The Jakarta Post
Back in 2009, the political rivals of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono were quick to accuse him of practicing 'vote-buying' through the disbursement of direct cash assistance for the poor ahead of the polls to win reelection, regardless of the fact that the policy was legitimate.
As the head of government, Yudhoyono has discretion to take any measure possible to alleviate poverty in line with his constitutional mandate.
A number of incumbent governors replicated the practice, magnifying social assistance funds, known by the acronym Bansos, in election year, only to go unchallenged in the polls.
The debate over the issue flared up anew after the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) warned regional heads to exercise prudence when allocating more social funds for this particular political year, saying the policy was vulnerable to misuse. The KPK's alert came just in time when the central government cut the budget for infrastructure by about Rp 48 trillion (US$4.19 billion), to boost the allocation for 'social-assistance programs' to Rp 92 trillion this year from Rp 56 trillion last year.
Not only is the increase significant, possibly enough to buy 36 million votes worth Rp 1 million each, but it also lacks reasoning as to why it has happened only now and without the consent of the House of Representatives.
Common sense would question the motives behind the allocation of more budget for pro-people programs, which could amount to pork barrel politics.
The policy is inappropriate due to its susceptibility to political interest, as well as risky because it sacrifices many infrastructure projects the country badly needs to improve connectivity and enhance competitiveness in the global market.
The KPK was right when it asked on Wednesday internal supervisors within the bureaucracy in the central and local governments to keep an eye on the use of Bansos funds. Deputy KPK chief Bambang Widjojanto also proposed that the supervisors work under the monitoring of the antigraft commission, which is understandable because internal oversight often hardly works.
A study conducted by the KPK on the use of social assistance funds between 2007 and 2010 revealed at least 10 loopholes in the management of the money that could lead to corruption. The KPK investigated six cases of embezzlement of funds involving regional leaders and received nearly 100 reports from the public related to the alleged misuse of the funds.
The KPK then suggested that the government set standards for budget planning, distribution and monitoring to prevent the misuse of Bansos, but after four years the advice has not really brought change.
Unfortunately, the KPK's workload is already excessive in a political year. The commission's backlog of cases is waiting, so we cannot expect it to shift its focus on 'vote-buying' practices under the mask of social assistance funds.
But as the KPK is used to working silently, hopes abound that the graft busters are waiting for the right time to capture Bansos embezzlers.
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