Indonesian MPs get access to $1b state funds

Parliament's vote seen as encouraging more corruption in graft-hit nation

JAKARTA - Indonesia's Parliament has voted to allow MPs to use about a billion dollars in state funds to develop their constituencies, which a minister yesterday said would only encourage more graft in one of the world's most corrupt countries.

At the same time, the House has pressed ahead with debating a Bill that would further weaken the country's anti-corruption agency.

Indonesia consistently ranks among the most corrupt countries in the world, according to Transparency International, which also rates its House of Representatives as one of the country's most corrupt public institutions.

NO OVERSIGHT

These funds are prone to corruption because it is difficult to control and oversee how they are spent in the regions.

- Home Affairs Minister Tjahjo Kumolo, on the 11.2 trillion rupiah in so-called constituency funds

The moves late on Tuesday deal another blow to President Joko Widodo, who is already under fire for a flagging economy as well as his perceived failure to stand up to vested interests and to protect the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).

"These funds are prone to corruption because it is difficult to control and oversee how they are spent in the regions," Home Affairs Minister Tjahjo Kumolo told reporters.

In spite of opposition from Mr Joko's Great Indonesian Coalition, lawmakers in a plenary session passed a legislative Bill providing the legal basis that would let them make use of a total of 11.2 trillion rupiah (S$1.2 billion) in so-called constituency funds.

This sum is a portion of state funds that have been earmarked for regional development projects proposed by lawmakers, using a mechanism that they have yet to decide upon.

Lawmaker Arif Wibowo from the Democratic Party of Struggle, a member party of the ruling coalition, said the party rejected the proposal because MPs were no longer representatives of their electoral districts, but rather representatives of all people in the country.

"In the medium and long term, this programme will actually make it more difficult for the nation's integration process - it will widen the discrepancies among regions," Mr Arif explained in his protest on Tuesday.

Ms Yenny Sucipto from the Indonesian Forum for Budget Transparency, a budget analysis and advocacy group, meanwhile said there remained no basis upon which legislators could justify adding a new component to the state budget.

"Responding to the people's aspirations is one thing, but it doesn't mean that it's ground for proposing a new component of state spending, especially since the legal basis is only an internal agreement on the matter," Ms Yenny said.

Parliament has also moved to prioritise a proposed Bill that would take away from the KPK one of the key weapons in its already limited arsenal - wiretapping graft suspects without a warrant.

Critics say the legislation will cripple the agency, which has already been severely weakened by attacks from various parties, including the police, the Attorney- General's Office, the vice-president and members of Mr Joko's own political party.

Members of Parliament have tried in previous terms to limit the agency's powers but have failed due to public opposition.

Mr Joko's coalition controls only 37 per cent of the seats in Parliament and the president has no veto power over Parliament.

REUTERS, THE JAKARTA POST/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2015, with the headline 'Indonesian MPs get access to $1b state funds'. Print Edition | Subscribe