07 August 2010

Indonesian Parliamentarians -- More Perks, Less Work...

Politicians will do and say just about anything to get into office. Cynical, maybe. Yet, a cursory bit of number crunching to get a basic overview of the performance of Indonesian parliamentarians since they were sworn into office in October last year is revealing in the most unflattering of ways. Simply, performance to date of these individuals elected to one of the highest forms of public service has been extraordinary for the lack of any performance.

Parliamentarians in the Indonesian system get to set their legislative workloads. Common sense would surely dictate that you set yourself a target that you can achieve. This target needs to be reasonable. It cannot be so low that there is no challenge in meeting it, and nor can it be so high as to be unrealistic and never met. The reality is that considerable thought went into selecting 70 Bills that the parliament assured constituents that they would be able to do. To date just seven have passed. There is little point in noting that some of these were nothing more than a rubber stamping exercise that required negligible effort from parliamentarians.

In contrast, the performance of parliamentarians in rewarding themselves for their shocking performance is now the stuff of legend. What is even more bizarre is that there seems to be no end to the gluttony. Some recent examples of expedited debate have seen parliamentarians get laptops and other white-goods. These 'bonuses' are on top of an allowance that is 60% of a parliamentarians salary for travel expenses. This money is supposedly to be used to get back to their electorates and meet the people who elected them to office. Needless to say, parliamentarians are spending their travel allowances but are not spending much time meeting constituents. It is not rocket science to work out why a parliamentarian would not want to meet a constituent struggling below the poverty line in a futile attempt to make ends meet.

It has really become a five-year feeding frenzy where members see how much they can conjure out of the State coffers. It is little wonder that Indonesians are feeling disenfranchised and resigned to the gluttony of their representatives.

The litany of woe continues with a recent spate of news noting that the parliamentarians were trying to get a vote happening to allocate themselves IDR 200 million to build "aspiration houses" in their electorates. An aspiration house is being sold as a "people's house", a place where local constituents can come to meet their local members. All up the aspirations of parliamentarians to further reward themselves was to cost the State IDR 112 billion. In reality, this is just another chunk of cash that would be whittled away (red. embezzled), or perhaps in more colloquial terms "pissed up against the wall".

What is truly funny in that most perverse kind of a way is that the 'aspiration' fund follows closely on the heels of a IDR 15 billion per member constituent development fund that had next to no oversight of any kind. Thankfully, that silliness was voted down. Although, it has seemingly been resurrected in this proposal albeit at a sizable reduction in the amount of cash being bandied about per member.

The first hurdle in making this allocation has been cleared. However, once this became publicly known there has been some pretty significant public backlash, and rightly so. Now, some parliamentarians are having a second thought about selling this slush fund to Indonesians. Currently, the discussion suggests that the plan might not get up at a plenary session. Well, if it does not happen, then perhaps members could use the 'spare' time to pass some legislation.

Then again, it is likely parliamentarians are day-dreaming about a new 36-floor parliamentary office building believed to be budgeted at some IDR 1.8 trillion. This is so clearly a waste of money that it is not funny, not even in a perverse kind of a way. The reality is that parliamentarian attendance records highlight that a good proportion of members are never in their offices nor the plenary sessions to do the parliamentary business that is expected of them.

As to the non-attendance of members, I nearly choked on my lunch when I read Muhammad Romahurmuziy, Secretary General of the United Development Party (PPP), say in no uncertain terms that parliamentarians are busy people and that sometimes they have to prioritize their time and representing their constituents is what falls to the wayside.

The Romahurmuziy reasoning is that parliamentarians were very busy professionals - lawyers, businessmen, sports people, and public figures (red. celebrities). For my mind, when one is elected to public office they remove themselves from any potential conflict of interest. For example, a business person who maintains control over their business whilst a parliamentarian and then votes on legislation or develops policy that impacts on that business is clearly in a position of conflict.

It truly is time that the parliamentarians elected to public office behave in a manner commensurate with the faith that the Indonesian populace has shown in them by electing them to office. It might be true that you get what you vote for, but most Indonesians would argue that they did not vote for this or these shenanigans.

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