Indonesian governor jailed over bribes to award infrastructure projects

Irwandi Yusuf, known as a 'green governor' for his conservation and sustainable development efforts in Aceh, was found guilty of receiving money in exchange for approving contracts proposed by a district chief in his province.

aceh post tsunami
Road and bridge reconstruction projects have been rampant in Aceh in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami. Image: ILO in Asia and the Pacific, CC BY-SA 3.0 via IFPRI Flickr

A court in Indonesia has sentenced the governor of the Sumatran province of Aceh to seven years in jail after finding him guilty of corruption in connection with infrastructure projects in his region.

The court in Jakarta handed down the sentence on April 4 to Irwandi Yusuf and also ordered him to pay a fine of 300 million rupiah ($21,000). It ruled he had taken 1.05 billion rupiah ($74,000) to award contracts for infrastructure projects to companies proposed by a district chief in his province. The projects include road expansion, public housing, and bridge construction.

Yusuf was also found guilty of taking 8.7 billion rupiah ($615,000) from members of his campaign team in exchange for farming out goods and services procurement contracts.

Lawyers for Yusuf, who was arrested in July 2018, say they will appeal the ruling. The district chief who bribed him, Ahmadi, was sentenced last December to three years in jail.

Yusuf previously served as governor of Aceh, a heavily forested province on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra, from 2006 to 2012. He lost a bid at re-election, before winning office again in 2017. During his time in office, he garnered a reputation as a “green governor” for policies championing conservation and sustainable development of Aceh’s natural resources.

In 2018, prior to his arrest, Yusuf cancelled a geothermal project in the heart of Mount Leuser National Park, recognised by UNESCO as part of the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra. The project, part of President Joko Widodo’s push for to add 35,000 megawatts of generating capacity nationwide, was subsequently relocated outside the protected area.

But Yusuf’s green credentials have frequently been called into question by environmentalists. Toward the end of his first term as governor, he approved a licensefor an oil palm plantation firm to develop part of the Tripa peat swamp, one of the last strongholds of the critically endangered Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii). He claimed he did it in defiance of the international community, which he accused of treating Aceh’s forests as a “free toilet for their carbon” without helping fund conservation efforts.

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