Public Anger Erupts After New Jakarta Governor’s Proposed Budget

There is rising outrage in Jakarta in the wake of the presentation of the proposed 2018 budget by the new governor, Anies Baswedan and his deputy Sandiaga Uno, which is showing a clear sign of what one city council member called “thirst quenchers” for politicians.

Allocations in the spending plan have drawn the public's attention because of a spike in expenditures in several areas. The sharp rise in spending is attributable to what appear to be sweetheart allocations for the use of both the provincial government and members of the city council, known by its Indonesian acronym DPRD.

The allocations are in sharp contrast to previous fiscal plans by the former governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who sought to eliminate the long-standing abuse. Basuki, known universally by his Hakka nickname Ahok, lost his seat as governor to Anies in April after a campaign in which trumped-up charges of blasphemy were filed against him, resulting in waves of outrage among the majority Muslim population, fanned by rallies by Muslim conservatives and religious figures.

Months after the election, police arrested three leaders of an organized fake news syndicate known as Saracen that poured hundreds of thousands of bogus hacks onto the Internet, inflaming public opinion against Ahok, who was jailed after the election on the blasphemy charges. Worldwide human rights organizations have objected to Ahok’s imprisonment, calling it a political travesty.

The allocations represent a sharp rise in irregularities from the two previous administrations, starting in 2012 when now-Indonesian President Joko Widodo was elected Jakarta governor and set out to clean up the corruption-ridden government. He was followed by Basuki, a Chinese Christian who was widely described as the best governor the city had had in recent history before he was driven from office.

Data obtained from the Jakarta government’s official website shows a rocketing rise for so-called “working visits” for DPRD members, amounting to Rp107.7 billion (US$7.9 million) for more than 7,000 people.

The figure for the “working visits” budget under Ahok was only Rp8.8 billion, resulting in a quadruple rise of Rp99 billion and drawing massive anger from the public.

The amount is set for various things such as accommodation costs and air travel. Based on the administration’s official budget website, the working visit budget covers domestic trip representation costs for city councilors and echelon level II officials.

The data showed that the 2018 working visit budget is allocated for 7,752 people. Each gets representation costs of Rp150,000 requiring Rp1.1 billion in total. In addition, the allocation includes daily travel expenses for 7,752 echelon level II officials and city councilor, at Rp4 million per person. However, the data didn’t explain how many times the officials or councilors partook in working visits. Ironically, the Jakarta council itself has only 106 members.

Responding to the issue, City Council Commission’s secretary, Syarif, explained that each commission has 20 to 23 members and in a month could carry out two work visits. During a visit, the councilors usually bring along four staffers to take care of administration. Hence, within the working visit period, which is usually effective for 10 months, a commission would deploy 540 people for the activity, he argued.

There is also a budget of Rp620 million to “rejuvenate” a fishpond at the Regional House of Representatives, a public laughing stock.

The soaring budget also includes the implementation of “recess fees” for DPRD members, which rose to Rp34.4 billion. Then followed “discussion fees” for special committee of DPRD members, which rose to Rp27 billion, as well as discussion fee for budget agencies, another Rp11.9 billion.

There is also a significant rise in the percentage for the management fee of the Jakarta DPRD’s website – up by a factor of 17 from Rp31 million to Rp571 million.

The new proposed budget, which the critics called “totally awkward,” was descried as a “thirst quencher” for the members of the local Regional House of Representatives. A member of the DPRD was quoted by local media said the increase was to "meet the thirst of board members who had been castrated by the provincial government for so long."

In addition to the increases in the existing allocations, there are additional budget points that were not originally listed in the Local Government Work Plan, but emerged after a discussion with the DPRD Budget Agency such as the creation of a board member “profile book” costing Rp218 million, something that was also red-penciled out by Ahok.

City secretary Saifullah said the council needed to approve the proposed budget, which amounted to Rp77.1 trillion, before Nov. 30 and that, based on Government Regulation on the regional administration’s development and supervision, top administration officials and council members wouldn’t receive their salaries until they did so.

“The Home Ministry is going to evaluate the budget in December. If the city administration is late to submit it, a six-month sanction will be applied. So the budget deliberation had to finish in November,” he said as quoted by local media, adding that the council members would also receive the sanction of

public criticism toward Jakarta's 2018 budget plan.

Anies Baswedan has allocated Rp1.6 trillion (US$118.3 million) in grants to 104 non-profit mass organizations, mostly Islamic ones including mosques, musholla (prayer rooms) and majlis taklim (Quran study congregations).

Several of Jakarta mosques played a significant role in Anies' victory during the gubernatorial election when they called on Muslims not to hold funeral prayers for deceased Muslims found to have supported Ahok, who is a Christian of Chinese ethnicity.

Meanwhile Anies said he hoped more people would keep an eye on the budget plan, to ensure it is well deliberated and transparent. He further said the city's budget is for the people, so Jakartans must take part in examining the deliberations.

"With more eyes watching, [God willing] the funds will be allocated for people's needs," he said.

Dewi Kurniawati is a Jakarta-based correspondent and regular contributor to Asia Sentinel