Louise Williams, Jakarta – Millions of dollars from a State-owned workers' insurance fund was paid to Members of Parliament earlier this year as they debated labour legislation, according to documents obtained by the Jakarta Post newspaper.
A front-page report in the newspaper yesterday said the documents showed 7.1 billion rupiah ($3 million) was given to 44 legislators as "session money" from the State-owned Jamsostek, which has 12.2 million members. The fee, of around 170 million rupiah each, was paid during the drawn-out deliberations over labour laws, much of which took place in a five-star hotel away from the Parliament.
The legislation was passed by the outgoing Parliament on September 11, just ahead of the confirmation of the new Parliament on October 1. It was subject to two months of deliberations, and controversy has already focused on the convening of extra sessions and meetings in luxury hotels, using public funds.
The legislation maintains the ban on public demonstrations and strikes, limiting protests to within the grounds of the workplace, and preventing any industry-wide disputes. Labour disputes have been increasing rapidly in Indonesia, and last week about 40,000 workers were on strike in East Java over cuts in overtime due to the currency crisis.
The publication of the allegations, which imply responsibility on the part of President Soeharto's Manpower Minister, Mr Abdul Latief, and the management of the 6 trillion rupiah PT Jamsostek fund, is extraordinary in a country which restricts the freedom of the press to criticise government.
According to the Jakarta Post the request for the "disbursement" came directly from Mr Latief, and was approved by two Jamsostek commissioners. Both men have refused to comment.
A member of the House Committee from the minority United Development Party, Mr Muhsin Bafadal, said: "We were never informed of this matter during the deliberation. It is true that I received some money, but it was not much.
"The Government may have spent a lot of money because we stayed in a hotel for more than one and a half months."
The Jakarta Post story indicates the growing public awareness of official corruption which touches many of the most powerful members of the ruling political and business elite.
Last Friday, in the central Javanese town of Jepara, hundreds of people rioted, setting fire to the offices of a local timber company, timber plantations and security posts after a local man had been found hanged in a police cell.
The man, who was accused of stealing two pieces of timber, was rumoured to have been tortured and killed by police. The rampaging crowd was incensed over the harsh treatment handed out to the poor, compared with the free rein enjoyed by officials involved in major log smuggling operations.