ticket from another airline.

Defending his actions, Mr Marianus told suarapembaruan.com: "I begged for five hours... and the answer was 'the flight is full'."

He said he pleaded with the airline because the Ngada assembly meeting had been convened to approve the regency's proposed development spending budget.

Some of the funds would go towards improving Ngada's Turolelo So'a airport facilities, which Merpati makes use of.

He saw the airline's refusal to help him as tantamount to not supporting his regency's economic development.

Consequently, Merpati must be taught a lesson, Mr Marianus told the tvOne station yesterday.

"I missed the plenary session and, consequently, the fund disbursement to Ngada regency had to be delayed," he added.

Mr Saleh Husin, a member of Indonesia's parliamentary transport committee, said Mr Marianus breached Indonesia's aviation law and his action could jeopardise lives and flight safety.

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