Indonesian police chief set to defy House, President

JAKARTA - The National Police is poised to block the instalment of Comr. Gen. Budi Gunawan as police chief by setting up an ethics hearing that will determine whether or not to suspend the graft suspect for breaching the police's code of ethics.

The plan has been put in motion despite a decision on Wednesday by House of Representatives Commission III overseeing legal affairs and laws, human rights and security, to endorse Budi, clearing the way for his confirmation as police chief during the House's Thursday plenary session.

"Whether or not Budi should stay on as an active officer will be decided by the ethics hearing," said National Police chief Gen. Sutarman, whose term will be cut short prior to his retirement in October by President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo.

An existing regulation stipulates that an officer cannot be nominated or inaugurated as police chief should he or she be found by the hearing to have violated the code of ethics.

Sutarman said that the hearing would be arranged by National Police deputy chief Comr. Gen. Badrodin Haiti.

Badrodin, however, declined to disclose when the hearing would be set up, saying that it would also depend on the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK)'s investigation.

"I really cannot say whether or not he will be suspended right now. We have to see how the case goes."

Several days after Jokowi announced Budi's nomination, the KPK named the latter, who currently serves as chief of the National Police's educational division, a graft suspect.

The KPK began investigating Budi's allegedly ill-gotten funds, worth some Rp 54 billion (S$5.94 million), in July of last year. The suspiciously large sums, contained in bank accounts linked to Budi and his family members, were first detected in 2010 by the Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (PPATK).

KPK investigators have evidence indicating the money could have been sourced via bribes and gratuities.

Likely due to pressure from political elites, including from his patron, Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri, Jokowi abruptly sent Budi's nomination letter to the House on Friday for endorsement.

Jokowi did not consult with Sutarman and requested that the National Police Commission (Kompolnas), a police watchdog, to produce a list of candidates in less than two days.

Sutarman expressed regret that Jokowi chose not to involve him and the National Police in the screening of his potential successors as was done in previous selections of police-chief candidates.

He added that the National Police possessed an internal assessment system that could have provided the President with candidate track records.

"Ideally, the National Police would have been asked to provide information about the candidates' track records, as we already have an assessment mechanism in place," said Sutarman, who is widely credited with keeping the police force independent during the recent legislative and presidential elections and for maintaining order during the brittle and divisive period.

Sutarman, however, said he would respect Jokowi's "prerogative rights" to endorse his preferred candidate as the next police chief.

"Although I was not consulted by the President, I remain loyal to him," Sutarman said.

He dismissed speculation that the sudden naming of Budi as a graft suspect was fueled by his disappointment in Budi's nomination, or because of infighting among the force's three-star generals.

"We don't have any internal problems with Budi's nomination. I assembled all the three-star generals this morning to discuss the issue and we all agreed to support the President's decision," he said.

Sutarman added he was prepared to recommend another candidate, should Jokowi request one.

Kompolnas member M. Nasser said that the saga surrounding Budi's nomination could be related to "internal rivalry".

"There may have been a power struggle within the force. I've heard that the KPK's decision may be related to some sort of disappointment by a group of police officers. But, you know, Budi, for his part, also has a rank of loyalists behind him," he said.

During the confirmation hearing at the House, Budi revealed he had information indicating that a police general - one who had also been touted as potential police chief - had provided the KPK with evidence used to charge him with graft.

"But I don't want to be trapped by negative thinking. Let's just wait and see," he said.

Indonesian Institute of Police Science (PTIK) lecturer Sr. Comr. (ret.) Alfons Loemau suggested that Sutarman's remarks on the hearing and his regret for being left out of the candidate-selection process might be perceived as insubordination, as the latter had no right to challenge the President's prerogative rights for naming his top cop nominee.

"The police chief serves as the President's aide. The President can use any available information from relevant sources to screen police chief candidates, as the existing law does not require the President to seek an incumbent police chief's advice for the nomination," he said.

- Bagus BT. Saragih and Margareth S. Aritonang also contributed to the story.