APSN Banner

Game of 'musical chairs' at the legislature

Jakarta Post - October 8, 2001

Kurniawan Hari, Jakarta – An increasing number of legislators are playing a game of "musical chairs" in that while their colleagues are seriously involved in a plenary meeting or hearing, they feel themselves at liberty to abandon the hearing or meeting so as to attend another one.

Money would appear to be the main reason for the new-found popularity of musical chairs. A legislator from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), Suwignyo, for example, left a plenary meeting on the child protection bill when the deliberations were still going on. He left the room and walked to another one. "I have to go to another meeting on the state budget," he said in a whisper.

Suwignyo is not the only aficionado of musical chairs in the House of Representatives building. Many other legislators do the same thing. Only a couple of dozen legislators were to be seen in the 500-seat main auditorium that day. They were not listening to the speeches being delivered from the podium, but were mostly deep in conversation with colleagues.

On average, the number of legislators attending commission hearings only reaches about 50 percent or less of those who are supposed be in attendance.

When Commission II for government affairs held a hearing with Minister for Administrative Reform Feisal Tamin, only 18 legislators were in their seats at the start of the meeting, even after it had been delayed for some time.

Other legislators arrived later while at the same time some of their colleagues left to go to other meetings.

During a hearing with Attorney General M.A. Rachman, only 26 of the 62 commission members were present. Usually, the excuse is that they have to leave on other business. But money, as always, seems to play a significant role.

Patrialis Akbar from the Reform faction confirmed that the number of meetings a legislator attended determined the amount of cash they would get. For the deliberation of each bill that takes between 2 and 3 months, a legislator receives Rupiah 750,000 (US$77) in attendance allowances.

It must have come as a godsend to legislators to be allowed to become members of different teams deliberating various bills as they can earn more cash by appearing for a moment in one room before moving on to others. Thus, the game of "musical chairs" has become popular.

The question is, are they able to focus on each subject being deliberated? Skepticism would appear to be justified as data from the secretariat of the House's legislation bureau shows that legislators are slated to finish the deliberation of 58 bills during fiscal 2001. Given such a workload, each legislator would need to be registered on three different committees for the deliberation of three different bills.

Commenting on this situation, legislation bureau official Firman Jaya Daeli said that the legislators were ready to handle their legislative duties. "I think we will be ready and will improve our performance," Firman told The Jakarta Post.

He revealed that the number of bills to be passed had been rising significantly following the surrender of legislative authority from the government to the legislature.

A special assistant to the justice minister Oka Mahendra earlier said that legislators should be more active in initiating bills. "The power to create laws is in the legislators' hands and the government [only] has the right to advance ideas," he said.

Given the present reality, the legislature had no choice but to move forward in initiating an increasing number of bills. Quality, perhaps, would need to be the next area that required improvement.