Mon, 10 Feb 2003

Borobudur residents poor despite region's wealth

Heru Prasetya, Contributor, Magelang, Central Java

The presence of a world famous tourist and heritage site nearby, the Borobudur Temple, perhaps gives one the impression that the local residents there might be earning a nice living from all the tourist money, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Although the Borobudur Temple management company PT Taman Wisata Candi Borobudur, Prambanan and Ratu Boko rake in huge profits, Borobudur district's income per capita is the lowest in Magelang regency.

Last year, nearly 2 million domestic tourists and 107,972 foreign tourists visited the world famous Buddhist temple. With entrance tickets of Rp 5,000 for each Indonesian tourist and US$5 each for foreigner, PT Taman Wisata should have grossed nearly Rp 10 billion and US$539,860 last year in ticket sales alone.

Each local resident in the district, however, earned an average of Rp 2 million (about $210) the same year, or an average of Rp 167,241 a month.

"The district consists of mostly plateaus, slopes and a mountain range and most of its people are farmers and unskilled workers. It's no wonder that their income is incomparable to that of PT Taman Wisata's," head of Borobudur district Endot Sudiyanto said.

The district is home to some 53,000 people, 20,000 of whom are farmers, 10,000 are unskilled workers, and the rest were a mixture of civil servants, traders, craftsmen, soldiers, retired people and unemployed people. Less than 500 residents make a living from the temple's tourism income.

"Most of these 500 people are street vendors and small-scale traders who find it extremely difficult even to earn Rp 20,000 a day. Suppliers and large-scale traders were mostly from outside of Borobudur district," said Endot.

A source at PT Taman Wisata, which is headquartered in the Prambanan Temple area of Yogyakarta, said most of the company's income was allocated for the temple's maintenance and the rest paid for employees' salary and financial aid for local residents.

Endot also admitted that there was a financial aid program for the district. As far as he knew, financial support of about Rp 50 million a month had been given directly to the Borobudur district office, while another Rp 75 million was channeled through the Magelang regency administration, which then was supposed to allocate most of the funds for the maintenance of basic infrastructure. Other financial support was provided temporarily according to Borobudur residents' needs.

Endot expressed hope the plan to build an art market -- despite a large group who is against it -- would help cut down on the wide wealth gap between PT Taman Wisata and local residents, and help the residents make a decent living from the temple.

"I just do not understand why these local people cannot make a living from the temple and the tourists," Endot wondered.

Perhaps there is hope among some of the people in the district who support the art market idea, as they have used graffiti as a means of expressing their support by defacing the walls of Kujon Square where the market will be built.

Under the plan, the Jagad Jawa Art Market (PSJJ) is designed as a "shopping center" with 1,200 kiosks inside to accommodate about 1,500 vendors. The mall-style, three-story building will also provide information about Borobudur and various tourist facilities for visitors.

Once the market is finished, Endot believes tourist buses, which usually just pass through the area, will stop in the square for tourists to browse as a part of the Borobudur experience. From the square, a kilometer west of the temple, tourists are expected to continue the trip to the temple by walking or riding traditional vehicles like becak (pedicab), delman (horse-ridden cart) or a planned mini-tram. They can also spend time shopping at the art market.

The planned concept of the art market, according to Endot, will make the temple less crowded than it used to be, as more people -- tourists as well as vendors, will be split up on any given day, some browsing the market, others taking in the ancient, grandiose temple.

And Endot believed -- amid protests from vendors saying it would be hard for them to compete with big traders to lease space in the market -- that every local vendor who applies would get a place in the market.

So, is it true that the project will benefit local people and vendors, not just a particular group of people? That fear was what had incited protests, mostly among Borobudur street vendors, who fear the presence of the art market would make tourists reluctant to buy their products.