Riau Panned for Spending More on Student Congress Than Fighting Forest Fires

BY :JAKARTA GLOBE

NOVEMBER 18, 2015

Jakarta. Critics have torn into the Riau provincial administration for spending Rp 3 billion ($217,300) to host an Islamic students’ congress – more than double the amount it allocated to fight fires that razed tens of thousands of hectares of forest and sickened thousands of residents with a choking haze.

“This is money that will be used to fund a student group’s event. The sum is irrational,” Usman, from the Indonesian Forum for Budget Transparency, or Fitra, told Tempo on Wednesday.

He noted that the beneficiary of the money, the Islamic Students Association, or HMI, was not a government organization and thus was not obliged to receive funding from the provincial administration.

Saiman Pakpahan, a public policy expert at Riau University, said separately that the use of the money was highly inappropriate in light of the paucity of funding that the administration allotted to put out forest fires.

“It’s like the [Riau] government doesn’t want to use the provincial budget in the interests of the people and instead gives it to this certain group,” he said. “During the haze crisis over the past three months, the government only allocated Rp 1.4 billion, while for this HMI congress it’s giving Rp 3 billion.

“The congress is the association’s own internal business and thus it shouldn’t receive public funding. If the HMI doesn’t have enough money for its own event, it still doesn’t have the right to impose on the local government to ask for funding from the regional budget,” Saiman added.

He also argued that the decision set a bad precedent, and warned that other groups could also demand funding from the provincial administration.

“Is the government ready to allocate more funds to other groups? Remember, all organizations will want to be treated equally,” he said.

Arsyadjuliandi Rachman, the interim governor, said however that the HMI congress would benefit the province in many ways.

“It is a national event, so many important guests throughout Indonesia will be invited,” he said as quoted by Riausatu.com. “There will be about 5,000 guests in attendance, and they’ll spend money on hotel rooms, food, even sightseeing and souvenirs.

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