Officials Called Over Vanishing Tobacco Warning, 22/09/10

The National Police have again summoned two Health Ministry officials for more questioning over the alleged deliberate omission from the 2009 health bill of a clause addressing the dangers of tobacco.

“Faiq, the ministry’s secretary general, and Budi Sampurno, a senior official, have already answered our summonses as witnesses.

Their names appeared after we exposed this case,” Brig. Gen. Saut Usman Nasution, the head of transnational crimes, said on Tuesday.

Saut said the two would be called for another round and that presidential permission would be sought to question legislators as witnesses in the case.

No one had been named as a suspect as of yet, he said. “We have to be careful to determine if there was any violation of the law and who should be responsible,” Saut said.

On Monday, Hakim Sorimuda Pohan, a former lawmaker from the Democratic Party now working with the Coalition Against Corruption of the Anti-Tobacco Clause (Kakar), said the National Police had told him that three legislators involved in the case had been named suspects.

He named them as committee chairwoman Ribka Tjiptaning, from the opposition Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and commission members Mariani Baramuli and Asiah Salekan, from the Golkar Party.

But Saut has denied the three have been named suspects. The health bill was passed by the House last September but it was later found to be missing a clause that identified tobacco as an addictive substance.

While the committee deliberating the bill dismissed  the omission as a “technical error,” critics allege the clause was deliberately struck off to appease the powerful tobacco lobby.

Health Ministry spokesman Tritarayati said it was unlikely that the ministry officials were involved in the case because the final draft proposed by the ministry’s legal bureau had classified tobacco as an addictive substance.

She said that the final draft was handed to the House in completed form and the ministry did not have any access to the draft after that. “We gave a draft bill to DPR and nothing was missing from it then,” Tritarayati said.

“After that the DPR handed the bill to the state secretary for it to be reported to the president. We no longer had access to the bill.” However, she said the ministry was ready to follow the legal process.

“Some of our officials have been summoned to answer some questions about the case and we are ready to provide witnesses,” Tritarayati said.

“We will follow every single process.” Ribka who heads House Commission IX overseeing health affair, said on Tuesday that she was not a suspect and had never been called by the police over the matter.

“The National Policed have never summoned me for the tobacco law case,” she said.

“I think that the growing rumors are very political. “My responsibility covers from the discussion to the plenary meeting and the article was still there when I read it in the plenary.

Nusron Wahid from Golkar even objected to the article, saying that it could endanger tobacco farmers’ futures.”

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