Wednesday, August 22, 2007


QUALITY EDUCATION -- The Jakarta Post Editorial, 22.08.07
QUALITY EDUCATION -- The Jakarta Post Editorial, 22.08.07
"We want our children to benefit from a quality education," President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said in his Independence Day speech last week. To achieve that, the President said, education would get the largest budget allocation. We definitely share the President's wish. All of us want our children to get a quality education, the best available. But reality is often different.For those of us who live in big cities and can afford good education, we have many choices available, from kindergarten to university. We have western-style kindergartens, complete with English as a medium of instruction, international and national plus schools, as well as international-standard universities. For us, quality is number one.
However, for those who live in small villages in the country and for those who cannot afford even basic education, good schools are beyond the imagination. Elementary schools in Papua, for example, often have one teacher per school -- and who is also the headmaster. For these people, quality is not an issue. If they can send their children to school, that's good enough.
From here, we can see that quality will improve in line with rising demand. More and more national plus schools and international-standard universities will be built whenever the demand for such schools keeps rising. However, driving up demand is not an easy undertaking as it correlates directly with purchasing power, and creating purchasing power takes time. But people cannot wait. Here is the role of the government, to drive up quality from the supply side.
The government has done its part by giving the education sector the highest budget allocation. The president revealed that next year, the education sector would get Rp 61.4 trillion (US$6.7 billion), an increase from Rp 52.4 trillion this year, but he did not elaborate on how this money would translate into quality education. He only promised to continue the government's school operational assistance program and scholarships for poor students, and continue extending special allocation funds to local governments to rehabilitate schools and purchase educational equipment.
Of course, we could not expect the President to go into the details of how to translate an increase in education spending into a rise in the quality of our education system. But the President should at least share his vision for what kind of quality education he wants to see at the end of next year or at the end of his term in 2009.
The budget is an effective tool to drive up education quality. Only through the budget can the government raise teachers' salaries, finance training for teachers and thus improve their quality, provide better textbooks for students and build more versatile school buildings -- all of which are important factors in improving quality. From the budget side, our Constitution has already ensured that the government must allocate enough money for education. The constitution says that 20 percent of the budget must go to education, which is strengthened by our education law, which stipulates the 20 percent spending does not include teachers' salaries.
Here lies the problem. As teachers' salaries are not included in the calculation of the education budget, the government will never be able to meet its Constitutional obligation. Next year's education budget, for example, amounts to only 12.4 percent of the government's total spending. The government simply cannot increase its education spending to 20 percent because if it does so, it will jeopardize the whole budget. This means the government cannot do anything but break the law.
Therefore, we support a proposal from Vice President Jusuf Kalla to amend our education bill, to incorporate teachers' salaries into our education budget. If teachers' salaries, which total Rp 30 trillion, are included, it would automatically boost the government's education spending to 17.5 percent. By amending the education law, we help prevent the government from continuously breaking the law and hopefully end the controversy surrounding the education budget.
However, such big spending for education would not necessarily result in an improvement in education quality. It needs a lot of work in planning, implementation and oversight to make sure that the budgeted money goes to the right projects and right targets, especially those who cannot afford education. Only then would an increase in education spending mean an increase in quality.
Emmy Fitri, Jakarta
If the theories below are even close to being accurate, Aceh Governor Irwandi Yusuf must feel like he's being torn between two lovers these days.One theory says elements in the now-defunct Free Aceh Movement (GAM) are behind the burning and lowering of red-and-white flags in Lhokseumawe, with the apparent romantic motive of rekindling old sentiment against the Unitary State of Indonesia Republic.
Another theory, still with the pro-independence movement as the main character, says repentant guerrillas are dissatisfied with Irwandi's performance or, in a larger context, the Indonesian government, which is moving the tsunami-battered Aceh's economic growth at a snail's pace. Though formerly a respected intelligence commander in the movement, Irwandi is now seen as the representative of the Indonesian government. Thus, the symbol of a statehood in the province, the national flag, is the right object on which to vent anger.
But on the other hand, regardless of his present political status, Irwandi can still be seen as an integral part of the movement, so whatever alleged wrongdoings are committed by GAM members, he will get the blame. His critics too will quickly ride such issues to damage his integrity. In a recent discussion, former president Abdurrahman Wahid even said Irwandi was responsible for the flag burning and asked the central government to dismiss him from his current post, which he won through a democratic election last December.
Abdurrahman may have reasons for pointing his finger at the governor and so to may the millions of Indonesians who are irked by the flag burning. Although, to be honest, Indonesians have often seen flags from other countries -- like the U.S. Stars and Stripes and Australia's flag -- being burned and stepped on by protesters in many rallies here, but few people have ever complained about such activities, and many agree with them.
