By Donny Syofyan
August 16 2012
Indonesians will celebrate the country’s 67th Independence Day tomorrow. And this year’s Independence Day also coincides with Ramadhan 1433 Hijri.
While some may feel that celebrating Independence Day is a big ask for the fasting population, many have the opportunity to view Independence Day as a moment of change and opportunity, and something that will encourage fellow citizens to celebrate and strengthen their national identity.
Independence Day is a moment of resurging self-reliance resulting from rejuvenated nationalism, which is currently losing its grip on people’s hearts and minds in the face of a crisis of confidence in the ruling authority. It is hard to gainsay the fact that nationalism becomes a rotten concept when it stems from the government’s lip service.
Rejuvenated nationalism, therefore, should prioritize self-reliance as the core focus of Independence Day for this republic.
We may be free, but we are still struggling with poverty, a lack of education and injustice.
Since September 2011, our national poverty line has been Rp 243,729 (US$25.66) per capita per month. Frequent claims by the government that poverty is in decline do not take into account people living on the very margins of the poverty line. Whenever prices rise, more people fall into the category of the “poor”.
A poor person in a country with a population of 240 million — which boasts of being Southeast Asia’s largest and fastest growing economy — is unlikely to get a helping hand from authorities who do not even acknowledge their poverty.
In contrast, the growth rate of the number of wealthy Indonesians is accelerating. Between 2010 and 2011, the number grew from 30 million to 36 million. It is predicted that by 2015, the number will rise to 60 million.
Indonesia’s middle class has also grown from 131 million in 2010, to 140 million today. Despite the recent growth in the Indonesian economy, a significant portion of the population still lives in poverty. According to the World Bank, there are just over 30 million people living under the poverty line today.
While expensive shopping malls, luxury cars and high-rise buildings are mushrooming in the country, the numbers of slums and beggars seem to be growing just as quickly.
Wealth and poverty are both on the rise. Therefore, the immediate challenge is the distribution of wealth. One way to address this is by requiring the wealthy to pay more tax, but there is no will on the part of the government to seriously implement this.
The Asian Development Bank states that Indonesia is the only country in Southeast Asia where poverty is on the rise, despite an annual economic growth rate of about 6 percent — which has been attributed to the domestic consumption among the expanding middle class.
Education, the road toward climbing out of poverty for many around the world, is often a dead end in Indonesia.
According to government statistics, Indonesia has a 95 percent enrollment rate in primary school, but that drops to a mere 58 percent when pupils reach secondary school. There are many who drop out of high school, and only 6 percent of the population completes a university degree.
Any desire to compete on the global stage in the future needs innovation and creative thinking. Innovation must be the core of our education system, and we must move away from “rote learning” (a memorization technique based on repetition) so that our youth do not form rigid mind-sets.
It seems it was more important to convince youngsters to want to learn, rather than providing them with superior content and knowledge.
The Education and Culture Ministry must focus the country’s education system to one that promotes critical thinking if we are to produce people who can lead in innovation.
Furthermore, the government must take the long road in order to meet that target, both by investing in education, as well as the value added sectors. We do not want to continue depending on natural resource exports to propel economic growth.
Self-reliance hardly comes to fore while injustice remains. Almost all public complaints indicated injustice at the hands of state officials.
Things like arbitrary arrests, the judicial mafia, labor rights violations, forced evictions in the name of infrastructure development, violations of rights to housing and violations or obstacles to the right to uphold one’s own beliefs are systematically occurring.
The government has been involved in these cases of injustice, either in a formal or non-formal manner.
Whereas in fact, it is the government’s responsibility to prevent human rights violations and to guarantee the security and safety of its citizens, but it often fails to do so.
Widespread concern over the injustice suffered in this country has been rising. For example, there is the abuse of weak titles to land in a number of areas in the country, together with the enlistment of the police to serve as enforcers of private companies — such as in the Limbang Jaya tragedy (where shots were fired into a group of protesters, and a 12-year-old boy was killed and many other injured), a protest against gold prospecting in West Nusa Tenggara’s Bima district (which resulted in two deaths and widespread violence), and security forces killing residents of Mesuji district in Lampung — which have all raised widespread concern over the injustice being experienced by the citizens of Indonesia.
But enough of conceptualizing the country’s current challenges of poverty, a lack of education, and injustice. We have to activate all of our energy and work as hard, fast and precisely as possible, before we end up reminiscing about the good old days. Only a self-reliant society can maintain the spirit of Aug. 17.
The writer, a graduate of the University of Canberra, is a lecturer in the Faculty of Cultural Sciences, Andalas University