Most residents of border areas across the country live below the poverty line, giving rise to transnational crimes, including trafficking.
State Minister for the Development of Disadvantaged Regions Muhammad Lukman Edy said Monday the long-standing poverty problems had also worsened security relations with neighboring countries, which could make unilateral claims to Indonesian territory along the borders.
“The economic hardship along border areas can push people to engage in illegal activities and can degrade our people’s sense of nationhood,” he said Monday at a seminar on the development of border areas.
At present, 199 regencies are categorized as disadvantaged regions, with economic growth of less than 3 percent. Twenty-six of them lie in border areas.
The minister said residents of Belo regency on the border with Timor Leste, for instance, had a per capita income of Rp 1 million in 2005, compared with the national average of Rp 11 million.
Some 60,456 families live in poverty in Belo — 80 percent of its population.
In Kalimantan’s border regions, per capita income of local residents is about US$300, far lower than that of their Malaysian counterparts just over the border, who make between $4,000 and $7,000.
“With promises of economic improvement, many Indonesians are ‘brought’ by foreigners to the neighboring countries. A report suggesting that many Indonesians become members of Malaysia’s Askar Wataniah [military] is concrete proof of losing the sense of nationhood,” Lukman said.
Malaysian rural and regional minister, Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Muhammad Bin Muhammad Taib, who was the main speaker at Monday’s seminar, admitted Indonesians had been recruited to serve in the Askar Wataniah to protect villages in Malaysia.
“But they are only tasked with guarding villages from thieves,”
The Malaysian minister also shared his experience on how to improve the financial wellbeing of residents of border areas.
“We plan to erase all poverty in Malaysia by 2010,” he said.
He added the Malaysian government provided grants to impoverished families interested in doing business.
Yus Suhardi, head of Shanggao regency’s city development body, in West Kalimantan, said almost all government departments “sold” programs to combat poverty in Indonesia.
“The fact is, poverty remains high. We busy ourselves with
seminars, but no action is taken to help the poor people,” he told the conference.
Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) researcher Ganewati Wuryandari said poverty was the main driver for security problems in border areas.
“The people are forced to engage in illegal activities, such as illegal logging, human trafficking and cross-border trading,” she said.