Indonesian President Jokowi defends government spending to host IMF-World Bank event

President Joko Widodo clarified that the delegates attending the event are not sponsored by the Indonesian government. PHOTO: AFP

BALI - Indonesian President Joko Widodo has defended his government's expenditure for the ongoing International Monetary Fund-World Bank meetings in Bali, which was slammed by the opposition as "lavish" and insensitive.

Much of the spending was not only for the high-profile event, he said on Monday (Oct 8), but went to strengthening infrastructure on the island, including expanding the tarmac at Ngurah Rai International Airport, and the building of an underpass highway to ease congestion.

"After the meetings, we will continue to use these. These are not things that will just disappear," said Mr Joko.

Supporters of presidential hopeful Prabowo Subianto - who will run against Mr Joko for the second time in the April 2019 elections - have called the government unethical and insensitive for going ahead with the meeting in the aftermath of the Sept 28 earthquakes and tsunami in Central Sulawesi.

Campaign spokesman Dahnil Anzar Simanjuntak said: "This is really unsettling for the (Prabowo) coalition, and it is embarrassing. Why? Because in the midst of a disaster, we party in Bali."

He urged the government to channel funds set aside for the meetings towards recovery efforts in Central Sulawesi and Lombok, an island next to Bali that is still getting back on its feet after it was jolted by a series of quakes in July and August.

The opposition, added Mr Dahnil, would not send any of its members to the event "to respect victims of the earthquakes and tsunami".

Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Maritime Luhut Pandjaitan told reporters on Monday that Parliament had set aside a total of 855.5 billion rupiah (S$77.7 million) for the meetings.

Ms Adita Irawati, special staff to the president, said a sudden re-allocation of funds as suggested by the opposition cannot be done as it goes against regulations.

"Each of these activities, including the holding of the IMF-World Bank meetings, has been budgeted well in advance," she said.

Ms Adita added that the government has looked for ways to be as cost-efficient as possible, and has succeeded in cutting costs by about 30 to 40 per cent.

Mr Joko, who goes by his popular moniker Jokowi, also clarified that the delegates attending the event - which is reportedly set to draw about 32,000 participants - are not sponsored by the Indonesian government.

"They pay for themselves. They pay for their hotels, they pay for their food," he said, adding: "We hope that this event will strengthen our promotion efforts for tourist destinations in Indonesia."

Many countries fight for the chance to host such an event, said Mr Joko.

"Because a meeting like this will have an impact, will give the host country a good image," he said.

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