Monday, May 23, 2011

Examining the idea of ‘House of Aspiration’

The current members of the House of Representatives (DPR)  seem to have many ‘’great ideas’’. After being publicly criticized for their laziness for skipping plenary meetings, and also after the failure to ask for the “aspiration fund”, they have now proposed a new idea called “the House of Aspiration”.

It will cost the tax payer another Rp 209 billion (US$23.4 million), because each member will be given about Rp 374 million annually.

Naturally, the public are shocked. People are wondering, what actually is in the minds of the legislators? Why do they have no sensitivity to public criticism? Instead of improving their performance, they demand more money, perks and facilities from the state.

All shall be shouldered by the people as taxpayers. The public should know what facilities and financial rewards are enjoyed by the legislators. The supporters of the proposal said that the additional fund will help enhance relations between legislators and their constituents.

However, my 10 year-experience as a House member tell me different stories. There is no direct relation between improvement of legislators’ performance with the state, and the money and other facilities provided by the state. I entered parliament in October 1999 with a basic salary of Rp 2 million, far below my salary as a journalist.

Of course I was given additional income from various parliamentary activities. At the end of the month, my take home pay was about Rp 12 million. I know that each legislator now enjoys a monthly salary of more than Rp 70 million. The state also gives an  additional fund of Rp 280 million annually for communication with the constituents. So, why do they ask more for “the House of Aspiration”?

The fund for ‘’the House of Aspiration’’ will only fatten the pockets of legislators. But before asking for more money, the leaders of the House should put it in order first. For example, the facilities of hiring a personal secretary and expert staff. In the past, some members have abused this facility by “hiring’’ their own son, daughter, husband or wife, and no disciplinary action was taken by the leaders of the House and their respective political party leaders. 

The constituent fund of Rp 280 million was given without proper monitoring. So, there is no obligation for the legislator to report all expenses given to them.

The House members should now begin full public disclosure of their income as legislators. This is normal practice in a democracy. Though a normal monthly salary for House members is now “only” about Rp 70 million, but I estimate their real income from the state is almost double at about Rp 130 million.

So, their annual income would be about Rp 1,560 billion annually or about $160.000. This amount of salary is in a country where income per capita is about $2,200. Definitely our honourable members of parliament live above the average of the Indonesian people.

To be fair, I would like to compare with Switzerland. Members of parliament in Switzerland receive no salary because they may keep their daily occupation. But for their service to the nation, they are entitled compensation of about CHF (Swiss Franc) 75,000 annually and an additional allowance of CHF 30,000 for secretarial service and other constituent related activities. So, in a year, the state paid about CHF 105.000 or about $100.000. This is in a country where annual income per capita is about $67,385.

Swiss members of parliament do not receive a housing allowance, car or office facilities. Beside the compensation allowance, each member receives a laptop from the state. So, when they travel to their job in Bern from their house, for example from Zurich or Geneva, they can work on their laptop while on the train. They are very efficient and very productive. Even on the trains and trams, they work for their constituents.

I rarely read or hear major complaints about the behavior of members of parliament in Switzerland. Productivity, as others in Swiss, is very important. Most members will participate in the debates. They behave like other normal people in Switzerland. If most the people take train, bus or tram to work, they do like their people. Only the president or vice president have drivers in Switzerland. Even ministers and other high-ranking officials take public transport.

So, it is about time the House act and behave like normal people. They should not go above the people they say they represent.

Dimuat di TheJakartaPost, 09.08.2010

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