Mon, 17 Jan 2000

Opposition grows over govt plan on pay hike

JAKARTA (JP): Respected Muslim scholar Nurcholish Madjid joined over the weekend the swell of opposition to the government's plan to give sizable raises to senior state and government officials.

Nurcholish said he did not understand how the government had the moral courage to ask for such steep raises at a time when the national economy was mired in crisis and the state budget was in distress.

"The plan is extremely ironic," he said, commenting on the proposed pay increases which would raise several times the gross monthly income of ranking government officials, including the President and Vice President, Cabinet ministers, House members and key officials of state agencies.

Under the proposed plan, the President would be paid Rp 107.4 million (almost US$15,000) a month, compared to the Rp 33 million he presently receives, and the Vice President would have her pay bumped up to Rp 89.5 million from the current Rp 22 million.

Cabinet ministers would see their monthly salaries raised to Rp 44.75 million from Rp 5.6 million; House members to Rp 27.6 million from Rp 5.5 million and provincial governors to Rp 18 million from Rp 2.3 million.

The plan also calls for an across-the-board 20 percent increase in the salaries of civil servants and military and police personnel beginning in April.

The planned pay increases for lower-rung civil servants and the military and police have received strong support, including from members of the House.

Based on the government's current pay structure, the lowest ranking civil servants receive as little as Rp 175,000 ($24.30) a month.

House Speaker Akbar Tandjung said last week the government should give top priority to increasing the salaries of those on the lower rungs of the civil service and members of the military and police.

"The salaries for those on the two lowest rungs of the civil service should be increased by at least 30 percent, while any raises for senior officials must be contingent on the condition of the budget," Akbar said.

The planned pay increases will be included in the draft of the 2000 budget, which will be submitted to the House on Thursday.

"Belt-tightening and modest living are the order of the day given the depressed state of the economy and the suffering of millions of people as a result of the impact of the crisis," Nurcholish said, urging President Abdurrahman Wahid to lead the campaign for modest living and frugality.

Most officials who support the planned pay hikes argue that higher salaries are a precondition to clean governance.

But Nurcholish said he did not subscribe to the notion that bigger pay checks would stem corruption. "When it comes to money and material wealth, man never says enough," said Nurcholish, who is rector of Paramadinamulya University.

Nurcholish urged the House to reject the proposed raises for senior officials. "The House should instead give an example of frugality and modest living in solidarity with the majority of the people who have suffered much during the economic crisis."

Minister of Finance Bambang Sudibyo, who is responsible for preparing the draft budget, refused to confirm or deny whether the proposed pay hikes would be included in the draft.

But a senior official involved in preparing the budget told The Jakarta Post last week that President Abdurrahman Wahid had personally endorsed the proposal.

Bambang did say that the salaries of senior government officials should match those of corporate directors.

The finance minister said his gross monthly salary of Rp 10 million was much less than that earned by the central bank governor and the chief of the Indonesian Bank Restructuring Agency.