Mon, 27 Aug 2001

Studying or sightseeing?

It is not only the age of multi-dimensional crisis but also the age of indifference. While continuing to witness the hardships faced by the majority of Indonesian people, we still observe the indifference demonstrated by a number of thoughtless politicians. The persons in case are members of the Jakarta City Council, who have been shamelessly enjoying themselves abroad using taxpayers' money. They call their trips "comparative studies", which the populace are expected to condone.

However, recent reports revealing that their trips have nothing to do with the people's interests have provoked angry reactions from many parties, including the City and Urban Society Division of the Legal Aid Institute, and Indonesian Corruption Watch. They protested against what they called the councillors' thoughtlessness and arrogance, saying that the money wasted on overseas travel could have been much better spent on the people's welfare.

Some legislators have denied the futility of their trips, while City Council chairman Edy Waluyo said last week that he had received copies of letters from Indonesian consulates saying that the city councillors' trips were not effective due to a lack of preparation. The original copies of the letters were sent to the minister of home affairs.

A councillor, after reading a copy of the letter, admitted that inadequate preparations had resulted in councillors only enjoying themselves on a Los Angeles excursion. Itineraries from the travel agency which coordinated the tour schedule for legislators on a trip to China revealed visits to the Great Wall and Ming Tomb, while they were also assured the chance to enjoy peking duck and an acrobatic show.

Meanwhile, in all countries, the honorable councillors were accommodated in five-star hotels. Maybe they are trying to appear as if they come from an advanced country, which has no foreign debts, much less the necessity to beg for increased loans from international agencies. But for what?

The excitement must have been so precious to them, especially those who had never been abroad, that the mounting criticism at home failed to deter them from traveling on to Tokyo "to study disaster management". (Besides those cities, other groups of councillors also visited San Francisco, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Madrid, Vancouver). The legislators were obviously so happy on their picnic that they decided to adopt the old adage -- imported from Arab countries -- "let the dogs bark, the passing caravan will continue its journey".

Although the City Council has sent many groups abroad over the past two decades, it is still inexperienced at making appropriate arrangements to ensure that the trips are worthwhile. The most important thing to them is that, by hook or by crook, they have to go.

The current shameful fiasco seems to mean nothing to them because, when they discussed the city budget for this year, they were pleased to approve Rp 11.9 billion (US$1.3 million) in expenditure for their own domestic and foreign trips. To date, half of the amount has reportedly been spent.

The result of previous trips has never been made public because the public are never considered as having the right to know. It is ironic that councillors are willing to reject the New Order mentality, except when it serves their own interests.

The current dilemma is how to stop this ugly game. Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso has indicated that he does not want to intervene in legislative affairs. This is not the noble act of a true democrat but, more likely, the fear of possible retaliation from legislators who could cut the huge household or uniform budgets allocated to him, which have been steadily increased from year to year.

The only possible way to halt this "lawful" corruption is through the central executives of major parties with members on the City Council, such as the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, Golkar or the United Development Party. They should censure their members' selfish and irresponsible acts. For sincere politicians democracy is a noble value, but for others it can be hypocrisy without limitation. ***