Thu, 10 Mar 2005

House opposes extra funds for local elections

Tony Hotland, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Lawmakers opposed on Wednesday a government proposal for an additional Rp 1 trillion (US$107.5 million) in funds to support upcoming regional elections, saying the requested amount was too much.

The House of Representatives Commission II overseeing governance and regional autonomy affairs questioned the purpose of the additional funds. The government has said the money would be spent on the operation of a Ministry of Home Affairs- supervised central desk.

It would also be used to cover operational expenses, including for police and military personnel who will be in charge of security, and for resolving criminal and justice issues related to the conduct of the elections.

The desk will work to educate the public about the upcoming local elections, and also to monitor, evaluate and register voters.

Earlier, the government had asked for Rp 1.25 trillion for the conduct of the elections.

Commission deputy Ida Fauziyah, who is also a member of the House budget committee, said the commission deemed the extra amount as far too much for items that should cost far less.

"The purchase of extra items is also questionable because we can actually use the facilities and equipment that we used in last year's legislative and presidential elections," she said.

Commission member Ryaas Rasyid, a former director general of regional autonomy at the home ministry, said the budget seemed much too big when compared to expenses for last year's national elections.

"For monitoring purposes, they demand about Rp 30.6 billion, yet it cost only Rp 1 billion in the 1999 election. They are also asking for Rp 86.6 billion for an public education program. What kind of public education program costs that much?" he asked.

Legislator Chozin Chumaidy said the government was also not supposed to propose budgets for security purposes.

"It should be the respective institutions, either the police or military, that propose budgets to Commission III," he said. This commission oversees legal, human rights, and security affairs.

Aside from budget woes, observers and non-governmental organizations criticized the formation of the central desk, which they said was part of the government's attempt to centralize the election process and assist its favored candidates.

The government said the central desk was needed simply to ensure the success of the election process.

Indonesia is scheduled to conduct the first-ever direct elections for regional administrative heads in 225 provinces, regencies and mayoralties.

Most regions are expected to hold their elections in July, while other regions will conduct theirs in December.