Sat, 21 Feb 2004

Severance bonus for councillors sparks fury in Samarinda

Rusman, The Jakarta Post, Samarinda, East Kalimantan

Defying protests from locals, the Samarinda government and municipality council agreed to pay a severance bonus for councillors of Rp 25 million each, a councillor confirmed on Friday.

"The decision was approved a few days ago by the government and the council," deputy speaker of Samarinda legislative council R. Yakub said.

There are 45 members on the legislative council, so the government will have to spend public money totaling Rp 1.125 billion (US$140,625) on severance bonuses for councillors.

The funds are being taken from the municipality's budget this year.

The payment received by the councillors this year is much more than that received by their predecessors five years ago. At that time, councillors received Rp 20 million each in severance bonus.

Yakub countered that there was nothing wrong with paying severance bonuses. The councillors had worked hard and fought for the development of Samarinda, and they deserved severance bonuses at the end of their terms, he said.

The councillors will end their terms in March, one month before general elections take place on April 5.

"Besides, it is common practice here that councillors are given severance bonuses at the end of their terms.

The practice has continued for years," he said.

But Sugeng Haryadi, a local public policy observer, said that the councillors did not deserve the severance bonuses.

They had already been well paid, he said.

Besides, in most cases, the councillors rarely sided in favor of the people; instead they were a rubber stamp for the Samarinda municipality government, he added.

Samarinda is not the only town where the payment of severance bonuses for councillors is made. The practice is widespread nationwide, and has drawn strong protest from students and other prodemocracy activists.