Messy Satellite Fiasco

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Laila Afifa

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  • TEMPO.CO, JakartaCollusion has led to confusion over the procurement of a geostationary satellite for the 123 degrees east longitude orbital slot. Indonesia could lose this strategic satellite location.

    The confusion over Indonesia's procurement of a geostationary satellite for the strategic 123 degrees east longitude orbital slot shows once again the ramshackle nature of governance in this country. The greater public interest has been sidelined as a result of lobbying and collusion. As well as being threatened with a fine totaling hundreds of billions of upiah, we could also lose our right to a very valuable orbital slot.

    The 123 degrees east longitude orbital slot is a restricted natural resource belonging to Indonesia - positioned 36,000 kilometers above the equator - roughly above the island of Sulawesi. The location is good for satellites using the L-band frequency that allows for the implementation of a prime communication system with a broad footprint.

    The problem is that we are facing the threat of losing this strategic orbital slot. Dini Nusa Kusuma (DNK), the company nominated by the government to control it, has yet to launch its satellite since winning the license tender in 2018.If our satellite is not in place by November 2024. The International Telecommunications Union - the global organization that regulate space for communication purposes - will transfer the right to use the slot to another nation. Even this 2024 deadline is late. Initially, the ITU asked Indonesia to orbit a satellite by last November.

    It should be easy to fill the slot. The government simply neds to hold an open tender and choose the most credible participant. Then the management of this project can be fully handed over to the private sector. For example, when the launch of Indosat's Nusantara 2 satellite failed last October, the government quickly asked Telkomsel to fill the 113 degrees east slot that was vacant after the departure of the Palapa D satellite. If it is done in a proper and transparent way, the tender process should be won by the most bona fide and professional company. The problem is that there was nothing 'proper and transparent' in the process to procure a satellite for the 123 degrees east longitude slot.

    The confusion began in 2013 when the defense ministry came up with a plan to procure a communication satellite. Without any definite funding, the ministry came up with a plan to procure a communication satellite. Without any definite funding, the ministry hastily signed a contract with the Airbus Defense and Space Consortium for the ambitious prpject worth US$849.3 million, or around Rp12 trillion. The targt for this satellite to be in orbit was November 2019. To ensure the slot was filled, the ministry temporarily rented the Artemis satellite belonging to British company Avianti Communications Limited.

    However, Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati refused to cover the costs of the satellite procurement project, which later was submitted as much as Rp10 trillion. As well as it being too expensive, satellite technology for communications is being increasingly left behind by fiber optic technology. The government then decided the project would be handed over to the private sector.

    It is here that the lobbying and collusion started. It is alleged that DNKlobbied the then Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Wiranto to obtain the right for the orbital slot and to supply the satellite. However, this company lacked the financial resources to fund such a huge project. As a result, three years after obtaining the permit from the government, DNK has been unable to attract investors. The company has repeatedly missed the deadlines for depositing the funding guarantee set by the government.

    It is tim the government took a stand. If it allows this situation to continue, the valuable 123 degrees east longitude orbital slot could pass to another nation. Furthermore, there is the international arbitration decision that fined the government for breaking the contract to lease the Artemis satellite, which is yet to be paid. The total is US$20 million, or almost Rp300 billion. When it won the tender to manage the 123 degrees east longitude slot, DNK promised to pay these arrears.

    Apart from this, the tender process and the transfer of the defense communication satellite project to DNK needs to be further investigated. The Supreme Audit Agency and law enforcement authorities need to examine this case. They must ensure that no state officials took bribes. There must ensure that no state officials took bribes. There are many questions the government must answer concerning the appointment of DNK.

    Although it is far out in space, this orbital slot is alimited natural resource that must be managed by the state. In line with Article 33 of the 1945 Constitution, the benefits from the exploitation of all natural resources must be passed on to the people. The profits from the use of this trategicorbital slot must not only be enjoyed by a small number of people who have connections, or even vanish because of breach of contract.

    Read the Complete Story in Tempo English Magazine