Criticism has mounted over the government’s lack of discussion regarding the Rp 155 billion ($15.7 million) fund allocation in the 2013 state budget for the management of the Sidoarjo mud volcano in East Java.
The announcement of compensation in the revised budget, approved last night, has raised concerns about the government’s ability to swiftly compensate residents whose homes and land were swamped by the still-growing lake of mud that began gushing in May 2006.
It also triggered questions over whether a political deal between the Democratic Party and the Golkar Party had been involved in the budgeting.
Minarak Lapindo Jaya, the gas drilling company that is widely blamed by experts for triggering the mud volcano, is controlled by the family of Golkar Party chairman Aburizal Bakrie.
Under the revised 2013 budget, the Rp 155 billion will be used for housing aid and to pay for land and building purchases outside the area affected by the mud zone, such as in Besuki, Kedungcangkring and Pejarakan villages, as well as nine neighborhood units in three other villages.
Another point in the budget also states that the same aid will be provided for 66 other neighborhood units in a number of other villages.
In addition, the budget is also expected to be used to fund more efforts to slow and contain the mud lake and to revive the local economy and the livelihoods of the residents living near the levees that have been erected around the lake.
Sutan Bhatoegana, a Democrat legislator, said it made sense for the government to agree to the large sums as plenty of work remained to be done to help the victims.
He added that the budget allocations were far removed from any notion of political horse-trading. The mud volcano has been officially declared a natural disaster by the government, putting the victims directly under its responsibility.
“[What happened] in Sidoarjo is a natural disaster, so the government is managing this through the state budget,” Sutan said.
“I think we should prioritize the people’s needs.”
Amir Syamsuddin, the justice minister and another Democrat politician, also denied any politics behind the budget.
“That is not the case,” he said at the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
“The government cannot ignore the fact that some of its people are suffering. We cannot say this is solely Lapindo’s responsibility when at the moment [the people of Sidoarjo] are suffering.”
He added that the government and Lapindo could settle a responsibility scheme over the compensation that the government had agreed to offer.
“There will be a responsibility mechanism later on between the government and Lapindo,” Amir said.
“But it is impossible to ignore our citizens in need. Without investigating the real cause of the problem [mud volcano], some steps should first be taken to manage their distress.”
In response to the accusations of political bias, Roemkono, a member of the House Budget Committee from Golkar, said on Monday that such claims were tantamount to slander.
“There is no such thing. That’s slander,” he said.
“[The disaster] is a state matter, so it’s being resolved by the government for the affected people.”
© Jakarta Globe | thejakartaglobe.com | 19 June 2013