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Lawmakers accused of politicizing BLSM

Jakarta Globe - June 27, 2013

Opposition lawmakers have branded the government's temporary direct cash assistance program as mere pork barrelling, as ministers with no connection to the scheme scramble to be seen distributing largesse among voters ahead of next year's national elections.

Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) senior lawmaker Pramono Anung criticized Cabinet ministers who personally took part in distributing the funds, known as BLSM, intended to compensate poor households for the impact of this month's subsidized fuel price rise.

"I find it funny to see ministers who aren't related [to the program] distributing BLSM in their own constituencies," Pramono, a deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, said on Monday.

Pramono accused ministers involved in distributing hand-outs of having a vested interest related to next year's election. He also claimed that several politicians running for president or the legislature next year were associating themselves with the BLSM program in an effort to gain popularity.

Coordinating Minister for the Economy Hatta Rajasa and Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan, who are both thought to harbor presidential ambitions, as well as Communications and Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring have involved themselves in the distribution of the funds.

Indonesian Voter Committee Coordinator Jerry Sumampouw said the BLSM handouts may potentially sway the outcome of the 2014 elections because of a public perception that funds were preferentially channeled to constituents who voted for governing coalition parties.

Jerry claimed the BLSM program implementation had not run smoothly. "In terms of distribution, there have been many problems," he said in Jakarta on Tuesday. "These problems were actually anticipated because they also occurred ahead of the 2009 general elections."

Jerry noted that it was the second time that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had rolled out a cash aid program ahead of general elections, and said he feared it amounted to voter bribery.

"This needs further examination. In one neighborhood watch unit [RT], not all poor people were listed as BLSM recipients," he said.

"Meanwhile, there were residents with steady incomes who had been included in the list of recipients. In my opinion, they have been identified as supporters of certain political parties."

Jerry called on the public and media to monitor the distribution of BLSM from start to finish to ensure the program was not misused for political interests.

Uchok Sky Khadafi, coordinator of the Indonesian Forum for Budget Transparency (Fitra), said the program was too political, especially given it is being rolled out ahead of next year's elections.

"For us, BLSM is too little to help people. BLSM has only appeared ahead of the 2014 elections, which means it was [launched] to win people over for the elections," he said.

Uchok said he based his statement on the fact the cash disbursement had characteristics that matched campaign expenditure rather than a government program.

"The characteristic of campaign spending is that it's done over a short period of time. If it was a legitimate government program, the duration would be longer," he said. "BLSM will only operate for four months, which means this is campaign spending."

Uchok said the BLSM program was more about political image-building than helping poor cope with the impact of the subsidized fuel price hike, as claimed by the government. "But if the government rejects this suggestion, then please extend the period of BLSM," he said.

The temporary cash disbursement scheme is designed to ease the burden of the fuel subsidy cut on 15.5 million poor families across the country. They will receive four monthly payments of Rp 150,000 ($15) from Pos Indonesia offices.