Wed, 29 Mar 2000

Gus Dur tells BKKBN to stop fudging population figures

JAKARTA (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid warned officials of the National Family Planning Board (BKKBN) on Tuesday to stop manipulating population figures merely to please the country's leaders.

Abdurrahman, known as Gus Dur, decried the practice and said it would only worsen the country's population situation in the future.

Speaking during the opening of the board's four-day working meeting, the President said he was confused by the board's claim that the birthrate continued to drop when the country's real population growth was higher than the government's official figure.

"I want you to give the real figures even though they may hurt, because it will be much better than hiding the facts until it is too late to improve the situation."

The President recounted his trip to Semarang on Saturday and said his daughter told him that thousands of children greeted him along the route. He said it disproved the official claims of a falling birthrate.

"The government says the family planning program is very successful, but the facts show that women continue having babies," he said with a grin.

His concern over misleading data from the board was seemingly borne out in the behavior of its officials, who before the ceremony distributed copies of what they said was the President's speech.

Journalists were skeptical because the President, due to his poor eyesight, does not usually have a prepared text.

The officials later described the six-page text as pointers for his speech.

Abdurrahman said that he often doubted many of the statistics issued by the Central Bureau of Statistics (BPS) and BKKBN.

He said the manipulation of figures should be stopped because the people would be the ultimate victims.

"National family planning programs must be developed with honesty even though it may be resented," the President said.

State Minister of the Emancipation of Women Khofifah Indar Parawansa, who is also in charge of the family planning board, said in her report to the President that the country's population was expected to double in 40 years from the current 206 million, given the steady growth rate of 1.54 percent.

She also expressed concern at the increasing number of abortions performed in the country. She vowed to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies in a bid to halt abortions.

"In relations to this, male participation (in family planning) must improve," Khofifah said. (prb)