The Thinker: The Hambalang Saga

By webadmin on 08:51 am Jun 12, 2012
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Oei Eng Goan

Once a virtually unknown area near Bogor, Hambalang is now famous because of a Rp 1.2 trillion ($127 million) sports center project that has been tainted by a corruption scandal involving high-ranking lawmakers, politicians and businesspeople.

The 31-hectare plot in Hambalang was originally designed as a school for athletes with an estimated construction cost of Rp 125 billion. It was not designed as a sports center because of its clayish soil and location, near volcanic mountains, which made it unfit for multistory buildings, former Sports Minister Adhyaksa Dault said last week.

Under incumbent minister Andi Mallarangeng, however, the plan grew into a huge sports center that would be equipped with modern sporting facilities, and the proposed budget swelled to more than Rp 2 trillion. Andi admitted this at a hearing with the House of Representatives last week.

The Hambalang scandal was actually revealed last year by Muhammad Nazaruddin, the former treasurer of the ruling Democratic Party. But many did not believe Nazaruddin, who is himself a graft convict in a scandal involving the athletes’ village in Palembang, South Sumatra, for last year’s Southeast Asian Games.

More than once, Nazaruddin has claimed that Andi and Anas Urbaningrum, chairman of the Democratic Party, “arranged” the budget for the Hambalang project and that the two, along with scores of lawmakers, had received kickbacks amounting to billions of rupiah from contractors appointed to build the sports center.

As could be expected, all of them denied Nazaruddin’s accusations, insisting that either they had followed legal procedures or had not known anything about the Hambalang project.

Recent developments concerning Hambalang, however, have encouraged people to take Nazaruddin’s claims more seriously.

People are questioning how reputable state-owned construction companies such as Adhi Karya and Wijaya Karya could have subcontracted the project to a dozen other companies, including one that was partly owned by Anas’s wife.

And after the unfinished buildings in Hambalang collapsed recently, they are also questioning why lawmakers, especially those sitting on the Budget Committee, were not scrupulous in monitoring the construction of the ambitious project, which had consumed Rp 645 billion.

Although the public knows all too well that corruption is part of life for many officials and politicians here, they are still alarmed at the huge amount of money corrupted from the project and the ease with which corruptors have found their places on the spiral of connivance and confidence.

Some analysts have said that if rogue lawmakers and politicians wish to redeem themselves after their sinful acts of stealing the nation’s wealth, they should try to generate money just like Ponari.

Ponari is a naive village boy from Jombang, East Java, whose name went into newspapers two years ago after he was found to have healed many of his neighbors’ illnesses by asking them to drink water. The water was plain, but he had dipped a stone into it that he obtained earlier through a miraculous experience.

Strange as it may seem, media broadcasts showed thousands of people lining up so that Ponari would dip his pebble into their glasses of water. Many of the boy’s “patients” claimed he had magical healing powers, and many of them voluntarily gave his parents a lot of money over the course of a few months.

In addition to refurbishing their house with the money, Ponari’s parents donated more than Rp 200 million to the village administration to help it redecorate a mosque and repair a road.

The projects were completed without a single cent of government funds — and without any sign of markup and corruption.

If a village boy could do something good for his community, why can’t highly educated lawmakers and politicians do so for the nation?

Oei Eng Goan, a former literature lecturer at the National University (UNAS) in Jakarta, is a freelance journalist.