Members of Indonesia's highest legislative chamber have defended as normal the regular taking of bribes in exchange for political favours. The comments come after allegations by a minority of parliamentarians, backed by reformist groups, that deliberations in both chambers of Parliament are regularly driven by bribes. In their defence, legislators said that accepting gifts, cash and 'facilities' from colleagues was common. Some of the legislators, interviewed by the Jakarta Post , said the practice was acceptable because 'practically everybody did it' and they knew they were beyond the reach of the law. On Monday, a legislator from President Megawati Sukarnoputri's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) was accused of taking 10 million rupiah (HK$8,300) in travellers' cheques from a government official. In another case, legislator Sukono said he was given money after deliberating on a bill. 'We convened for deliberation on the bill for days and nights. It is normal for me to accept cash,' he said. 'I receive extra money amounting to between 500,000 and one million rupiah from the Ministry of Agriculture. I don't consider it to be a special case.' Legislators receive a take-home pay of about 12.5 million rupiah a month, as well as benefits such as an 'intensive communications' after-tax allowance of 35 million rupiah a year and six million rupiah for a washing machine. Average per capita annual income in Indonesia is 5.5 million rupiah. The perks are not enough for many leading Indonesian politicians who see high office as a passport to riches. A recent investigation by the Tempo news weekly listed dozens of parliamentarians who have became wealthy in recent months. As the largest faction in the House, Megawati's PDI-P is integral in the practice of buying and selling government policy votes. Areas such as agriculture and forestry, oil and mining, the armed forces committee, banking and state enterprises are considered 'wet', or fertile breeding grounds for riches. 'For example, when we were discussing the Bill of the Protection of Plant Species last June all members of [parliamentary] Commission II were handed envelopes . . . It seems this has become the norm,' said PDI-P member Indira Damayanti Bambang Sugondo. 'So much funding from ministries, state-owned enterprises and business flows into the pockets of House members. To put it simply, the envelopes keep piling up . . . You're in trouble if you're honest,' she said. 'There are also many House representatives who consciously join up with those committees directly influencing their personal businesses . . . Well, some of these people practically possess the entire forestry industry . . . These people know every loophole there is to exploit.' The Tempo article said the vigilant House of Representatives that this year brought down the administration of Abdurrahman Wahid over the Bulog and Brunei financial scandals was now corrupt. 'So how good can it be at monitoring? The answer can only be a big question mark,' the article said. It outlined a favourite technique of parliamentarians of adopting a high profile at early discussions of an issue, in order to raise their 'price' by the end of deliberately protracted debates. 'The harder he opposes, the higher his price,' one parliamentarian said. 'Officials who do not want their positions or activities examined are soft targets for those with the loud voices. If they want to feel safe, they prepare an envelope with several million rupiah,' Tempo said. Cash is the preferred gift and US dollars are best. Travellers' cheques also were popular, the magazine said. Other gifts include first-class travel for the legislator and his family, and even cars or homes.