NUSA DUA (Bali) • Indonesian President Joko Widodo has defended his government's expenditure for the ongoing International Monetary Fund-World Bank meetings in Bali, which the opposition has slammed as "lavish" and insensitive in the light of the recent natural disaster in the country.
Much of the spending was not only for the high-profile event, he said on Monday, but also went to strengthening infrastructure on the island, including expanding the tarmac at Ngurah Rai International Airport and the building of an underpass to ease road 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 elections next year - have denounced the government as unethical, and said it was insensitive in going ahead with the meeting in the aftermath of the Sept 28 earthquakes and tsunami in Central Sulawesi.
Prabowo 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 which was also 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 Affairs 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 the sudden reallocation of funds demanded by the opposition was not possible as it went 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 cost-efficient, and has succeeded in cutting costs by about 30 per cent to 40 per cent.
Mr Joko, who goes by his po-pular moniker Jokowi, also clarified that the delegates attending the event - which is reportedly set to draw about 32,000 participants - were not sponsored by the Indonesian government.
"They pay for themselves. They pay for their hotels, they pay for their food," he said, adding that the government was hoping the event would help promote Indonesia as a tourist destination.
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.
IMF managing director Christine Lagarde on Monday announced that IMF staff had pooled together two billion rupiah for relief efforts in Lombok and Sulawesi - with more to come.
A fund-raising appeal to par-ticipants at the meetings has also been launched.