Out of my way, I’m bigger

By webadmin on 06:51 pm Jan 31, 2011
Category Archive

Keith Loveard

It
sounds like the start of a joke, and in a way it was. The drivers of
two Kopaja – a variant of Jakarta’s ubiquitous minibuses – were
racing to take the lead in their dash down Jl. Benda at Kemang.

Undeterred by the queue of cars – including mine – waiting at the
red light to enter Kemang Selatan, they pushed through into the right
lane.

Immediate
lock-up occurred. Cars turning into Jl. Benda couldn’t go anywhere,
cars in Jl. Benda couldn’t move forward. I demonstrated my bule
sense
of humor by getting out and congratulating the drivers. Very funny, I
said, sticking a thumb up in the air.

Point made, I got back in the
car and eventually the mess got sorted out.

This,
regrettably, is typical behavior of the drivers of Kopaja, Metromini
and other public transport vehicles. It is also, regrettably, the
typical behavior of the leaders of political parties and other people
in positions of power. Perhaps it is also the typical behavior of
many Indonesians who put their own interests above that of the many.

Compare
that with the reality of public policy in Indonesia, a nation where,
despite a rapidly growing economy, the most vulnerable are being
locked out of any share of the spoils.

The
International Food Policy Research Institute’s (IFPRI) 2010 Global
Hunger Index (GHI) ranks Indonesia as ‘serious’ for malnutrition.
Meanwhile data from the National Commission for Child Protection
(Komnas PA) shows high levels of violence against children, with 169
deaths in the first nine months of last year.

The
GHI index showed that heavily-populated East and Central Java were
among 10 provinces suffering the worst malnutrition over the past
five years. As part of Indonesia’s rice bowl, such high
malnutrition paints a gloomy picture of entrenched rural poverty.

Meanwhile Komnas PA’s study also identifies poverty as a driving
factor in increasing physical and sexual violence against children.

Just
as Kopaja drivers disregard the rights – and needs – of other
people, those who are benefiting from Indonesia’s current growth
curve are neglecting the plight of the poor, including the children.

They cheat on tax and find other ways to get around their
responsibilities, in just the same way that those mini-bus drivers
grabbed the other side of the road in their race to get ahead of each
other.

Cliché
of poverty

It
is not lost on me that in writing “the plight of the poor” I am
falling foul of a well-worn cliché. Yet, to become a cliché, the
phrase has been over-used for the very simple reason that it
continues to be a reality in any consideration of the record of
management and distribution of resources.

No
society in the world can claim it has removed the problem of poverty.

There are just as many homeless on the streets of Western cities as
there are in Jakarta and Surabaya.

Perhaps
more pertinent is the reality that no society pays more than lip
service to the goal of achieving a truly egalitarian system.

Communism, with its credo of each according to his (and her) needs,
represented the ultimate failure of enlightened theory at the hands
of materialistic greed. Party
fat-cats today in North Korea live lives of the ultimate luxury,
content to ignore the fact that others are starving, confirming the
theories of Karl Marx about the abuse of capital but doing nothing to
correct such abuse.

Capitalism,
founded on competition and the age-old principle of winner takes all,
has also done nothing to iron out the inequities and provide for the
least capable. The social-democratic model of Western Europe may have
come the closest to the ideal society but as populations in those
countries age, the question of how to continue to deal with inequity
becomes increasingly difficult to answer.

Indonesia,
currently one of the darlings of development economists, its assets
keenly sought by institutional and private investors from across the
globe, has the opportunity to show a different model. However, to
even contemplate such a hope flies in the face of the track record of
greed which, it has to be said, is as Indonesian a trait as it is an
American, Russian or North Korean one.

Nevertheless,
the government needs to act and in fact has acted to create the
beginnings of a social safety net. It is far from adequate: the
extremely high figures for a range of social indicators such as
maternal and infant mortality and malnutrition continue to point to a
reality that condemns the poor to a life of abject misery.

Continuing
statements by health ministers that the licenses of hospitals that
refuse to treat the poor will be suspended are meaningless: the poor
and sick continue to be denied access to medical services at many
private hospitals.

It
is now generally agreed that the government has lost its enthusiasm
for the drive against corruption, with the Corruption Eradication
Commission, under-funded and meagerly resourced, left to spin its
wheels in confusion at the scope of the task in front of it.

Tolerating
inequity

This
lack of enthusiasm represents acceptance by the government of the
status quo, in which cheating is tolerated, even encouraged.

In
just one example, a host of experts have proclaimed that none of the
14 candidates for the Judicial Commission were fit for the job,
although the House of Representatives pushed ahead with selecting
seven of them. To the casual observer, this makes it appear that
Indonesia is a nation which sets thieves to catch thieves. The
logical conclusion may be that becoming a thief is the ultimate
career path for success.

Theft,
corruption and fraud are all so common that the average citizen’s
natural willingness to help becomes constrained by suspicion. Is this
collector for an orphanage genuine or just raising money for himself?
Is that student collecting money for the latest disaster at the red
light genuine or not? Is that beggar being controlled by a syndicate
and will have to hand over most of the money if I give him some?

There
are ways of doing good, for instance through funds set up by
reputable newspapers.

Nevertheless the corrosion of trust in this
society is well-advanced, creating distrust at every turn.

Again,
this is by no means a uniquely Indonesian problem. Yet it is one that
is increasingly felt in a country where poverty remains entrenched
and where far too many people conspire to gain benefit from the
suffering of others.

The current trial of former Minister for Social
Affairs Bachtiar Chamzah over the purchase of sarongs for the poor
raises the question of just how high this corruption of morality has
gone.

The
government needs to do far more than it has. The creation of cash
programs, school subsidies and guarantees of health treatment has
been far too half-hearted.

Even
with more effort from the government, it cannot do the job on its
own. It needs the backing of civil society to arrest both the damning
phenomena of poverty and brutality toward children that is just one
side-effect.

Declining
rural living standards may easily lead to social upheaval, and there
is an obvious social cost from aspects of poverty such as
malnutrition. Crime can be assumed to rise in concert with the level
of economic stress.

Mainstream
religious, student groups and civil society have a duty to highlight
violence against children and the inequities that lead to
malnutrition to build a gentler society that will avoid the creation
of pits of despair. In the end, it is the responsibility of all of us
to make Indonesia a more caring, fairer place.

If
Indonesians want to prove what they so often claim – that they are
a more caring society than those of the developed world – the
solution is obvious. It is in our own interests to resist the
temptation of the quick deal, of the path to corruption and wealth
that will ultimately do nothing more than poison our own souls.