Yudhoyono Demands Answers on Merpati Crash

JAKARTA

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono  demanded on Thursday to know why a state-owned passenger plane crashed into the sea on the weekend killing all 25 people on board.

Yudhoyono also said he wanted a review of the decision to buy 15 of the MA-60 turbo-prop planes manufactured by China’s Xi’an Aircraft Industrial Corporation for some $220 million.

The deal to purchase the aircraft for state-owned Merpati Nusantara Airlines has been shrouded in controversy amid allegations of kickbacks and questions about the planes’ airworthiness.

“We want explanations about the Merpati crash including the ongoing investigation process,” Yudhoyono told a weekly cabinet meeting.

“I also want to get an explanation… about the procurement process of the Chinese-made aircraft.”

Officials have refused to speculate on the cause of Sunday’s accident pending the result of investigations and examination of the black box flight data by Chinese authorities.

Yudhoyono said the public needed “clear explanations” from Merpati directors, the state-owned enterprises minister and the transport minister.

Former vice president Jusuf Kalla joined calls for a broader investigation in light of the crash in waters off Kaimana, West Papua province, the first known fatal accident involving an MA-60.

Kalla said the previous government had cancelled plans to buy the planes only for the deal to be resurrected by the current ruling coalition, at a much higher price to the state.

He said that from what he knew of the earlier negotiations when he was vice president, the 15 planes should have cost only about $165 million.

“Why did it become so expensive? … I think the government, especially the Finance Ministry, should openly publish details of the purchase,” Kalla was quoted as saying by the Jakarta Globe daily.

Merpati executive Sardjono Jhony Tjitrokusumo said the planes were in good working order and promised to resign if a technical fault caused the crash.

“Even Boeings and Airbuses have had accidents, and not all the planes of these types have had to stop operating,” he told the Antara news agency.

The European Union banned Merpati and other Indonesian airlines from operating in its airspace in 2007 due to safety concerns. Other carriers such as Garuda have been taken off the blacklist, but Merpati is still banned.

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