Sat, 25 Jan 2003

Ancol budget meet nixed by public criticism

Ahmad Junaidi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Due to sharp public criticism, the city council canceled on Friday its plan to conduct a meeting, which will formulate the 2003 City Budget, at city-owned Hotel Horison in Ancol, North Jakarta.

"We decided that the meeting would be conducted here, instead of Ancol," city council deputy chairman Chudlary Syafei Hadzami told reporters from City Hall.

Chudlary of the United Development Party said the meeting of a team which was assigned to formulate the budget, would be conducted on Saturday at a meeting hall at City Hall.

He announced on Thursday that the meeting of the team of 32 councillors would be conducted at the Ancol hotel as it had been in previous years.

A source said that the council secretariat had booked 40 rooms at the hotel with an average rate of Rp 400,000 per night, for two nights, Saturday and Sunday.

The cancellation of the Ancol meeting was "the second blow" for the council as it also failed to finish a budget meeting in at Ciloto Indah Permai Hotel in Ciloto, in the hill resort of Puncak.

The scheduled meeting at the Ciloto hotel on Tuesday apparently angered local residents who protested at the hotel. The police dispersed them shortly thereafter because the rally had caused a traffic jam.

The council reportedly lost some Rp 75 million as it already booked 300 rooms and already used the rooms for a day for the planned two-day meeting.

The meeting, according to the council schedule, was planned to be conducted at city-owned Wisma Jaya Raya hotel and resort but it was moved to Ciloto since Wisma Jaya Raya was already booked by a paramilitary youth group, the Pemuda Panca Marga, for its national gathering.

Many observers criticized the meeting in Puncak and Ancol as a waste of public money, in addition to the council's efforts to avoid public monitoring.

On Friday, like all previous days, the budget discussions were completely closed to reporters. The council's Commission E for social welfare affairs conducted a meeting with officials from the City Health Agency and the City Education Agency.

According to the budget draft, the administration allocated more than Rp 2 trillion for the two agencies which would be used to develop and renovate hospitals and schools this year.

The city administration also planned to offer free tuition for elementary and junior high school students this year. It allocated Rp 195 billion to give Rp 15,000 to every elementary school student and Rp 25,000 for junior high school student per month.

However it was only public school students which would receive such aid from the administration.

Meanwhile, the other commissions: Commission A for legal and administrative affairs, Commission B for economic affairs, Commission C for financial and budgetary affairs and Commission D for development affairs had completed their discussions with their counterparts in the administration.

All five commissions will present their reports of the budget discussions during the council's plenary session on Saturday. Usually, the commissions suggest that some funds for certain projects should be cut, and others increased.

Many analysts believe that the funding increases and decreases for certain projects are based mostly on special "deals" between city councillors and officials.

However, the councillors normally claim that the changes are solely based on the priority of the projects.

The 2003 budget which amounts to Rp 11.05 trillion is scheduled to be approved by the council at the end of this month.