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  EDITORIAL: Rubbing salt in the wound

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BerichtOnderwerp: EDITORIAL: Rubbing salt in the wound   zo 18 jun 2017 - 23:10

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Tue, June 13, 2017

A report by law enforcers unveiling corruption involving state officials is no longer news. But the abuse of power allegedly committed by the president director of stateowned salt company PT Garam, Achmad Boediono, may constitute a crime against humanity.

National Police detectives have arrested Boediono, who will be charged with changing a permit to import table salt into a license to bring in industrial salt, which allegedly helped him evade a 10-percent tax from the government. Boediono was alleged to receive Rp 71 billion (US$5,3 million) in kickbacks from private companies buying salt from PT Garam.

Investigators estimated state losses from the scandal at Rp 3.5 billion, but given the impact of industrial salt, which is now in the market, on the health of human beings who consume it, non-financial effects could be immeasurable.

There have been debates as to whether industrial salt endangers human health if consumed, but a case in Poland is a lesson Indonesia should learn from. In September 2012 Polish health authorities ordered the withdrawal of more than 230,000 kilograms of pickles, bread and other food from the market on suspicions that they contained industrial salt.

The decision followed media reports of the scandal, including from independent Polish television network TVN, which presented evidence of industrial salt, obtained as a waste by-product of calcium chloride production and containing dangerous carcinogens, as having been sold to the food industry as edible salt. Laboratory tests discovered insignificant amounts of dioxins and heavy metals in the salt, but the removal order stood as a precaution.

The bold measure the Polish government took was a show of responsibility for the public good. While it might have doubted industrial salt could harm people’s health, its withdrawal of the product at least guaranteed that citizens would remain safe and sound.
Human consumption of industrial salt in Indonesia would perhaps not cause immediate disease or health problems because first symptoms of illness typically appear after consumption for a long period. There is no justification for distributing industrial salt for human consumption as it is not intended for it in the first place. In Iceland, for example, industrial salt is used to deice roads or in chemical production.

The police therefore are right to investigate Boediono and if found guilty of violating the 1999 Consumer Protection Law, he could face a maximum of five years’ imprisonment. The sentence could be heavier if the distributed industrial salt is proven to have caused sickness or claimed lives.

Due to the potential effects of the alleged crime on public health, the ongoing investigation into Boediono should not focus solely on the corrupt practice he has allegedly committed, but the possibility that he has endangered lives. Many people convicted of producing or selling poisonous food have avoided the maximum penalty, simply because consumers were medically treated.

More than just allegedly stealing taxpayers’ money, Boediono may have put their health in peril.


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