Tue, 26 Aug 2003

Councillors try to sneak $1m past public for world tour

Bambang Nurbianto, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Apparently trying to take all opportunities available before their terms end next year, and undeterred by public criticism, city councillors will spend Rp 9.6 billion (US$1.1 million) of taxpayer money for foreign sightseeing tours this year.

Chairwoman of council commission C for budgetary and financial affairs Anna Rudhiantiana confirmed on Monday that the Rp 9.6 billion would be used for councillors to visit Jakarta's 11 sister cities around the world.

"We did not allocate these foreign trips earlier in the budget due to public criticism," Anna said.

She admitted that the money was part of the Rp 11 billion which was allocated for domestic trips in the 2003 budget.

She said the remaining Rp 1.4 billion would be used for domestic trips.

Jakarta has sister cities all over the globe including, Los Angeles, Casablanca, Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo, Rotterdam, Berlin, Paris and Bangkok.

Two years ago, three councillors were declared suspects for misusing travel allowances, however, their cases never made it to court.

In the same year, they continued with their overseas trips to the U.S, Japan and Mexico. One official at the Indonesian consulate in Los Angeles later formally complained that several councillors acted like they were on a sightseeing tour and refused to meet their counterparts, which was their main agenda.

Due to mounting public criticism, the council decided not to allocate funds for foreign trips in the official budget, but now they have inserted it into a revised draft.

However, the Justice Party faction rejected the foreign trip allocation.

"I have already prohibited my councillors from going on these foreign trips," the faction chairman Ahmad Heryawan told reporters.

Besides proposing the allocation of funds for foreign trips, the councillors also demanded additional money for clothing -- Rp 434 million -- and for "mementos" before their terms end.

The council and the administration are currently discussing the revised 2003 city budget which totals Rp 11.56 trillion.

Many have criticized the councillors for proposing so much for their own personal benefit, especially in light of a drastic cut in the already underfunded fire department budget -- Rp 211 billion down to Rp 184 billion -- this year.