NO DOUGH, NO GO: An officer walks past idle school buses at the Kramat Jati bus depot in East Jakarta. School buses will be back on the streets again next year after the city administration stopped the free service because of the late budget disbursement. (JP/J. Adiguna)
Money isn't everything, so they say, but in Jakarta, it's a lot of things.
The late budget this year has delayed and disrupted many of the city programs and public services.
A school bus service for the city's junior high and high school students had to cease operation less than six months after it was launched in July because a lack of financing forced the administration to suspend its contract after it expired in December 2007, leaving all 34 buses sitting in the garage.
The late budget also delayed the renovation of 12 old school buildings, requiring Rp 89.5 billion (US$8,200) until October.
Educational projects were not the only to be delayed: Museums and Jakarta Arts Council programs also had to wait for the budget to be approved.
"We could only hold a few programs in the first six months of 2007 because around 80 percent of our activities are funded by the city budget," Jabatin Bangun, secretary to the board of the Jakarta Arts Council, said.
Temporary employees working for the city administration, including some 3,000 street sweepers, were forced to deal with the delay of their salary payment.
The 2007 draft budget went back and forth between the city council and the city administration several times.
The city first presented the draft budget, valued at Rp 20 trillion, to the council on Dec. 18, 2007, expecting they would finish deliberations by mid January. Slightly exceeding those expectations, the council announced several changes to the original draft on Feb. 11, sparking a spat between executive and legislative branches. The budget was increased to Rp 20.59 trillion and, while the council added programs, it made significant cuts to others. One thousand allocation items, worth Rp 1.4 trillion, were removed. A total of Rp 800 billion was cut from programs the city was dedicated to, including further construction and improvement of the Transjakarta busway system along with Rp 2.6 billion for the relocation of 29 gas stations occupying green spaces.
The city should have submitted the draft to the Home Ministry immediately after the council finished deliberations, but because of the changes, the city took another 11 days to study the council's revisions.
Caught between contesting parties, the ministry held several meetings with both the city and the council in an attempt to work out a settlement. The ministry then cut some of the allocations made by the council, creating more tension and further disagreements.
In late March, after several meetings, the city administration and council finally agreed and budget 2008 was finally approved at Rp 20.59 billion.
In July, the city's financial bureau prepared to disburse Rp 11.71 trillion to 722 working units, but only Rp 4.73 trillion was already cashed in and used to finance programs.
As a result, entering the second half of the year, many programs could not be exe-cuted. Media reports showed that many poor residents, who were eligible for a health subsidy, were refused treat-ment at hospitals because of fears the city would not reimburse them.
Another snag was hit in July, when the city proposed a budget cut of Rp 340 billion due to changes in the macro economic situation, as well as the city revenue projections. Many assumptions made in deciding the 2008 budget, such as inflation and growth rates, were off the mark.
This late budget revision strained relations between the city and the council, which approved the revision two months later, on Aug. 29. The revision was then submitted to the home ministry, which studied it for more than two weeks. In late September, the revision was approved by all three parties, and, finally, in early October, the city budget began to be disbursed.
Critics have said that this year's tardiness is the result of the city and the council's competing egos, which come at the expense of public interests.
Yuna Farhan, vice secretary- general of the Forum for Budget Transparency (Fitra), said that to avoid this in the future, the city administration and the city council should issue a bylaw on budget transparency.
The bylaw, he said, would allow the public to scrutinize the budget and comment on inefficiencies from the beginning. Budget deliberations are now held behind closed doors.
"We have approached the city council, but so far we haven't made any progress. We will urge the council to finish the bylaw before they finish their term," he said.