The most pressing political-economic issue facing Indonesia is poverty reduction. The Department of Defense’s role in this regard is to provide support in enabling the government’s delivery system with regard to the numerous programs and projects administered or co-joined with various domestic and international agencies, both public as well as private.
Poverty in Indonesia, measured in income terms, affect 48% of Indonesia’s total population of 220 million. The government’s Medium Term Development Program (Rencana Jangka Menengah, RPJM) aims to reduce the poverty head count from 18.2 percent in 2004 to roughly 8.4 percent by 2009. When the plan was announced in the first cabinet meeting in late October 2004, no one foresaw the various domestic and international crises that would severely affect the trajectory of the poverty reduction programs.
Following the tsunami in late December 2004, there occurred earthquakes, mudflows, rice crises, the spike in international oil price rises and a host of residual social and ethnic conflicts throughout the archipelago arising from the crises of 7-8 years before. In addition, other natural and man-made disasters severely diverted the government’s resources to effectively alleviate poverty at the scope and speed that was originally targeted in late October 2004.
The World Bank’s Jakarta Office, in its outstanding report “Making the New Indonesia Work for The Poor” (November 2006) makes a clear case for the urgency that in addition to income-poverty, Indonesia still faces a long and difficult journey in pursuing programs to drastically reduce non-income poverty: malnutrition among a quarter of all children below the age of five; high maternal mortality rates (307 deaths in 100.00 births); education outcomes remain weak (among 16-18 year olds from the poorest quintile, only 55 percent completed junior high school (Sekolah Menengah Pertama, SMP); access to safe and clean water is slow (43 percent in rural areas, 78 percent in urban areas for the lowest quintile).
What do all these issues have to do with the Department of Defense and the Indonesian Defense Force (Tentara Nasional Indonesia,TNI)? The answer is starkly clear: plenty.
First, the Department of Defense and the TNI is committed to providing an effective and accountable delivery system in support of a still essentially weak civic governance and civil competence at all levels. Governmental capability __especially outside Java__still need the support of a carefully measured and calibrated role of the military in support of civic competence. Political crises, economic collapse and social unrest resulting from the financial crises in 1997-1998 led to incendiary violence among marginalised groups deprived of jobs, livelihood and of hope.
Throughout 1998-2003 overly drastic and immediate political openness in an environment of mass poverty, unemployment and fear of an uncertain future led to paroxysms of “the virility of violence” which gave rise to sectarian, ethnic and intra-regional enmity. The backlash against perceived heavy handedness of the military during the Soeharto years led to an exaggerated sense of “politically correct” but unrealistic notions of “democratic governance” among political parties, NGOs and other civic groups, all of whom remain too fragmented, too-disjointed and simply incompetent to provide ground-level work political stability.
Second, with respect to the TNI as a national force , as the people’s force, and as fighting defence force (tentara nasional, tentara rakyat, tentara kejuangan), the TNI has always been true to its commitment to assist those most deprived from access to basic human needs. The army, navy and air force has historically been engaged since the mid-1950s to initiate and support various people-centered projects at the ground level: building simple people’s housing, dams and irrigation channels; help set up affordable health care through the various medical units and battalions in villages, sub-districts, even at provincial level; non-coms have chipped in to stand in as teachers in Bahasa Indonesia and basic numeracy. In short, the TNI had preceded involvement in the very projects that the World Bank Jakarta Office Report focuses upon: non-income poverty, especially in the rural areas.
Finally, the Department of Defense and the TNI have pioneered policy and operational programs in attacking poverty as Indonesia’s version of the war on terror. Although poverty by itself do not correlated directly with acts of organized terrorism, the number of both income poor and non-income poor in Indonesia affects the our determination to wage war against the three main sources of terrorism world-wide.
First, inequities in development. With nearly half of our population living below the poverty line, there is urgent need to speed up programs that immediately mitigate disparities in income as well as distortions in access to basic human needs. Those who fall from the 2 dollar a day category to the 1,55 dollar a day category constitutes this margin of danger where young men or women disenfranchised economically may turn to desperate measures or attracted to radical ideologies.
Second, poverty eradication. As the people’s defense force, the TNI is obliged to be engaged in all government related poverty eradication schemes, to prove that the notion of a vigilant defense force can only credible if it true to its motion of caring and sharing with those who have yet to be lifted from abject poverty. Equally important, because the defense force realises that in the overall notion of defense in the wider sense, a just and equal society is the best defense.
Finally, anti-corruption. The Defense Department have completed a two-year program in transferring assets of all units of cooperatives, foundation and businesses to an inter-agency panel from the Departments of Defense, Finance, State Enterprises and Law & Human Rights.
A Presidential Decree establishing a National Agency to assess these assets and reconfigure all manners of “military businesses” is pending. Past military businesses have been identified with large-scale corruption abuses of human rights and pervasive repression. Having successfully pioneered an anti-corruption drive within is own house, the Department of Defense and the TNI have in fact deprived critics of the decades old ammunition of “an octopus-like” military-business complex.
Indonesia’s war on poverty and terrorism has along way to go. There will be glitches and crashing of social gears over the next ten to fifteen years. But the overall trajectory will remain on course and positive. There are even firmer grounds for optimism that Indonesia’s war against poverty will give substance to the notion: “Be tough against terrorism, but be tougher still against the sources of terrorism”. The Department of Defense has led the way.