M. Taufiqurrahman, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
The Indonesian Military (TNI) chief said Sunday that the purchase of 32 French-made armored vehicles had been planned long before the government decided to send its peacekeeping troops to war-torn Lebanon.
Chief Air Marshall Djoko Suyanto said the armored vehicles, ordered from French automaker Renault, would be deployed to augment the country's weaponry system.
""It was planned long ago, as the current 14 units of armored vehicles will not be enough to support the operation of one battalion,"" Djoko was quoted by Antara as saying after opening a fun run at National Monument park in Central Jakarta.
He said the TNI would have no difficulty adjusting to the new armored vehicles as technical support was already in place.
The Defense Ministry has said the tender for the armored vehicles was not open to public bidding because it had to meet the Sept. 28 deadline imposed by the United Nations for the troops to depart.
The UN, however, has extended the deadline until late October, allowing Indonesia more time to ready its soldiers and to cut more appropriate deals with other vendors.
The ministry's secretary-general, Lt. Gen. Sjafrie Sjamsuddin, is currently in Paris to renegotiate the price of the armored vehicles.
The Defense Ministry has been under fire for defying a request from the House of Representatives for a public tender and over the cost of the armored vehicles.
The ministry indicated the asking price for the vehicles was 700,000 euros per unit, but critics of the French deal say Ukrainian or Russian armored vehicles can be had for between 350,000 and 400,000 euros per unit.
The peacekeeping mission to Lebanon will cost the government Rp 355 billion, Rp 287 billion of which will be used to procure the 32 armored vehicles.
The critics, including lawmakers of House Commission I for defense and foreign affairs, were also upset by the revelation the French armored vehicles were manufactured in 2000.
Commenting on the criticism, Djoko said the TNI would open itself to public scrutiny over the purchase of the armored vehicles. ""We have no problem with the public overseeing the deal, especially concerning the price, to see whether corruption or markups take place,"" Djoko said.
Commission I member Djoko Susilo of the National Mandate Party said lawmakers, who in fact have the final say on the deal, had been left in the dark over the negotiations currently taking place in Paris.
""There has been no briefing from the ministry on the progress of the negotiations, although a House plenary session decided the deal would require the approval of Commission I,"" Djoko told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.
A House plenary session decided Tuesday the disbursement of funds for the armored vehicles needed to be passed by Commission I.
""Finance Minister (Sri Mulyani Indrawati) also said she would not reimburse the funds for the purchase if Commission I did not give its approval,"" Djoko said.