[Updated at 7:30 p.m.]
Following mounting calls by several lawmakers, police have said that they will investigate a report about an East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) district head who temporarily shut a local airport on Saturday after he was barred from boarding a flight.
Marianus Sae, the head of Ngada district, ordered the region’s Turelelo Soa Airport to shut down after he was refused a ticket on a Merpati Nusantara flight that was already fully booked. Airport officials said they could do nothing to end the blockade because they were outnumbered by local Public Order Agency (Satpol PP) officials enforcing the district head’s wishes.
Flights returned to normal on Sunday after a mediation between Marianus and the state-controlled airline by the head of the airport operator.
“It’s clear in the law — he should be facing three years in prison and be subject to Rp 1 billion [$82,000] in fines,” lawmaker Teguh Juwarno, of the House of Representatives’ Commission V on transportation, told Indonesian news portal liputan6.com.
Teguh was referring to Article 421(1) of the Aviation Law, which states that “anyone causing obstacles and or doing other activities in a flight operational zone, which may harm flights and aviation safety… may be sanctioned with a maximum of three years in prison and/or fined Rp 1 billion.”
“We from Commission V are encouraging legal action against him in order to make him learn his lesson and deter a repeat scenario,” Teguh added.
Hajriyanto Y. Thohari, a deputy speaker of the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), criticized Marianus and said his case was an example of how regional officials sometimes display conceited and feudalistic attitudes.
“I think the case is an example of the arrogance of local officials, which shows us that feudalism is still strong in our country,” Hajriyato said. “Only a few regional heads are egalitarian and not feudalistic.”
“Such practices are frequent; local officials make a sudden trip and because of bad planning, they don’t get a seat and take over someone else’s place. That’s not a secret — some airlines have to make their seats vacant to reserve them for local officials.”
Another member of the transportation commission, Saleh Husain, similarly urged penalties against Marianus, saying his shutting of the airport could have harmed passengers.
Indonesian news portal kompas.com reported that two Merparti planes, one of them carrying 54 passengers, were forced to return to El Tari Airport in Kupang after the Turelelo Airport was closed from 6:15 a.m. to 9 a.m. on Saturday. Several other flights were also reportedly redirected.
“Police should be able to immediately take action because [blockading the airport] may harm people’s lives,” Saleh said.
Another lawmaker, Eriko Sotarduga, asked the NTT governor to take punitive action against Marianus.
“That is to warn the Ngada district head against repeating his actions,” Eriko. “This is no longer an era of arrogant power.”
What authority would issue the potential sanctions, however, remains unclear.
Bambang S. Ervan, a spokesman for the Ministry of Transportation, said the district head would not face charges unless a police report were filed. The ministry currently has no plan to file a legal suit.
“As for the legal process of the case, I cannot say anything on that yet,” Bambang. “There’s no legal complaint against as of yet.”
Police on Monday said that they may file charges against Marianus.
“Investigators with East Nusa Tenggara Police will study the facts of what happened and whether there was any violation of the law,” National Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Boy Rafli Amar said in Jakarta.
“If that happened, we can’t let it be. It harms people’s safety and the public interest at large.”
Boy added that police might actively pursue the case even though no legal charges have been filed against the head of Ngada district.
He said police would seek explanations from the Turelelo Soa Airport authority about the incident.
“That will serve as evidence, without anyone having to file a report,” Boy said.
Meanwhile, Marsianus’ party defended the district head’s move, saying it was Merpati’s fault for not giving him an airline ticket.
Drajad Wibowo, a deputy chairman of the National Mandate Party (PAN), said Marsianus was upset because he needed to attend a meeting on the regional budget.
“The incident happened because he really needed to attend the meeting to fight for the budget for his region,” Drajad told Liputan6.
He said the airport closing would not have occurred if there had been better communication between Marsianus and Merpati.
“I will advise him, though. As the deputy chairman, I understand his reasons, but I’m sure in the future there should be better [coordination] between both parties,” Drajad said.
“Let me emphasize: they [Merpati and Marsianus] need each other.”