Humans create most poverty in this world; it is not fate or destiny. Government and the Third Party– national corporations, multinational corporations, and trans-national corporations — are often the main actors in creating poverty. The ideal function of government is to represent society, which gives the government more obligations to serve the people’s interest compared to the third party, which often represents only a few people. Through its constitution and legislations, government regulates the third party’s action, not the other way around. More or less, our constitution has addressed this fundamental nature of state; the obligations and rights between the state and the citizens are described. One stain in our memory about our constitution is article 34 that says: “poor and disadvantaged children are under government care.” As part of the major task for us as students, we have to memorize all the constitution and its articles. Most of us learn it well, especially article 34, which is deeply confusing. Eventually we come to realize that we have to separate these articles from reality. Somehow, we manage to understand that this article does not mean what it says. But, this article provides a slight understanding of the notion of citizens’ rights. Yet this article gives false hope to millions of children and poor people.

The most recent Indonesian Statistic Body (BPS) in September 2006 shows that the number of poor people in Indonesia has reached 39.5 million, though it may be a number even greater than that. More than half of the population relies on a non-formal economy that is harder to measure. The other reason is a loss of employment since 1998 that has not yet been recovered. Meanwhile, the price of oil has accelerated inflation and affected hikes in many basic needs: rice, education, health care, etc.

The major poverty reduction program launched since 1968 was a project called “Five Year Development Plan” (Repelita), which is based on the President’s Instruction (Kepres). It includes the Disadvantaged Villages Program (IDT), Family Welfare Development Program (Takesra/Kukesra), Income Generating Project for Marginal Farmers (P4K), District Development Program (PPK), and Urban Poverty Reduction Program (P2KP). With all its ills, this major program has also functioned as an educational forum for development. Ironically, the poorest of the poor were mostly excluded from the programs’ benefits. The programs applied physical measurements based on presence and absence of infrastructure and facilities, roads, health facilities, schools, market facilities, water supplies, electricity links, etc. At least the program had a long-term commitment to the alleviation of poverty.

The most problematic impact of this program has been a strong sense that the people are indebted to the government. One example is the government’s use of favoring tactics in villages; any villages that are in favor of the ruling party (Golkar) will have better physical infrastructures, roads, schools, mosques, clinics, etc. The villages that are not will have to wait until the villagers change their minds. This favoring strategy has created a false concept of statehood. People have been forced to believe that only Golkar can guarantee and sustain a better quality of life. This is one of the reasons why development programs should be separated from political interests. But Indonesia has it the other way around—politics dictate development. As a result, development programs have rarely continued from one government to the next. The most recent government poverty reduction program is Coordination Team for Poverty Reduction (TKPK), which was formed in 2005. Again, the legal foundation of the program is the President’s Rule (Perpres). It was not based on article 34 of the constitution or the People’s Assembly Decrees (TAP MPR) with comprehensive infrastructure set up.

The absence of a legal foundation of the poverty reduction program has severely affected program implementation. Most of the stakeholders, particularly the executors and field operatives, have not acquired an adequate understanding of the delivery process. The problem from the top level through the bottom level of the operative team is a daily issue that continues to discourage the value of the program. This was partly why Abdurrahman Wahid decided to dismantle the Social Service Department when he was in office. Despite the energy that the government has put into it, there is a long-term bottleneck of the Social Service Department in reducing poverty.

However, dismantling the program is twice more costly than working to improve it. Once the poverty reduction program is paused or stopped, it not only doubles the number of poor people but also increases social restlessness that could lead to minor or major disruption. Second, the cost of restarting or forming a new program has exhausted the government and people’s reserves. This is one major reason why poverty reduction has been tremendously slow despite decades of effort. Generally, many poverty reduction programs are on a short-term basis. When Habibie came to power, he attempted to spark his reputation by forming a program called Social Safety Net (JPS), which mainly distributed cash to the poor. But Megawati’s presidency shows less interest in continuing the program. Now Yudhoyono has launched another new program, which has various different operative systems.

The government has consistently failed to fulfill, respect, and protect the people’s rights while the people loyally keep maintaining their basic obligations as good citizens by voting and paying taxes. People even volunteer to augment and support the government’s obligation through community work (Gotong Royong’s principal). An influential volunteer work also performed through the Family Welfare Program (PKK). If the government continues avoiding fulfillment of the obligation, the impact would not only hurt the development process but it would also damage the citizens’ obedience. Once the legal foundation is fulfilled, the legitimate system and infrastructure will follow and be feasible on a sustainable basis, such as Puskesmas. The government’s intervention will probably be limited and can face legal issues when the government tries to take advantage or to eliminate the program, which would involve the General Assembly to verify or justify it. As a result, the government will no longer appear as a charity agent as it does today when delivering people’s rights that are fully dependant on the government’s generosity.

If this fundamental principle is served, the implementation level will change naturally. The operational team would eventually learn that the poor is its partner, instead of solely a recipient. The appropriate measurement of program delivery is not only giving away the aid but also making sure that the field operatives treat recipients in an appropriate manner. Some programs require a full partnership from various stakeholders and skillful staff.  The program could develop a concept that the recipient is the partner (mitra) and the initiator of development. Today, many programs are using quantitative measurement, which is a relatively convenient approach but has proven to be abrupt in the process. Meanwhile, poverty is not only a number that can be easily monitored. Poverty is linked to various major issues, including culture, religion, and psychological issues. Therefore, the measurement should be supported by the qualitative approach that employs a participatory poverty assessment (PPA). This approach requires participation from various stakeholders, especially the recipients. This requirement will not be acquired without stronger legal foundation that is followed by sustainable systems and infrastructures. The absence of this particular requirement often leads to failure because the government is simply unable to gather fundamental principles because of its lack of experience.  A poverty reduction program through the President’s instruction is not sustainable. The government is not advocating the rights of the people and the obligation of the state toward its citizens. What the government attempts to create is a belief that this particular government has a different level of generosity than the earlier government. Poverty reduction should not be based on the government’s generosity; people’s rights need to be respected.


Author details: Siti Nurjanah is the director of the CRCS