The Jakarta Post
The Elections Monitoring Agency (Bawaslu) has said that it will closely monitor the use of recess allowances received by incumbent lawmakers seeking reelection in the 2014 legislative election.
Bawaslu chairman Muhammad said on Thursday that the measure was necessary due to concerns that current lawmakers may abuse the funds for their campaigns.
'There is an indication [of misuse]. We will monitor to ensure there are no violations,' he said, referring to the Election Law, which forbids candidates from using state funds for campaign purposes.
Monitoring the use of recess allowances did not mean that Bawaslu disagreed with the concept of a
recess, during which lawmakers visit their home districts to meet their constituents and receive input and feedback, according to Muhammad.
'But we deplore the fact that the recess period will last until after the legislative election,' he said.
The House of Representatives recessed on March 7 and will only resume sitting in May, while the legislative election will take place on April 9.
Muhammad also confirmed that some incumbent lawmakers felt uncomfortable with Bawaslu's monitoring.
Besides Bawaslu, a coalition of NGOs has also warned of the potential abuse of recess allowances, saying that it was highly suspicious that the House had called a recess during the campaign period.
The coalition comprises the Indonesia Budget Center (IBC), the Indonesian Community for Democracy (KID) and Indonesian Parliament Watch (Formappi). 'The fact that the House is so bold as to call a recess so close to the election indicates [possible recess fund misappropriation],' KID member Ibeth Koesini said on Thursday.
Formappi researcher Lucius Karus, meanwhile, said that incumbent lawmakers could easily be tempted to use their recess allowances, given that Bawaslu's monitoring was still weak. 'The temptation is so strong given that up to now, the House has never disclosed information on its recess funds, and how any reports have always escaped being audited by the BPK [Supreme Audit Agency],' he said.
The temptation was also strong, Lucius added, as the allowances had grown increasingly larger as election year grew nearer.
According to data from the coalition, recess allowances for 2014 had increased fourfold from the allowances in 2010, amounting to Rp 994.92 billion (US$86.93 million). Each lawmaker is entitled to receive Rp 160.91 million in cash from the recess fund.
Lucius also said that lawmakers' trips home during the recess period could be used as an opportunity to campaign to retain their seats in the House.
'The recess is ineffective because the focus of incumbent lawmakers will be diverted toward the election instead of listening to the wishes of their constituents,' he said.
Ibeth cited an example of a lawmaker from the Golkar Party who handed out goats to his constituents during his recess trip home.
Responding to the concerns, Democratic Party lawmaker Jhonny Allen Marbun, who is hoping to retain his seat in the North Sumatra electoral district, said it was unfair for the NGOs to make such an accusation without proof.
'Don't accuse us of abusing [the recess allowances],' he told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.
Jhonny claimed that incumbent lawmakers abided by the rule that forbade them from using state funds for campaigning.
He added that it would be hard for an incumbent lawmaker to misuse his recess allowance.
'There are regional offices of the Elections Supervisory Committee [Panwaslu], which can review the content of our meetings [with our constituents],' Jhonny said.
He also added that lawmakers complied with the law by submitting reports to the House secretary on how they spent their recess allowances.
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