Entering 2015, the ‘deadline’ to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), there is data to suggest that Indonesia has achieved some impressive results. As a number of contributors to this edition illustrate, Indonesia has made significant in-roads in reducing poverty (MDG 1), increasing elementary school participation (MDG 2) and promoting gender equality (MDG 3).
Unfortunately, while Indonesia has made significant progress with many of the MDGs, this does not paint a full picture of the country’s development story. The gap between the rich and the poor is actually increasing. Although almost all children now go to primary school (96.42 per cent), one out every 10 students will not continue into junior high school, and four out of 10 students will not continue into senior high school. Indonesia has also dropped on international rankings of education standards and seen decreases in the proportion of female national parliamentarians.
So how is it that Indonesia has met many of its MDG targets but still faces other development challenges? Looking at the investments Indonesia allocates for education, health, social protection and poverty, and in policies to push for political inclusion of women, it is clear that commitments remain in place for Indonesia to achieve its MDG targets. Until now, all of these measures and approaches have provided quick wins and results, but with many of the more straightforward needs now dealt with, Indonesia needs to focus on more entrenched and complex issues in order to achieve its development goals.
New strategies to overcome complex and entrenched issues
In the past, ownership and responsibility of development goals and targets was the focus of individual ministries and departments. Primary education was the responsibility of the Ministry of Education, while goals to decrease deaths of mothers and children and prevent the spread of diseases were the concern of the Ministry of Health. Poverty was tackled across different ministries under the Coordinating Ministry for Social Welfare, but each ministry had their own programs—such as cooperatives, community empowerment, free rice distribution, health insurance and cash transfers—without clear links and pathways for how individuals could navigate themselves out of poverty through access to these programs.
The situation has changed in Indonesia, and for the country to continue to reduce poverty, it must focus on more complex issues. Tighter budgets (including smaller aid allocations) mean that Indonesia cannot afford the luxury of ministries implementing standalone projects, demanding better designed and coordinated initiatives. New and revised laws (Village Law 6/2014 and Regional Autonomy Law 23/2014) mean that villages and local governments will have more responsibility in delivering services. An increasingly critical and demanding constituency with better access to information and communications will also add pressure and oversight. And finally, erratic and extreme weather conditions are increasingly impacting on poverty reduction efforts.
Outside of what was originally in the MDGs, Indonesia also needs to focus on improving governance, especially increasing the accountability of local governments to their constituents. With more than 500 local governments now established, there is a need for better information about what programs work and which ones can be replicated elsewhere. It is also important to improve incentives to reward and encourage successful local leaders. Aside from gender equality, the government must also address tolerance towards religious and minority groups if momentum is to be maintained in building Indonesia’s future.
The government will need to focus more on remote and outlying regions. These regions are less densely populated and more constrained in terms of infrastructure, skilled personnel and accessibility, meaning that they are also more expensive to service. Development needs in these areas cannot be singlehandedly resolved by individual ministries and local government sectoral departments. For instance, some health clinics in the highlands of Papua and in Aceh are close to being fully functional, but lack access to regular supply of clean water and do not have sufficient electricity to power installed dentist equipment. In central Timor and other places, children go to schools, but must cross treacherous rivers to reach them. Frustrated school treasurers know that operational funds are available from national programs, but are unable to fill in the forms because they require internet access. The lack of a marriage certificate and birth certificates for many citizens in remote regions also means they are unable to benefit or are even excluded from social protection programs. In each of these cases, ministries need to create links with each other and between different levels of government, rather than each fighting for their own agendas.
For international development agencies, initiatives to develop a more unified approach across traditional sectors provide new opportunities, especially in a middle-income country like Indonesia which already has huge investments in development goals. New programs reflect this. For instance, the focus of future programs for health in Indonesia has expanded from systems in the Ministry of Health to systems impacting on health. This shift has led to collaboration with the Ministry of Home Affairs on competency standards required within local governments, units in district governments responsible for civil registries, through to community groups in villages. It has also led to improved communication, sharing of knowledge and networks between other programs working on local government budgeting and planning, community development, law and justice and non-government organisation (NGO) strengthening. International agencies should also focus on key areas where national investments are still below standard, for instance in strengthening the capacity of Indonesian knowledge institutions providing policy input to decision makers.
From joint visioning to joint action
The MDGs have been an effective tool to galvanize action around poverty reduction in Indonesia and to highlight where the gaps are. It has brought about national policies for change. But at the frontlines of service delivery—in villages, schools, clinics and public registration offices—there are still many cracks that the poor and the vulnerable can fall through. There is a real need to plug these holes by forging better and more effective collaboration between sectors. An important first taken by President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) is the removal of individual vision and mission statements of ministries so that all are working towards a joint goal of ‘a sovereign, self-reliant and reputable Indonesia’. It remains to be seen how ministries will jointly formulate their programs and collaborate with local governments in their efforts to create a better future for Indonesia.
Petrarca Karetji has worked on a range of development programs, funded by the Government of Indonesia as well as programs supported by World Bank, ADB , United Nations Development Program and the Government of Australia since 1994. He was the first Indonesian Director for AusAID (2010-2014) where he was responsible for overseeing work on decentralisation, poverty reduction, women’s leadership, social protection, rural development and bureaucratic reform. He is currently working as Senior Advisor for Development Partnerships, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Jakarta. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not reflect the view of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Government of Australia.