Tue, 04 Jan 2000

1999: A year of grief and severity

By Ida Indawati Khouw

JAKARTA (JP): Residents of Jakarta saw 1999 as the year with many social, economic and physical problems, resulting from the continuing economic crisis and unrest which began a year before.

Ruins, neglected buildings, poor residents and even malnourished children were views so common in the capital that some experts voiced their anxiety that there would be "a lost generation" in the country.

Following the May 1998 massive unrest -- which killed 499 people and damaged some 5,000 buildings with a total financial loss of Rp 2.5 trillion (US$357.15 million) -- the city was never absent from ensuing unrests, violence and clashes, leaving most city residents reluctant to rebuild their damaged property.

Burned shops, buildings with broken windows or damaged houses -- which were just perfunctorily renovated -- could be found in each of the city's five mayoralties.

Even Governor Sutiyoso failed to convince people to immediately rebuild their property as such poor conditions and performance had resulted in a bad image abroad.

The people's unwillingness to reconstruct their property was basically due to the political and economic uncertainty that there was no guarantee the buildings would not be destroyed again after they were reconstructed. It was also because most owners of the burned or destroyed properties ran out of funds while struggling to survive the economic crisis.

People's reluctance to immediately renovate or rebuild their property was also due to the fact that the buildings became the targets of a series of unrests prior to the general elections in June and the establishment of the new government on Oct. 20 under the leadership of President Abdurrahman Wahid.

The city administration, however, could not avoid the obligation of repairing damaged public facilities, such as traffic signs, flower pots, roads and toll booths several times.

The total damage, which mostly occurred during a series of clashes between security officers and street protesters in the election campaigning period, cost the city billions of rupiah.

Businessmen and others began to rebuild the city only after the new government was established in October.

Head of the Indonesian Retail Merchants Association (APRINDO) Kustarjono Prodjolalito said almost 95 percent of the destroyed retail business buildings in the city had been rebuilt following increasing optimism toward economic recovery.

The decision was taken especially after witnessing the smooth process of the June 6 general election and observing the resulting new government, he said.

Signs of economic recovery could also be observed in the retail sector.

An executive of the Indonesian Shopping Center Management Association, Stefanus Ridwan, said the occupancy rates of shopping centers had been increasing in recent months.

Similar optimism was also felt by the city administration which started to renovate six of its traditional markets which were burned down during the massive unrest in mid-May last year, namely the Cempaka Putih market in Central Jakarta, the South Jakarta markets of Cipete and Pasar Minggu, the Palmerah market in Central Jakarta and the Glodok and Perniagaan markets in West Jakarta.

The renovation of four of the markets -- Cipete, Pasar Minggu, Palmerah and Glodok -- were financed by a Rp 68 billion soft loan from the central government. The renovation of the Perniagaan market was financed by its traders while the city-owned market management firm, PD Pasar Jaya, covered the expenditure for the renovation of the Cempaka Putih market, costing Rp 2 billion.

Although physical renovations of the city's properties has started, problems remain abundant, especially efforts to strengthen people's incomes following the economic crisis.

The city administration relies on the central government's multibillion dollar social safety net program. The program was funded by foreign donors, led by the World Bank and was managed by the National Development Planning Board (Bappenas), to help the country's poorest residents cope with the worst impact of the economic crisis.

Jakarta alone was granted Rp 109.52 billion of the aid package, which was entrusted to the Community Welfare Organization (LKMD), which has offices in the city's 265 subdistricts, to manage the allocation of the money.

However, mismanagement was reported due to the lack of comprehensive preparation, detailed distribution procedures and an adequate assessment system which would guarantee that the aid would reach the people in need.

Poor city conditions have drawn criticism from city councillors and non-government organizations, including the Urban Poor Consortium (UPC).

UPC reported that many LKMD officials had allocated portions of the funds to their wives, relatives and local officials, such as community and neighborhood chiefs, even though the beneficiaries are not categorized as poor people.

Other social organizations found that the LKMD also manipulated data such as happened in the South Manggarai subdistrict in South Jakarta, where some of the funds were used to finance the renovation of 24 small mosques, when there were in fact only 20 small mosques in the subdistrict.

Bappenas admitted that at least Rp 8 trillion of the Rp 17.9 trillion allocated in the 1998/1999 fiscal year for the entire country failed to reach its intended targets.

Ironically, while the "elite" groups allegedly enjoyed the funds from the safety net program, the poor found it even more difficult to find adequate food for a day. This situation has resulted in the undernourishment of children.

The city health agency recorded that at least 3,000 cases of malnutrition in children under five years old, involving about 500,000 to 600,000 children in the city, had been detected since the economic crisis hit the country in 1997.

Up to March, at least 58 of the malnourished children had been hospitalized due to complications resulting from lack of food.

Such children could be found in slum areas and hospitals, including the Cipto Mangunkusumo General Hospital in Central Jakarta, where an ailing infant was treated because his poverty- stricken parents could no longer provide milk for their eight- month-old baby.

Meanwhile, others were just treated at their shacks in slum areas in the city.