The Jakarta Post
Once a rallying cry to win voters during his 2009 campaign, poverty reduction now appears to be one of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's failures as he prepares to leave office in a few months.
In his 2009 campaign, Yudhoyono promised to push the poverty level down from 14 percent to between 8 and 10 percent within five years.
On Tuesday, the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) reported that the number of people living below the poverty line stood at 28.3 million, or 11.25 percent of the total population, as of March this year.
That was an insignificant decline from September 2013 data when 28.6 million, or 11.4 percent, of Indonesians were living below the poverty line.
'Our poverty rate is now standing on the level that is difficult to be pushed down, unless [the government] undertakes extraordinary efforts,' BPS head Suryamin told reporters.
The BPS defines people living below the poverty line as those consuming fewer than 2,100 kilocalories per day, or who have a monthly income of below Rp 300,000 (US$25.20).
Today, Yudhoyono's ambitious 2009 target seems hard to achieve as the National Development Planning Body (Bappenas) has revised down the poverty reduction target from 9 to 10.5 percent in the 2014 state budget.
With poverty now standing at 11.25 percent, the current administration is almost certain to miss even the most conservative poverty reduction target set by Bappenas.
In its report released in December last year, the World Bank warned of the decelerating pace of poverty reduction in Indonesia. Over the past two years, the number of poor people in Indonesia declined by around 0.5 percent annually, while in the past poverty levels used to fall by 1 percent every year, the report noted.
The World Bank also argued that economic growth in Indonesia had been 'unequally shared', noting that the poor had reaped far fewer of the proceeds from the country's economic boom than the rich over the past few years.
Presidential candidates Prabowo Subianto and Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo have vowed to sustain Indonesia's economic growth at above 7 percent annually. However, analysts have expressed skepticism over whether the robust growth of economic expansion, if realized, could generate positive spillover for the poor.
'In the years ahead, efforts to reduce poverty should not rely on economic growth only,' stated Ahmad Erani Yustika, an economist with Brawijaya University. 'There should be a new approach to pushing down poverty levels, such as creating employment-generation programs in commodity industries, or undertaking reforms in the agrarian sector.'
Firmanzah, presidential special staff for economic affairs, said Tuesday that there were global factors hampering the government's efforts to lower poverty, such as the rising trend of global interest rates, which affect economic growth, as well as the upward trend of prices for basic food commodities.
'Our homework now is how to introduce new programs, such as those that can boost the poor's working productivity, as well as how to strengthen the synergy among poverty reduction efforts,' Bappenas head Armida Alisjahbana said in a phone interview on Tuesday.
With the clock winding down on his administration, Yudhoyono remains committed to pushing down poverty levels, she said, adding that the government was now focusing on managing the seasonally high inflation during the Ramadhan month to protect the poor's purchasing power.
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