Fri, 31 Jan 2003

Council set to approve budget on Friday

Ahmad Junaidi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The City Council is set to approve the Rp 11.075 trillion (US$1.2 billion) 2003 city budget on Friday despite the absence of public debate and controversial fund allocations.

The draft city budget has been widely criticized for its lack of transparency since it was discussed in closed-door meetings between city councillors and city officials, including at a hotel in Ciloto, Puncak, West Java.

Activists deplored the Ciloto meeting -- which the police broke up last week because it caused heavy traffic congestion -- and other closed-door meetings, saying that there was an effort to avoid public scrutiny.

At least five non-governmental organizations: the Indonesian Forum for Budget Transparency (Fitra), the Urban Poor Consortium, the Women's Coalition, Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW) and the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH) regretted the lack of public debate since the initial drafting of the budget.

"Closed-door meetings could be perceived as a conspiracy between councillors and city officials to avoid public scrutiny," LBH lawyer Uli Parulian said in a hearing with councillors on Wednesday.

Wednesday's hearing, the only one conducted with NGOs since the draft budget was submitted on Jan. 14, proved to be futile and had no impact on the budget.

Among issues that were discussed in the closed-door meetings were the reduction in the governor's allocation from Rp 9 billion to Rp 8 billion, the deputy governor's allocation from Rp 6 billion to Rp 5 billion and the 85 councillors' allocation from Rp 122 billion to Rp 117 billion.

It was agreed that the budget would total Rp 11.075 trillion, 20 percent more than last year's Rp 9.7 trillion budget. City officials and councillors were still debating fund allocations on Thursday.

Governor Sutiyoso objected on Wednesday to the council's suggestion of reducing the allocation for education and an increase in the allocation for security and order.

The councillors suggested that the Rp 500 billion education allocation be cut by Rp 80 billion and the 136 billion police allocation increased by Rp 17 billion.

"If there is a reduction, the amount should be transferred for the purchase of garbage trucks or equipment for the fire department," Sutiyoso said at City Hall.

Separately, council deputy chairman Chudlary Syafei Hadzami said the council had decided to reduce the education allocation since the city would receive Rp 182 billion from the education ministry.

"The Rp 17 billion will be donated to the city police as additional funding as the money allocated for the police was only Rp 10 billion," Chudlary of the United Development Party said.

He said some Rp 20 billion of the fund would be used by the police to develop a crisis center while the remaining Rp 7 billion would be spent on bomb detectors.

Last year's budget amounted to Rp 9.7 trillion, but about Rp 2.1 trillion or 23 percent of the money was left unspent, reflecting poor planning and implementation of projects.