New Internationalist

Triumphant Losers

Issue 318

new internationalist
issue 318 - November 1999

Triumphant losers

When the economic crisis hit, people were seen as helpless
victims of the international currency trade and the Jakarta
élite. But I talked to some of these ‘losers’ who have managed
to shame the World Bank, expose systematic government
corruption and now create their own social safety net.

At the Urban Poor Consortium (UPC) where poor Jakartans have gathered the mood is raucous and welcoming. When I ask how the economic crisis has changed their lives, they joke; ‘How long have you got?’ Each person has a story of suffering but also of hope, as one woman explains: ‘Before I was a seller but with the crisis there was no money, prices went up and I struggled to find food. My son had to stop school. Those who had sembako (basic food/needs) closed their doors or fled the kampung (village). Then the rest of us got together and began our struggle as one. We even demonstrated. Before I was scared of demos, I thought they were only for the students and clever people. I was shy. Now I am not. I am demonstrating against Habibie and corruption and for the empowerment of the poor.’

It was when the economic crisis hit that people started to rise up against Suharto simply because they had nothing to lose. According to government statistics, more than half the population now lives below the official poverty line. But this data does not include poor people without addresses, says Wardah Hafidz, co-ordinator of the UPC: ‘Actually they are the real poor.’

Wardah has been working with these ‘real’ poor despite death threats, the protest of her neighbours and the occasional bricks thrown through her window. But it is not just the Government and her neighbours in East Jakarta who disapprove. She has also had heated face-to-face meetings with the World Bank. As she once told Bappenas (the Indonesian planning agency) when trying to get into their office: ‘You can meet 40 of us in your office or you can have 4,000 of us on the street.’ They let her in.

When the economy crashed, the World Bank and Bappenas were supposed to come to the rescue with the Social Safety Net Programme (SSN). ‘The original policy was that the SSN was to be exemplary,’ Wardah explains. ‘It was supposed to be open to the people, they were to know how much money is to be used in what area. But this didn’t happen at all.

‘We began to collect data about what happened to this money. We checked the data with kampung (village) people. Do you know anything about this SSN money? No. Were you informed about it? No. Do you know how much money has been allocated for your kampung? No.

‘So we said “OK, this is the information we have about where the money was supposed to go. Look around in your village and find out who has it.” So they went back to the village and found out lots had not been delivered. In the 1998-99 fiscal year the allocation of the SSN budget was 17.8 billion rupiah (over $2 billion dollars). Eight billion ($1 billion) is already missing. The other nine billion (over $1 billion) is for just five programmes, and I would say that around 60 per cent of that is corrupted. So this SSN is really a fiasco. Only about 20 per cent of the money reached the people.

‘Because of all the problems with the programme, we asked that they hold the money and not spread it until the corruption was taken care of. Bappenas said: “Yes, there are problems but we have done nothing to encourage them.” We were very disappointed. The Government is rich. They say they care about the poor but don’t have the resources to do anything about it.’

‘We went to the World Bank in March with 10,000 signatures from the kampungs saying “Stop the SSN”’.

The UPC also issued a statement which read: ‘As long as the programme is handled by the same institutions, bureaucracy and people, corruption, collusion and nepotism will continue... We are already poor, don’t increase our load with a growing debt.’

Wardah says she watched Mark Baird, director of World Bank in Indonesia and other officials walk among the people in the kampungs, the slums and the factories who told them the SSN had not helped. She says incredulously: ‘But still they decided to disperse the money by the end of June with conditions that were very easy for the Government to fulfil. It’s really frustrating!’

Some of the SSN resources were reportedly used for campaigning by the Government’s party Golkar during the elections. Meanwhile the poor looked around for other sources of funds, says Wardah. ‘They said: “why don’t we start saving together?”’ Local groups pooled savings and handed out loans for businesses and training. Wardah says this has been successful: ‘In this way we are trying to cope independently with the crisis.’

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