Thu, 19 Jun 2003

MPR annual session to cost Rp 20 billion

Kurniawan Hari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The 700-member People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) is slated to convene for its annual session from Aug. 1 to Aug. 10, costing taxpayers at least Rp 20 billion (US$2.4 million) in the process.

Last year the session shaved Rp 19.5 billion off the state budget on various expenditures, including accommodation in five- star hotels and spending money for the Assembly members.

For the upcoming annual session, the allocated budget will be spent on accommodation, security, the transportation of Assembly members and the publication of Assembly decrees.

All 700 lawmakers will stay in the five-star Mulia Hotel, near the Assembly building. Each of them will receive Rp 150,000 per day in attendance money.

This time around the session will hear progress reports from the President and state institutions, and discuss the establishment of the constitutional court and revocation of some Assembly decrees considered to have outlived their usefulness.

Assembly members have studied 139 decrees issued between 1960 and 2002 over the past few weeks, but have not made any decisions on which decrees would be revoked.

There has been furious debate over whether MPR Decree No. 25/1966 on the banning of Communism should be revoked.

Asnawi Latif, a member of Assembly's budget committee, said the lawmakers would possibly raise the purchase of four Russian- made Sukhoi jet fighters and the military operation in Aceh during the session to assess the performance of the government.

He said the purchase of the Russian warplanes would be debated because the procurement process was not transparent.

As for the military operation in Aceh, Asnawi said that it was not in line with the 2002 Assembly decree which mandates a peaceful solution for Aceh.

"Possibly, these issues will be raised to criticize the performance of Megawati's government," Asnawi added.

MPR Speaker Amien Rais and the House of Representatives have repeatedly expressed their support for the military offensive against Acehnese rebels. Amien even said the government could ignore the decree as the rebels had failed to show any desire to settle the conflict through dialog.

Unlike the previous four annual sessions, this year's convention will not discuss any constitutional amendments.

Given the fact that the time-consuming process of debating constitutional amendments would not be on the agenda, Asnawi said the lawmakers might cut short the annual session if possible.

"To be effective, I think the annual session can be wrapped up in five or seven days," said Asnawi, chairman of the minority People's Awakening Party (PKU).

Kohirin Suganda from the Military/Police faction concurred, saying that because the topics for discussion at the annual session would not be contentious, the session should last less than 10 days.

The upcoming annual session will be the last for the current MPR, which beginning next year will be subsumed into a new bicameral legislative system.