NGOs present bleak RI report to European partners

The Jakarta Post, 11 November 2006

Evi Mariani, The Jakarta Post, Brussels, Belgium

jakartapost_logoPoverty and human rights abuses are still serious problems in Indonesia, with non-governmental organizations presenting a bleak report on both issues at a recent meeting in Brussels, Belgium.

The report, orchestrated by the International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development (INFID), highlighted the worsening poverty in the country.

The latest government data show that at least 39 million Indonesians, 17.7 percent of the population, live on less than one U.S. dollar a day.

“According to INFID calculations this year, Indonesia needs Rp 200 trillion (US$22 billion) a year to halve extreme poverty by 2015, as stated in the Millennium Development Goals,” Donatus Marut of INFID told the meeting on Nov. 3.

He added that the state budget would not even cover half the required amount as Indonesia’s annual debt installment was usually higher than its combined health, education, housing and public services budgets.

In 2006, the government paid Rp 76.6 trillion (around $8 billion) in debt installments, while spending Rp 64.2 trillion ($7 billion) on health, education and public services, the report revealed.

“Indeed, the economic growth rate increased this year, but it hasn’t been translated into the real economy,” Marut said.

A long-time debt cancellation campaigner, INFID blamed the country’s perpetual poverty partly on government economic polices that it said appeared to please creditors demanding the privatization of public services and trade liberalization.

The report stated that such “neoliberal” practices had failed to protect small traders, poor rural residents and fishermen.

It said a lack of governmental commitment to allocating big enough budgets to crucial poverty alleviation sectors such as health, education and social services was also to blame for the situation.

It would be impossible for Indonesia to raise Rp 200 trillion a year unless all its debts were canceled, which was unlikely, Marut said.

“Neck-deep in debt, we will not be able achieve the Millennium Development Goals on poverty alleviation by 2015, not even by 2020,” he said.

Marut said that INFID was pushing the cancellation of some debts “proven to be illegitimate”.

“We have conducted surveys on loans from Japan to build dams. For example, from 70 percent to 80 percent of the loan to build the Asahan Dam in North Sumatra was used to pay human resources deployed from Japan and to buy Japanese machinery. Worse still, the electricity generated from the dam has been used for a Japanese aluminum factory and not for local residents,” he added.

He said Indonesia could take the case to the international court to have the debt canceled.

“INFID wants to broaden the definition of illegitimate debt. Development debts that have failed to generate benefits for the people should be canceled,” Marut said, although he acknowledged that debt cancellation would not solve the poverty problem.

Based on a report from the National Development Planning Agency in 2003, an average 75 percent of tied aid was foreign utilized, meaning the money went back to the donor countries through paying the salaries of foreign workers and purchases of imported goods.

Adding to the grim country report, Poengki Indarti from Imparsial, an Indonesian human rights monitor, said violent abuse cases continued to take place throughout the archipelago.

“Palu and Poso have become a stage of terror,” she said, referring to areas in Central Sulawesi where some 1,000 people were killed in a sectarian conflict between 2000 and 2001.

“Positive progress in Aceh does not necessarily mean the area is now free of violence. There have been 22 groups reported to have launched terror (attacks) among civilians there,” Poengki said.

The perpetrators of violence were varied, but state personnel like military and police were still number one, she added.

The report also described the 2004 murder of noted human rights campaigner Munir as a setback for the Indonesian government’s human rights record.

The sole suspect was earlier this year acquitted of the murder charges by a Jakarta court, leaving the identity of the killer still a mystery, although a government fact-finding team had previously implicated former top intelligence officers.

The Brussels meeting was held to decide on work focus point for Indonesian NGOs and their European partners.

There are several Europe-based NGOs focusing on issues in Indonesia. Many of the NGOs, such as Tapol UK and the Germany-based Watch! Indonesia, focus on development, human rights and regional problems in Aceh, Papua and other conflict areas. <>

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