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Jakarta Post

Cash for working towards our new economy

  • Owen Podger


Canberra   /   Thu, May 7, 2020   /   01:31 pm
Cash for working towards our new economy An officer disinfects the gate of a house on March 25, 2020, in Mappala subdistrict of Makassar, South Sulawesi. (Antara/Arnas Padda)

President Joko  “Jokowi” Widodo announced recently the government would organize a Cash for Work (CfW) program for those impacted by the coronavirus. A few days later, Minister for Public Works and Housing Basuki Hadimuljono announced an impressive package of works that his ministry would lead: cities without slums, socio-economic infrastructure, waste sorting and recycling, community-based water supply and sanitation, irrigation improvements, stormwater aquifer recharge, road and bridge maintenance and improvement, and community-built homes and home-maintenance. These are all updates of past successful cash for work programs, and all good in their own right.

Shortly after the Ministry of Finance stepped in with the request for villages to use their funds for cash for work. A few days later, the Ministry of Manpower started CfW disinfectant-spraying but it was stopped by the lock-down.

CfW would best be designed not to get locked down, designed with social distancing and approved. Cash-for-workers will need special training in social distancing techniques, and maybe supplied with special equipment. I am sure our creative engineers can develop them.

Would it not be good if CfW was a first step to creating the new economy that experts tell us we need to overcome social disparities and address climate change. I suggest some ideas. The public works ministry’s road maintenance program only exists because governments have failed to maintain roads properly. Sad that we need a pandemic to maintain our roads.

We should not do CfW maintenance now unless it contributes to a change of ideas about maintaining roads. Currently all road maintenance is a type of cash for work, people get money for repairing roads. The attitude is wrong. In Jokowi-thinking, road maintenance is for its result, that is, for assuring that roads are always fit for fast and safe connectivity. So how do we design this Cash for Work to create the change in thinking?

One of the main causes of road damage is poor drainage. Decades ago, I wrote a little ditty that could guide this work. “Rain water should quickly run off roads and into drains, and after the rain the road is dry. “Water slowly runs out of drains into canals, until all the water flows into canals.”

If our CfW road maintenance graded roads to gutters and gutters to drains, and if drains are large enough to hold water to reduce flooding, and if we could show that no water stagnates and we have less mosquitos and rats, then I think it would be a good start to changing government attitudes.

But the top item in my own list is CfW plastic clean up. Especially in Bali, Nias and other tourist areas. Clean environment sells tourism. And teaches the community about changing their attitudes towards using and disposing of plastic as Risma knows in Surabaya’s clean and green. Cleaning up plastic can be organized with social distancing. And there is plenty of plastic waste close to unemployed people.

The garbage collection system should not to be seen as an activity but as its result of a clean environment. I recommend CfW for making walking safer and more attractive. This result needs an activity of building footpaths.

Top priority are footpaths to schools to make it safe for children. So many schools have been built on inappropriate land outside of villages because the government has not been prepared to buy land closer to the children. They will continue to risk their lives when school goes back, until my CfW footpaths have been built.

Also, a top priority is for footpaths to bus-stops and rail stations. And please no trees or power poles in the middle of the paths that people can’t walk round. This may lead to a profitable side CfW program for reducing the clumps of the state electricity company (PLN) power poles and strings of power lines we see everywhere. But I am not sure how we could do this with social distancing.

CfW footpaths to bus-stops could be linked to making bus-stops more convenient. Not raised up in the middle of the footpath with steep ramps on both sides like so many along Bali’s mock busway. I would include land-freeing so that all urban bus-stop are in bus-bays to allow other vehicles to pass. But again, I would not do it like in Bali where the only way the bus can stop close to bus-stop in bus-bays is by passing the stop first, then reversing. Of course, they do not do that, so old people like me cannot get on the bus, or worse not get off when we want to, so we just never catch the bus.

We could also have CfW for clearing land also for rights of way for new Light Rail Transit (LRT) and Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) lines.

Next on my list is urban farming. Back after the 1998 economic crisis, UNDP employed UN Volunteers to help families in squatter settlements to grow their own vegetables. This had two advantages, it put food on the table of the poor, and it also made the city greener. It also is cash for work from home, which we need right now.

And then urban forestry. Not so many trees perhaps, as there may be limited room for many trees. But vines that can grow overhead, like in parts of Kuta. They provide shade, cool the street, and, eat carbon dioxide. Put them over the carparking in front of all minimarkets, and overhead along alleyways. (Already in many places, vines grow along PLN cables, but I do not think this is a wise practice.)

Professional associate, University of Canberra, Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.