Indonesia’s defence minister sued over land grab | Land Portal
Emma Connors
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Main photo: Indonesia’s Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto, left, with President Joko Widodo in October 2019.  AP

Singapore/Jakarta | Hundreds of high-ranking retired military officers have taken Indonesia’s Minister for Defence Prabowo Subianto to court in an effort to resolve a long-simmering dispute over land.

Senior officers and their families have been for decades trying to secure ownership of land in South Jakarta they were promised by the Indonesian Navy.

Now, concerned a developer plans to take control of the land, they have resorted to legal action. In a suit filed last week, 570 retired officers or their relatives, led by retired Marines Major General Sudarsono Kasdi, have asked the Jakarta State Administrative Court to force the Minister for Defence to comply with a directive to transfer the land.

The legal action pits some of the most revered officers in Indonesia’s history against the minister responsible for the country’s defence.

Mr Prabowo was appointed defence minister in 2019 by President Joko Widodo just six months after the two men ran head to head in a presidential election. It was a repeat of the contest waged five years earlier and each time Prabowo initially challenged Mr Joko’s victory.

As well as extensive business interests, Mr Prabowo has a long history in the armed services after graduating from the Indonesian military academy in 1974. In the 1980s he was among the Indonesian officers who trained at Fort Benning in Georgia. Mr Sudarsono, now the lead plaintiff in the case against Mr Prabowo, trained alongside him in the United States.

The Indonesian Navy’s tradition of rewarding long-serving officers with parcels of land began in the 1970s. The then-naval chief of staff Admiral R.S. Subijakto developed and implemented the home-ownership scheme so officers could have their own houses while they were serving and when they have retired. These houses are not the property of the state and are also not bound by the officers’ positions in the military.

“I have been living here with my family since 1986,” Mr Sudarsono told The Australian Financial Review. “Some of my senior officers have been here even longer, since 1974, when they were told if they paid to build a house, the land would be their’s.”

They were given documents to attest to that.

He said Mr Prabowo had not responded to requests from the officers to meet and discuss the matter. The legal action was a last resort. It was taken because many of the officers and their families, some of whom have inherited the homes from deceased parents, were concerned there were plans to transfer the land to a developer, the Megapolitan Group.

The company has been promoting its plans to build where many officer houses are located.

“We have been living peacefully and happily in our Navy brotherhood for so long. We don’t want to live in apartments the developer wants to give us in exchange for our house,” Mr Sudarsono said.

The Navy officers have a paper trail that asserts their right to the land. However, successive defence ministers failed to take the necessary steps. In 2013, the Commander of the Indonesian Armed Forces applied again to the Ministry of Defence to transfer the land to the Ministry of Finance for valuation, a necessary precursor to a change in ownership.

That transfer has still not occurred. Mr Prabowo has referred media queries about the matter to the Ministry of Defence.

Over the weekend, the Ministry issued a statement saying that in 2014 the then- minister of defence had submitted the application for the transfer, and suggesting the Ministry of Finance had failed to progress the matter.

A 2016 letter from the Ministry of Finance seen by the Financial Review suggests otherwise. It states Finance had not yet received an official transfer request from Defence.

Dr Wibawanto Nugroho Widodo, a national defence expert with interest in defence strategy and soldier welfare, when contacted by the Financial Review, said that Mr Prabowo should be thinking strategically about this issue.

“It’s time this was settled and Prabowo can do that by releasing the land. These men and their families have served the country well, they are entitled to what they have been promised,” Dr Wibawanto said.

Mr Sudarsono stressed the action was taken against Mr Prabowo as the Minister of Defence, not as an individual.

“I myself know him very well; we were together at Fort Benning when he was lieutenant, and there were many times we trained together when we were both in the service,” he said.

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