The controversial transmigration program to relocate the poor from overpopulated regions to less-developed parts of the archipelago has been given an Rp 10.37 trillion ($1.11 billion) infusion, thanks to private businesses seeking a work force in remote areas.
Manpower and Transmigration Minister Muhaimin Iskandar said on Tuesday night that 66 investors had pledged to invest the money to develop independent integrated cities to create jobs.
The program aims to build villages and towns, along with funding for infrastructure that is expected to generate work opportunities.
“So far, one of the most significant contributions by the investors to the program are activities relating to plantation development,” Muhaimin said.
Data provided by the ministry show that the private sector has supported the transmigration program since 1986.
The ministry recently said it had identified 5.8 million hectares of under-utilized land for potential use as part of the transmigration program.
Harry Heriawan Saleh, director general for transmigrant settlement preparations and placement at the ministry, said the backers would invest their money into 44 regions, including in Kalimantan, Sumatra, Sulawesi and Papua.
He said about half of the investors would begin respective projects this year, while the remainder was still holding discussions with the ministry.
Harry, who stressed the importance of getting more private sector interests on board, said the ministry was also preparing an entrepreneur program for transmigrants.
Currently, the ministry allocates Rp 30 million to Rp 80 million to migrants over a five-year period with the expectation that they become successful business owners in the future.
He said that though the program had not received much publicity recently, the government has spent Rp 1.5 trillion every year resettling about 10,000 families, mainly from Java.
“It’s not enough, that’s why we need to work with industries. [The budget’s] too small but what can we do?” he said.
Harry said there were 250,000 families waiting to be resettled.
Paulus Wirutomo, a sociologist from the University of Indonesia, said the program could not guarantee a better life for the migrants if the government did not develop the areas.
“How can they survive if they are not supported by good facilities? From what I have seen, the government only moves people, especially the poor, to a new place for the sake of the country,” Paulus said.
“The government wants deserted areas to be occupied to secure them from outside threat, especially in border areas. This means that it is using force rather than motivating people to migrate, which may cause the migrants to feel coerced.”
Transmigration was first introduced by the Dutch colonial rulers to provide plantation workers for Sumatra and has been used by successive Indonesian governments ever since. The scheme has also drawn criticism as a form of Javanese colonization of resource-rich regions.