Camelia Pasandaran & Dessy Sagita
Jakarta. In the face of criticism for wasteful spending on overseas trips by government officials and legislators, the top economics minister said on Monday that the president wanted travel budgets restrained.
Hatta Rajasa, coordinating minister for the economy, said President Bambang Susilo Yudhoyono was firm on the point that an increased state budget should not be funneled to cover travel expenses.
“The president has warned several times that despite a bigger state budget, the increased allocations should be for infrastructure development and social protection,” Hatta said at the President’s Office.
“It doesn’t automatically mean that the travel budget should be upgraded too.”
The Forum for Budget Transparency (FITRA) has said that a total of Rp 19.5 trillion ($2.2 billion) had been earmarked in the current budget for travel costs for 13 state institutions.
That includes Rp 179 billion for presidential travel and Rp 170 billion for trips by members of the House of Representatives.
Hatta said he did not know the total budget for presidential travel, but insisted that the president’s directive was clear: keep routine expenditures at their same levels or below, despite the bigger state budget.
“Indeed, we want to reduce the budget related to routine expenditures, such as for employees in the regions, and on the other hand we want to increase infrastructure spending,” he said.
Hatta said the president’s travel budget was necessarily high because as head of state, Yudhoyono had to attend many international forums including the G-20, Asean, ASEM and APEC.
“These are all obligatory tasks,” he said. “Other things related to the United Nations are also unavoidable as they need to be attended. But actually they have been much reduced.”
However, Finance Minister Agus Martowardojo, said the government had not set limits on overseas trips by ministry officials for comparative studies.
“The budget for comparative studies is set by the ministries themselves, mainly the ministries that draft laws. They know whether they need the comparative studies or not,” Agus said.
Culture and Tourism Minister Jero Wacik, who has the fourth largest travel allocation at Rp 60 billion, said he needed a bigger budge to cover his travel.
“It needs to be bigger as the task of the culture and tourism minister is to sell, and the budget is part of the selling,” Jero said. He noted that Malaysia spent some Rp 1 trillion each year on tourism promotion.
“If we want to get seven million tourists, we need $700 million, so Rp 60 billion is small,” he said. Cabinet Secretary Sudi Silalahi said that FITRA’s data was “not true,” but he did not elaborate.
Yudhoyono had been scheduled to attend an Asean-US summit in New York on Friday, but will send Vice President Boediono in his place. “I have to limit other meetings as there are domestic activities that cannot be left,” the president said.
Pramono Anung, deputy House speaker from the opposition Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), said the government spent more on travel than the House and called on it to be more selective for overseas trips.
“All plans must be reviewed and corrected by the government,” Pramono said. “That doesn’t mean the government should never have such programs, but be objective about whether a trip is really necessary.”
He also said the Ministry of Health’s travel budget of Rp 160 billion was too much.
But a ministry spokesman, Tritarayati, said that the bulk of that money — Rp 116 billion — was to pay the travel costs of medical workers assisting the hajj pilgrims in Saudi Arabia.