The Sawahlunto municipality’s achievement in transforming the city from a former coal mining town into a prime tourist city has become a major topic of discussion in West Sumatra, but its other great achievement has been less exposed, namely its success in eradicating poverty through concrete and continuous programs involving residents.
The programs have been successful in suppressing the poverty rate from 17.18 percent in 2005 to 2.41 percent in 2009, thus placing Sawahlunto as the second city, after Denpasar, with the lowest poverty rate in Indonesia.
In 2005, of the total 13,256 families 2,290 were listed as poor. In 2010, the municipality was able to suppress the number of underprivileged families from 15,015 to only 373 families.
“It is impossible to eradicate urban poverty, we are optimistic that the poverty rate can be curbed to as low as 2 percent,” Sawahlunto Mayor Amran Nur said at his office on Monday.
Sawahlunto has equipped itself with a special total poverty eradication program. The municipality, backed by data of underprivileged families’ names and addresses, invites residents to voice their complaints and wishes to improve their situation.
“Around 80 percent of them have met me at least once,” said Amran.
The municipality will assist those who are very poor and do not have any means. So, for example, those who wish to breed poultry and livestock the municipality will build them chicken coops as well as provide them with chickens and feed until they are productive.
Part of the funds for the very poor have been derived from zakat alms collected by the municipality and some from civil servants. Each year, Sawahlunto collects Rp 1.8 billion (US$187,200) in zakat alms.
Comparing Sawahlunto’s current condition to nine years ago, Amran is a successful leader. When he was elected as mayor in 2004, Sawahlunto had experienced two serious issues.
On one hand, the city was heading toward becoming a ghost town. Sawahlunto was lively during the Dutch colonial administration from mining, which resumed until the Indonesian government stopped it in 2000.
Nearly 60 percent of city residents, or even 100 percent of village residents, depended on coal mining activities for their living. After the mines were shut at least 7,000 people left the city, while the rest survived on pension allowance that were quickly depleting. More than 4,000 people were forced to carry out illegal mining; risking their lives and destroying the environment.
On the other hand, Sawahlunto was burdened by regional autonomy, 27 villages were included in the municipality making it the second-largest municipality in West Sumatra after Padang, with an area spanning 27,344 hectares. The additional number of villages further added to the number of poor people.
From 1999 until 2003, the city’s economic growth was negative, the poverty rate was high and more than 20 percent of the residents lived below the poverty line. Economic activities were slow, markets were empty and the crime rate was high.
Despite being a municipality, 60 percent of the residents lived in the villages due to the regional expansion. Consequently, the municipality decided to prioritize improving the people’s economy through the agriculture, plantation and livestock sectors.
“We provided free seedlings to those who wanted to plant crops, such as cacao, rubber, lemongrass, patchouli, mahogany or whatever seedlings they needed, the most important thing was that they could earn money in the next few years,” said Amran.
The municipality also provided agricultural counselors, equipped with laptops linked to the internet.
Cacao can be harvested in three years, while rubber can be tapped in five years. Residents have enjoyed the yields and can easily sell their commodities to buyers. Residents who own land, for example 2 hectares of rubber farm, can earn Rp 10 million monthly.
Earmarking around 30 percent or more than Rp 100 billion from the city budget each year for this purpose. Some of the funds are used for scholarships and for local and overseas internships as well as to improve educational facilities for the 12-year mandatory education program.
Healthcare and education, added Amran, were regarded as important factors in improving people’s welfare.
“In the future, we must not only think about improving people’s welfare but also people’s happiness,” he said.
“We have continued to take care of our residents relentlessly and I’m sure my members of staff, who have been with me for the past 10 years, understand this. I am optimistic that my replacement, whoever she or he is, will carry on with the poverty alleviation program,” added Amran, 67, who will end his second term in office in June next year.
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