• Indonesian anti-graft investigators arrested Nurdin Abdullah, the governor of South Sulawesi Province, last week for alleged corruption in an upcoming road project in the province.
  • They accused him of taking at least 2 billion rupiah ($ 140,000) in bribes to award the contract to a local developer and another 3.4 billion rupiah ($ 238,000) from other companies that placed other contracts.
  • Environmental activists are calling on the agency to expand the investigation to other infrastructure projects approved by Nurdin.
  • Corruption in infrastructure projects is widespread in Indonesia. Local executives such as governors and district leaders channel the money back to their parties or use it to fund their re-election campaigns.

MAKASSAR, Indonesia – Environmental activists have asked investigators to investigate all infrastructure projects approved by a provincial governor who was arrested last week for allegedly taking bribes from a construction company.

Anti-Corruption Commission (KPK) investigators have arrested and charged Nurdin Abdullah, the governor of South Sulawesi Province, for his alleged role in the setback of 2 billion rupiah ($ 140,000) for awarding a road construction contract to PT Agung Perdana Bulukumba. Nurdin’s secretary Edy Rahmat and Agung Sucipto, a director of the construction company, were also charged after being arrested in a raid on February 26. The planned road projects are intended to serve a new tourist development.

According to investigators, Nurdin took the bribe to promise to expedite the completion of the technical draft of the project, prioritize it in South Sulawesi’s 2022 budget planning and ultimately award the contract to PT Agung Perdana Bulukumba. The company had already received four more road construction contracts under Nurdin, valued at 72.5 billion rupiah ($ 5.1 million) since 2019.

Nurdin, who won an anti-corruption award in 2017, is also accused of receiving an additional 3.4 billion rupiah ($ 238,000) in bribes from other construction companies.

“The KPK needs to further investigate Nurdin’s involvement in other infrastructure projects,” Egi Primayogha, a researcher at Indonesia Corruption Watch, an NGO, told reporters in Jakarta after the governor’s arrest.

Investigators from the Indonesian Anti-Corruption Commission show wads of money seized in connection with alleged bribery involving the Governor of South Sulawesi, Nurdin Abdullah. Image courtesy of KPK.

Corruption in infrastructure projects is widespread across Indonesia. Data from ICW shows an increase in the number of registered cases of corruption related to public works projects from 106 cases in 2015 to 167 in 2018.

ICW’s Egi called on the KPK to specifically investigate corruption allegations in the Makassar New Port project, which includes dredging on the island of Kodingareng. Contractors for this project include dredging companies PT Banteng Laut Indonesia, PT Nugraha Indonesia Timur and PT Boskalis International Indonesia, a subsidiary of Royal Boskalis Westminster in the Netherlands.

“Nurdin allegedly put pressure on his employees so that these companies could easily get their Amdal approval,” said Egi, referring to the environmental impact assessment required for such projects.

The Makassar New Port Venture, a “national strategic project” with 90 trillion rupiah (6.3 billion US dollars), wants to convert 1,428 hectares along the city’s coast for the new port by 2025, including through land reclamation for the builders Dredging sand from the nearby Sangkarrang Islands is responsible.

However, the dredging work that began in February 2020 has disrupted traditional fishing areas and, according to the municipality and environmental activists, has resulted in lower catches and a loss of income for fishermen.

Late last year, civil society groups called on the KPK to investigate the governor for corruption in the sand dredging case. Merah Johansyah, coordinator of the Mining Advocacy Network (JATAM), an Indonesian campaign group, announced on March 1, members of Nurdin’s 2018 campaign team to serve as directors of the dredging companies. Between 2018 and 2019, JATAM recorded 15 governor-issued permits for sand mining and exploration.

Muhammad Al Amin, executive director of the South Sulawesi chapter of the NGO Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), said Nurdin’s arrest should result in a halt to work on all infrastructure projects approved by the governor and a full assessment of the signs of corruption.

Amin said Nurdin’s case symbolized the corruption of the ruling elites across Indonesia. In addition to selling permits and land concessions for plantation and mining companies, local executives such as governors and district heads are also able to manage infrastructure projects in exchange for bribes that they then throw back into their party ranks or use to fund their re-selection campaigns.

“These national strategic projects tend to be used by political elites for their own gains,” said Amin.

The new port of Makassar is set to become an important hub for the distribution of goods by sea to the eastern parts of Indonesia. Image by Wahyu Chandra / Mongabay Indonesia.

This story was first reported by the Mongabay team in Indonesia and published here on our Indonesian website on March 1st, 2021.

FEEDBACK: Use this form to send a message to the author of this post. If you want to post a public comment, you can do so at the bottom of the page.