Thu, 25 Mar 1999

Setting aside $2.5 for citizens' way to democracy

JAKARTA (JP): A United Nations Development Program (UNDP) official said the US$100 million to be granted by the organization and several foreign donors for the general election in Indonesia is justifiable.

"It's the cost we must pay for democracy," G. Ravi Rajan, the resident coordinator of the UN Operational Activities in Indonesia, told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

The fund, along with the $200 million elections fund allocated in Indonesia's 1999/2000 State Budget, is "even on the low side internationally" considering the country's 120 million eligible voters, Rajan said.

"Per capita it's only US$2.50, while in South Africa, it's more than US$10 (for every voter)," he said.

At Rp 1.3 trillion, the state expenditure planned for this year's elections is at least five times the amount spent on the 1997 polls. The funds from UNDP are intended only for technical assistance -- though it has yet to be decided whether salaries of elections bodies members will be included.

Rajan said UNDP's role in the June 7 polls will be restricted to providing technical assistance to the General Elections Commission (KPU). The UNDP will help the commission develop its electoral management, educate voters and fund local poll monitoring activities.

"It's all (being) done for the first time ... (so it is up to us) to make sure that everything is open, transparent and that it runs well ... it is the cost of democracy, if you like," he said.

So far, UNDP has collected more than $40 million from seven countries: Australia, Finland, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Norway and Sweden.

Fourteen countries have stated their commitment to contribute to the UNDP program to establish good governance in Indonesia, Rajan said. Once that all the funds are distributed, the UNDP would make sure it is accountable to the donors.

All the grants committed were free of partial political interests, he said. But, as an "extremely significant event in Asia", many countries' interests today are resting on Indonesia's elections, Rajan said.

Rajan added UNDP's decision to play a role in Indonesia's elections was made in 1998 when the prolonged crisis forced all multilateral organizations to review their programs to be of help to Indonesia.

The UNDP finds it relevant to its worldwide mission to foster the development of good governance. "One of its components is a national election," he said.

Also, "there are opportunities to work with the civil society, which is a part of a broader governance picture." He said the fact that the country now welcomes international observers and poll monitoring, through new laws on elections, was an important factor leading to UNDP's involvement in the current polls.

Implementation of the UNDP-assisted programs must be conducted with a high level of accountability, openness and transparency, he said.

"So everybody will know who would be given what, with what purposes ... and to make sure that the money is spent as intended," Rajan said.

Discussions are now underway between the UNDP and the General Elections Commission to identify areas where the international organization can give support.

"The areas of assistance will be to help it set up a good system of reporting of the poll results in a way which is fast, open and secure," Rajan said. UNDP would start disbursing funds allocated for voters' education this week, he said.

Of 50 proposals submitted by nongovernmental organizations, covering a range of activities to assist the elections, 10 have been accepted and another five are being processed.

Rajan said the UNDP would be authorized to terminate funds if it detected flaws in the disbursement process.

UNDP hopes for a high voter turnout, but they would have to be educated voters who understood and sought to exercise their voting rights, Rajan said.

Unlike in the past, when the turnout could reach more than 90 percent thanks to mass mobilization of voters, this year's figure is expected to drop because of the voluntary registration system.

Rajan encouraged three main election monitoring independent groups -- the University Network for Free and Fair Elections (Unfrel), the Indonesian Committee for General Election Monitoring (KIPP), and the Rectors Forum -- to coordinate themselves. "We're just asking that they use some common things so that it will become easier and more economical for us," he said. The groups have agreed on a common code of conduct.

With over 300,000 polling booths across the archipelago, Rajan said the elections will be the largest the UN has ever dealt with.

He gave a positive evaluation of the election process so far.

"Segments of society are now participating in the elections... The KPU has been formed and discussions within it are lively. All of these are good signals that the country is focused on (the elections)," he said. (aan)