$170,000 trip to see flags

How do you find out the finer details about national flags?

In this high-tech world, it's child's play - just do an online search.

But some Indonesian lawmakers apparently didn't trust what is posted on the Net. They decided to do it their own way.

The result: 22 House of Representatives went on a 1.3 billion rupiah (S$170,000) junkets to Turkey and Denmark. Why? To see for themselves if the national flag of Turkey features a crescent symbol and if Denmark's flag is adorned with a cross.

The lawmakers wanted to see these flags so that they could get over their differences over which symbol the Indonesian Red Cross should use.

Their move was slammed by activists, who criticised them for wasteful government expenditure, the Jakarta Post reported.

But a top lawmaker did not find anything wrong with these trips, the report said. Chairman of the House's legislative body Ignatius Mulyono said it was necessary to break the deadlock in the deliberation of the Red Cross bill.

He said that some of the lawmakers wanted to check if Turkey, a majority-Muslim nation, used a crescent as the logo for its Red Cross society. He said some lawmakers objected to the use of a cross because Indonesia was a majority-Muslim country.

"We want to find out if we can keep the Red Cross logo or if we could use both," he told Jakarta Post by phone from Turkey on Wednesday.

Mr Ignatius and 10 other House members are in Turkey, while another group is in Denmark. The two groups left on Sunday and are expected to return on friday.

Mr Ignatius hoped that the debate would be settled once and for all after the groups presented their findings from the trips.

Meanwhile, activists demanded that the House evaluate the foreign trips comprehensively to assess whether they were necessary to help with the bill's deliberation, said Mr Sebastian Salang, the executive director of legislative watchdog Formappi.

He claimed that like most overseas trip by politicians, these trips were a ploy used by lawmakers to get travel stipends, which could reach up to 4 million rupiah per day per person, and also travel as tourists.

Mr Sebastian also said that the logo of the Indonesia Red Cross was not a big deal and the bill itself was not on the priority list of legislation for this year.

He said: "This is a sectarian issue which has nothing to do with the bill's deliberation. Besides, the House should focus on other bills that are of greater relevance to the public.

"If they take the logo so seriously, it indicates their stupidity and narrow-mindedness."

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