Sat, 22 Jan 2000

Critics say budget snubs education

JAKARTA (JP): There were words of exasperation on Friday over the government's 2000 draft budget, which significantly increased defense spending but failed to show an equal financial commitment to education.

Education advocate and legislator Mochtar Buchori blasted the proposed budget for its failure to address the dire needs of the nation's educational system.

"The government failed to show its commitment to the State Policy Guidelines," Mochtar told The Jakarta Post on Friday, referring to the guidelines' identification of education as one of the pinnacle concerns of the nation's life.

"How can we develop our educational system without sufficient funds," asked Mochtar, who is a members of House of Representatives Commission VI for human resources and religion.

President Abdurrahman Wahid, in introducing the draft budget, said education and improving the quality of the nation's teachers were of primary concern to the government.

However, the 2000 draft budget, which covers a nine-month period, cuts development funds to the education, national culture, religious faith, youth and sports sector by 20 percent compared to the 1999/2000 budget.

In the draft budget, this sector was allocated Rp 4.75 trillion in development funds compared to the Rp 8.38 trillion it was allocated in the same nine-month period in the previous budget.

Routine expenditures for this sector did see an increase of some 34 percent from Rp 6.04 trillion to Rp 6.24 trillion.

However, routine expenditures will mostly go toward the salaries and welfare funds of government employees working in the sector.

Mochtar also criticized the government's decision to put more funds under the direct management of regional authorities, questioning whether officials in the provinces grasped the true needs of education.

"Out of the 325 regencies in the country, I doubt that even 10 percent of them have qualified officials who understand the need to improve our national educational system," he charged, adding that the focus of the regencies would merely be constructing school buildings.

He said school buildings were important but the quality of teachers and teaching materials was more important.

A dejected-looking Minister of National Education Yahya Muhaimin said he accepted the President's budgetary decisions.

Yahya said it was a fact of life that the government did not have the financial resources to meet its numerous demands.

"We received a raise in routine expenditures. However, that can only help increase teachers' salaries about 20 percent," Yahya said on Thursday night, noting this fell below a proposal he made earlier.

Yahya submitted a proposal in November to increase the welfare of teachers, including increasing their salaries by 100 percent.

"Even though I want what's best for the teachers, I can understand that such a raise is impossible," he said.

Playing the role of a loyal Cabinet minister, Yahya also said he could understand the cut in development funds. (04)