By Gerald Giam

Indonesia has been seeking an Extradition Treaty (ET) with Singapore for the past 34 years.

However, since the 1997-98 Asian Financial Crisis this issue has risen to the top of Indonesia‘s foreign policy agenda with Singapore. During the crisis, it is believed that many corrupt Indonesian businessmen absconded to Singapore with millions of dollars stolen from banks.

During Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s state visit to Singapore in February 2005, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made a surprise announcement that Singapore was “committed to having an extradition treaty with Indonesia“. The negotiations on the ET kicked off in March 2005.


Eight months later, in October 2005, PM Lee got President Yudhoyono to agree to a quid pro quo: a new Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA) would be negotiated and signed in tandem with the ET. This DCA would, inter alia, provide the SAF with much needed training areas in Indonesia and provide for more joint military exercises between the SAF and the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI).

In January this year, unhappy with what they perceived to be foot-dragging on the ET by Singapore, Indonesia slapped a ban on all sand (and apparently some granite) exports to Singapore, a move which threatened to cripple Singapore‘s struggling construction industry.

Indonesia‘s official reason for the ban was that of “resource conservation”, but an Indonesian foreign ministry official let the cat out of the bag when he said publicly that the move was aimed at pressuring Singapore to sign the ET. By then most of the details of the ET had already been settled. What remained was to negotiate the details of the DCA, which is the package that Singapore wants in exchange for the ET.

Eventually, on 27 April, the two treaties were signed by the respective foreign and defence ministers in Bali, amidst much fanfare and optimism that a bone of contention in our relations was finally removed — or so we thought. However, there are still several hurdles that need to be crossed before this issue can be considered settled.

Hurdles still yet to be crossed

Firstly, there are still some supplementary agreements which are part of the DCA which have not been signed. The original deadline in early May for signing these additional documents has lapsed. Singapore‘s Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) reported that there were some “unexpected difficulties” because Indonesia has asked for “variations” to the agreement.

According to Indonesia‘s Antara News Agency, the legalisation of the implementation arrangements of the DCA has been “postponed indefinitely”.

Secondly, the two agreements need to be ratified by the Indonesian House of Representatives (the DPR) before they can be implemented.

While lawmakers there have indicated they are ready to sign the ET, senior MPs from many of the major parties have strongly asserted that they will not ratify the DCA, as they claim it would “undermine Indonesia‘s sovereignty”. This display of nationalistic fervour is to be expected from MPs who feel a need to pander to their constituents.

Indonesian Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono already told his Golkar Party members on 21 May, “Do not worry. Trust me as the commander of the TNI with regard to…the protection of national interests and our sovereignty.” He will have to repeat this several times more when he defends his government’s decision in front of the DPR on 28 May.

Thirdly, even if the ET comes into effect and the Indonesian attorney-general hands over his list of suspects for extradition, Singapore is not going to be able to simply arrest them and hand them over to the Indonesians. There are caveats in the ET that allow Singapore to refuse extradition if it suspects that the charges are politically or racially motivated.

Stringent legal procedures and judicial processes will have to be followed when an extradition request is made, and Indonesia’s police and judicial processes will be subject to review by Singaporean judges and vice versa.

Furthermore, it has been 10 years since the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, and it is likely that any stolen money brought into Singapore has already been laundered, making it very difficult to pinpoint its origin. In other cases, the suspect might have changed nationalities or left Singapore years ago. Thus, it could well turn out that none of the people on Indonesia‘s wanted list will ever get extradited.

Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Zainul Abidin Rasheed told Parliament on 21 May that both agreements will have to come into force together, as he tried to allay MPs’ concerns that the Government was rushed into signing the ET before the DCA was finalised.

In Singapore, the Cabinet (not Parliament) has the authority to ratify treaties. An option open for Singapore now would be for the Cabinet to refuse to ratify the ET until the Indonesian DPR ratifies the DCA.

Although the signing of the ET appears on the surface to have paved the way for warmer bilateral relations between Singapore and Indonesia, we are no where near the end of the tunnel.

In fact, it is entirely possible that even more problems will surface once the ET comes into force, leading to more frustration among Indonesians who think the ET is the magical elixir that will solve their endemic corruption problems.

About the author:

Gerald is an e-business consultant and a former MFA officer. All opinions expressed in this article are his own and do not reflect Singapore‘s stand on issues.

Gerald keeps a blog here.

This article will be updated following the Indonesian Parliamentary debate on 28th May to reflect further developments.

Pictures are from the MFA and MINDEF websites.

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