Mon, 13 Jun 1994

Anti-poverty program launched for least-developed areas

By Johannes Simbolon

JAKARTA (JP): The quietness of Tidung, a coral island in the Seribu Island chain, was broken last Sunday by the arrival of Governor Surjadi Soedirdja and entourage, who came to launch the so-called "Inpres Desa Tertinggal" (Presidential Instructions on Least Developed Areas).

The scheme, which is more popularly known as "IDT", is the latest bid by the government to raise the standard of living of the country's poor.

The day before more than 100 people, including municipal officials and journalists, had arrived to cover the event.

The islanders were clearly amazed at seeing such a big group of guests, although they all were well aware that Surjadi would come for a visit, and some famous entertainers from Jakarta would perform on the eve of the governor's arrival. But some of them remained at a loss about the purpose of the governor's visit.

"IDT? No, I don't know. The subdistrict chief must know that. You may ask him," said confused Muhdar, a fisherman, when queried by reporters.

Tidung island is one of the 11 least developed subdistricts in Jakarta which are to receive IDT funds.

Of the 11, eight are located in North Jakarta, including Kamal Muara, Kapuk Muara, Kalibaru, Cilincing, Kelapa Island, Panggang Island, Untung Jawa Island and Tidung Island, while the rest are Galur in Central Jakarta, Kamal and Tegal Alur in West Jakarta.

Each subdistrict has its own character and level of poverty. The 4,000 Tidung residents, for example, barely give the impression that they are really destitute. Each household has a TV set, most of these color, with the exception of the northern part of the 1.75 kilometer-square island where some fishermen live miserably in houses made of thatched bamboo and dirt floors.

Still, the most recent study reveals there are 343 poor families (36 percent) on Tidung island, compared to 216 families (78 percent) in Untung Jawa island, which is the poorest area in the Seribu Islands chain, north of Jakarta Bay.

The study further revealed an average Seribu Islands' housewife has only Rp 7,000 (US$3.30) each month to buy food and clothes for her family. The families must spend Rp 7,500 ($3.40) per month simply to finance the schooling of their high-school age children.


Samaun Hambali, a fisherman, blames the poverty of the islanders, many of them fishermen, on the absence of a regular ferry to take them to Jakarta, forcing them to sell their fish to Tangerang at a lower price. The absence of phones is another problem faced by the islanders in contacting the fish brokers over the sea for transactions.

Yet, not all the poor in the island are aware of their poverty and point out the causes as Hambali does. The long history of the poor makes them blind to their own situation, making it difficult to specify their pains and needs alike. Instead of focusing on the core problem, such as poverty, they turn their eyes to superficial and irrelevant matters.

Muhammad Latief, for instance, tells Governor Surjadi that he is concerned about the fact that Tidung island is getting smaller under the unending assault of the sea. Another resident wants the governor to take their children for a holiday at Ancol Dreamland for free for one or two days.


With the population uncertain of its own needs, how can the IDT program be a success?

According to the IDT guideline, each subdistrict receives Rp 20 million ($9,315). A subdistrict is divided into four or five groups with between 20 and 30 families in each. The IDT money is evenly distributed to each group as a loan without interest, meaning each group receives between Rp 4 and 5 million. Each group is obliged to pay the loan back in a year at the longest, with the money then lent to an other group.

Several mentors are hired by the government to guide each of the groups on how to properly use the money and manage the repayment of the loan.

Governor Surjadi said the mentors must be knowledgeable about the culture of the group to be guided, and above all they should be "honest, social-minded, philanthropic and have no vested interest." Otherwise they will rob the poor of the funds instead of helping them.

Poernomo Subagyo, Tidung island subdistrict chief, said the mentors must be high school graduates at a minimum, a requirement which is difficult to meet as most adult residents are elementary school drop-outs.

Anxiety and pessimism prevail. How and where can we find honest, philanthropic and conscientious persons among governmental officials, in view of the rampant abuse of power and corruption prevailing in almost all state-run institutions nowadays.

"The program is indeed not promising," said Kastorius Sinaga, an expert from the University of Indonesia. "But the government has done something which was unprecedented. For the first time, they let the poor think independently about their needs and manage the money the government gives to them by themselves. This is called decentralization. In the past, the government gave the money, made the planning, and determined what the poor needed,"

Politically, the IDT program is good, even though the road lying ahead is long, arduous, winding and rugged.

But if this humanitarian program fails, it seems that it will not leave the people to disappointed, because they long ago got used to this feeling. They will easily forget the dream of becoming free from poverty, a dream they are unfamiliar with.