“Funds lost to mining corruption could have been used to build thousands of schools Calls mount for govt to issue moratorium on issuance of mining permits, reform system”

What could have been done with Rp 2.7 trillion (US$200 million)? More than 20,000 schools could have been renovated.

The Education and Culture Ministry has allocated Rp 1.4 trillion to improve 14,000 elementary schools this year. The ministry says 70 percent, or around 1.2 million of the 1.7 million classrooms across Indonesia, are damaged, with 200,000 being heavily damaged.

On Tuesday, the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) named Aswad Sulaiman, the former regent of North Konawe in Southeast Sulawesi, a graft suspect in a case related to mining permits that caused estimated state losses to the tune of Rp 2.7 trillion.

The case actually exposed only little, as the total state losses from corruption in the mining sector could amount to Rp 24 trillion, according to a 2016 study by the KPK.

Aswad allegedly abused his power to issue unlawful mining permits in the regency between 2007 and 2014. The KPK has accused him of accepting bribes totaling Rp 13 billion from eight mining companies asking for permits between 2007 and 2009.

Aswad was a Democratic Party politician when he served as the regent from 2011 to 2016. Before that, he was appointed acting regent when the regency was established in 2007.

“[The case] has caused state losses of around Rp 2.7 trillion from the sales of nickel products produced by miners that got their permits illegally,” KPK deputy chairman Saut Situmorang said.

The case is one of the biggest ever handled by the antigraft body. By comparison, the highprofile e-ID case involves estimated state losses of Rp 2.3 trillion, while the BLBI (Bank Indonesia liquidity support) case allegedly caused Rp 3.7 trillion in losses.

Aswad is the second regional head to be implicated in graft related to mining permits, after former Southeast Sulawesi governor Nur Alam, who was detained by the KPK in 2016 for allegedly accepting bribes for the issuance of permits. Nur’s case reportedly cost nearly Rp 3.5 trillion in environmental damage.

KPK spokesman Febri Diansyah acknowledged there were many challenges when to dealing with graft related to mining. He said investigators aiming to probe such cases were often hindered by various factors they had to take into account.

“Besides the alleged graft as such, investigators have also to look at the environmental damage caused by the illicit practice,” Febri said.

Mining graft is also more complex than other types of corruption, such as that pertaining to goods and services procurement.

Activist Merah Johansyah from the Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam) said mining was one of many sectors prone to corruption, especially in resource-rich regions.

“Local leaders have abused [their powers], which includes the issuance of permits, in an attempt to gain personal benefits from the exploitation of natural resources or to finance their political career,” Merah told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

Merah added that the KPK might run up against obstacles in resolving mining graft, as investigators faced “powerful” people in the regions.

“Local law enforcement officials might also be involved in collusion, posing a further challenge to the graft-busters,” he said.

Merah said that the government in the wake of the case concerning Konawe should impose a nationwide moratorium on the issuance of mining permits to allow for a total reform of the sector.

North Konawe is known for its rich nickel reserves. State-owned miner PT Aneka Tambang (Antam) is one of the biggest players in the regency since the late 1990s.

Saut said Aswad allegedly revoked a mining concession for PT Antam in the districts of Langgikima and Molawe in 2007.

“When the mines were still under Antam’s control, the suspect accepted a request for mining permits from eight companies and issued 30 decrees on mining exploration,” Saut said.

Aswad is the seventh regional leader to be named a suspect by the KPK since August.

Last week, the KPK named East Kalimantan’s Kutai Kartanegara regent Rita Widyasari a suspect for allegedly accepting Rp 6 billion in bribes from plantation businessman Hery Susanto Gun.

Source: The Jakarta Post