Governor’s novel idea proves a hit
THE FINANCIAL CRISIS & THE ASIAN HEARTLAND: INDONESIA
Local officials and military have stepped up efforts to ease the effects of the economic crisis and diffuse tensions in Indonesia’s second-largest city.
EAST Java Governor Basofi Sudirman has come up with a novel way of finding jobs for the unemployed.
He has set up cottage industries employing thousands to make batik shirts and sarongs – which he calls proudly “sarong Basofi” or “sarfi” – throughout the country’s second most-populated province.
At a time when retail sales have dropped by 50 per cent, “sarfi” is a hit with many in East Java.
At 4,000 rupiahs (S$1) a set, it is the most affordable clothing item on the market given that prices have doubled, and in some cases tripled because of the drop in the value of the rupiah.
In one fell swoop, Mr Basofi has killed two birds with one stone – providing jobs for thousands of unemployed, especially inthe capital, and affordable clothing for the middle and lower-income groups.
Clothing, however, is not the most sought-after item on people’s shopping list these days. Food is.
People here in Indonesia’s second-largest city, like elsewhere across the nation, are taking to the streets more frequently to vent their frustrations over increasing prices of staples such as rice, sugar, salt, milk and cooking oil.
In response, the local authorities, including the Indonesian armed forces (Abri) have organised weekly “pasar murahs” or markets selling food at low prices.
A kilogram of rice, for example, went for 1,000 rupiahs compared to the market price of 2,000 rupiahs.
A senior military officer here told The Straits Times that Abri had also distributed rice to thousands in the province afflicted by the current crisis.
They did this by roping in big businesses and conglomerates, many of them owned by ethnic-Chinese Indonesians, to help in the efforts.
From a security perspective, he noted that such “emergency measures” have helped to calm nerves in the city – which has all the ingredients necessary for a possible explosion if the economic crisis persist.
Such ingredients include the large industrial workforce – 700,000 of which are said to be unemployed now – the presence ofa strong traditionalist Islamic base, and the dominance of ethnic-Chinese Indonesians in the local economy.
Increasing labour unrest and recent student demonstrations in the area have suggested to some that this city is on a slow boil.
Military insiders believe that next to Jakarta, Surabaya followed by Yogyakarta, Semarang, Bandung and Medan, posed the biggest threat to national security if “anti-government elements” were not controlled.
The head of the Nadhlatul Ulama (NU) youth movement, Mr Chairoel Annam, said that local government, Abri and Islamic leaders were “seeing eye to eye” in taking steps to diffuse the situation.
“We are conscious that there are simmering tensions,” he said.
“That is why we are taking steps to prevent an explosion.”
Of particular concern to him was that the problem could take on a racial and religious dimension.
He said there was a sense among many of the 15 million NU members in the province that the Chinese were responsible for the current crisis.
“They are perceived as ‘robbers’ who have just too much control of the economy,” he said.
Price increases have been blamed solely on the Chinese, he added.
But that was not the position of the NU, he said.
Together with other Islamic groups such as the Muhammadiyah, it has been holding regular meetings between members and the Chinese community to “build a bridge of confidence and trust”, he added.
It has also encouraged Chinese businessmen to attend “pasar murahs” and distribute staples to the public.
He said: “Psychologically, this is important because it brings them closer to many of the pribumis.”
The military has likewise been forging links with student leaders and university rectors.
Weekly closed-door meetings have been held at the residence of the military commander, Major-General Djaja Suparman.
Said a senior military source: “We are trying to accommodate their aspirations. The best way to do it is through talking and not violence.”
Interestingly, compared to other cities such as Yogyakarta, there has not been any reported clash between Abri and student activists, although troops are out in force at universities here to keep an eye on the situation.
The military is also aware of the large number of unemployed labourers in the city.
It has set up training centres in rural areas to teach them new skills to find jobs in villages.
But some student activists believe the steps being taken by the authorities are nothing but short-term measures and do not address their desire for genuine political and economic reform.
Said one university student leader, who declined to be named:
“They are putting out small fires that could emerge again in a bigger way if there is no real change in the current system.”
But most observers believe that as long as the leaders of the military, local government and Islamic groups shared similar perceptions of the current crisis and the solutions needed for its resolution, the situation here would be under control.
Political analyst Ari Powo of the Air Langga University said that “political cohabitation” among the different groups was difficult to imagine before the crisis.
“There might be differences in approach and style but there is a consensus now that without taking a unified stand, it will divide society and that everyone will lose,” he said.
So for now, political rationality has the upper hand.
STRATEGY: Kill two birds with one stone
* EAST Java Governor Basofi Sudirman’s strategy is to set up cottage industries employing thousands of poor villagers to make batik shirts andsarongs – which he calls proudly “sarong Basofi” or “sarfi” – throughout the country’s second most-populated province.
* “Sarfi” has become a hit with many in East Java. At 4,000 rupiahs (S$1) a set, it is the most affordable clothing item on the market given that the prices of goods have doubled, and in some cases tripled because of the drop in the value of the rupiah.
* Mr Basofi’s initiative has provided jobs for thousands of unemployed in his province, especially in the capital.
* It has also provided affordable clothing for the middle- and lower-income groups hit by the economic crisis.