Ridwan Max Sijabat, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Thu, 01/12/2012 8:03 AM

The House of Representatives has bowed to public criticism and canceled the construction of a new office tower, but it managed to finish the Rp 20 billion (US$ 2.19 million) renovation of a meeting room without attracting public scrutiny.

The project was a refurbishment of the meeting room for the House’s 85-member budget committee whose leaders were recently questioned by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) for alleged involvement in a graft case at the Manpower and Transmigration Ministry.

House Secretary-General Nining Indra Saleh defended the renovation project, claiming it was done in accordance with official procedures. She said her office did not construct a new building but only upgraded the old one with modern facilities to facilitate the budget committee in their tasks.

“The public should be aware that the renovation was done because the budget committee needed a new meeting room. The budget committee needs a bigger room to accommodate between 100 and 150 people, including officials and journalists,” she said on Wednesday after the inauguration of the newly renovated hall located to the rear of the Nusantara II Hall in the House compound.

 The Rp 20.3-billion renovation project comprising wall and ceiling paintings, lighting and sound system procurement and acoustic accessories was carried out by three construction and consulting companies.

“Planning consultation costing Rp 565,5 million was conducted by PT Gubah Laras, supervision consultation worth Rp 234.3 million was entrusted to PT Jagat Rona and the renovation work worth Rp 19.9 billion was conducted by state-owned PT Pembangunan Perumahan,” said Nining.

Asked whether the project won the House’s approval, Nining said the construction work needed no approval from the House. “The renovation project was conducted transparently by offering it to the public through a tender process,” she said, adding the project was financed from the 2011 House budget.

The House has been under fire for the procurement of a Rp 2 billion hand scanner and a Rp 3.7 billion toilet renovation project. The House canceled its plan to construct a Rp 1.3 trillion office tower following public outcry.

Separately, House Speaker Marzuki Alie declined to comment on the costly renovation project. He called on the Supreme Audit Agency (BPK) and the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) to look into possible irregularities and corruption in the project. He also said he had no authority to interfere in the project because it had been planned by the secretariat general and the government.

Chairman of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) faction Tjahjo Kumolo expressed concern over the emphasis on development projects rather than improvements in the House’s performance.

He said he suspected the projects were intentionally carried out to spend the House’s remaining 2011 budget without consulting the House and its relevant committees.

“This project has damaged the already poor image of the House,” Tjahjo said, adding that the House should improve its image by performing better and not by constructing new facilities.

Lukman Hakim Saifuddin, a lawmaker from the United Development Party (PPP) said he personally felt ashamed by the numerous development projects at the House while it was still underperforming.

“The House must stop giving priority to renovations because it offends the people’s sense of justice, mainly the 130 million living in poverty,” he said.