But when they see or hear about our national flag being burned, anger inevitably sets in. With the case of the flag burnings in Aceh, the public anger, though not creating a nationwide uproar, is not beyond belief. But with Aceh's complex backdrop the theories mentioned earlier are far too simple to fabricate.
By nature and by law Aceh is definitely delicate. Is it that easy? Most likely no, because there is another theory that might banish them all at once. A few days before Aug. 17 -- in the same week as the incidents in northern Sumatra -- Papuan students studying at Yogyakarta and Denpasar, Bali came under a series of threats from an unknown group of young men for not hoisting the national flag in front of their dormitories. Whose work was this? The likelihood is it will turn out to be an ultranationalist group or paranoid one. But that's an entirely different story, because what happened to the Papuan students drew little attention from the media, while the Aceh incidents have been well brought up to national scale.
What happened in Yogyakarta and Denpasar died down the day after Independence Day. Although different in nature, whoever was behind what happened in Lhokseumawe, Yogyakarta and Denpasar has picked the right object, the flag, to stir chaos. The "Merah Putih" is a symbol of the independence heroes' truthfulness and courage in fighting for freedom. White represents their integrity while the red, as in blood, constitutes courage and their sacrifice for the nation.
The philosophy and ensuing values behind the flag are perceived so deeply that it has been considered sacred to a certain degree in terms of how people must raise it and the days on which it must be raised. Upholding the philosophy and values of the red-and-white has been perceived a crucial. At least once a year, people must reflect on the history of the nation and the freedom fought for by independence fighters.
The government has always allocated billions of rupiah for recruiting the best high school students from across the country to be militantly trained as flag carriers in the flag-raising ceremony at the State Palace to remember the independence proclamation read out by founding father Sukarno.
Some people do know what the red and white symbolize, what the cloth stands for. And whoever is burning and pulling down the flags in Aceh knows the kind of reaction they can spark. A nation's flag epitomizes the existence of a sovereign state. Without a flag, no country is represented and without a flag, anyone can come and claim the territory. The culprits in Aceh want to see the government, the public and the media blaming GAM or Irwandi. But is it that simple?
Another theory -- which has been proved in the past in other areas with simmering separatist sentiments -- is that the country's intelligence unit is using an old-fashioned method to test the local waters. Rumors have it that a small unit of intelligence operatives has been activated in Aceh and nothing has been done by the central government despite reports and complaints made by the local government. As the police investigation is still underway, it's too early to conclude anything. But if the police manage to capture the culprits, question them and announce their success to the media, the rest of the story is not too hard to predict.
If the last theory is closes to realist, does Irwandi need to burn his bridges? If he does, it may not be because of the flag incidents. The governor may have played a role in the events prior to the Independence Day celebrations by not speaking aloud what he had seen and heard about the activated intelligence unit. Suspicions of disgruntled soldiers or angry military units who lost friends in the years of fighting with GAM or merely lost their opportunity to earn more money from local merchants, are scattered facts that wait to be pieced together. In that case, Irwandi doesn't have to be torn between two lovers.
Apparently, if the theory proves to be true, an institution or two should go back to square one and devise new ways to measure stability. For once, for the greater good, the institutions must give peace a chance.
The author is a staff writer for The Jakarta Post.
Roy Voragen, Bandung
Intuition many hold that pluralism in society is a destabilizing factor for democracy. There seems to be only so much diversity a society can handle. Many Indonesians fear that ethnic, linguistic, cultural and religious plurality could cause disintegration or even "balkanization".
In recent years violence has occurred in Aceh, Poso, Ambon, Papua, Bali and Jakarta -- this list is indeed long. Secular Indonesians fear that applying (parts) of sharia in some cities, for example, endangers inclusive citizenship as enshrined in the 1945 Constitution. Religious people, on the other side, fear that sexed-up trash on TV will morally corrupt the young.
While discussions on Islam, Pancasila and secularism are important for the future of Indonesia's democracy, there is another more pressing problems: structural poverty. All this talk about public morality seems to obscure the economic fact that 100 million Indonesians have to live on Rp 20,000 (about US$2) a day, and 10 million of them on less than Rp 10,000 per day (these numbers are from the World Bank; see
The differences between Muslims and non-Muslims, or religious people and secularists are not as important as the gap between the rich and the poor. It is this gap that could endanger the democratization of this country. Can a democracy flourish when such huge inequality persists?
It is possible with Rp 20,000 a day to get enough food to live. But living is more than eating. For the poor their situation becomes much like a curse, which stays in the family for at least seven generations, because it is impossible to educate their children. Public education is still very expensive, despite the government's continuous efforts to allocate more money for the sector.
Housing is also complex. As architect John Turner once said: "Housing is a verb." There are many trade-offs to be dealt with. Illegal settlements are seldom free. These settlements are illegal because the occupants lack land tenure -- and thus the legal security that comes with it -- but the occupants have to pay "rent" to get an informal form of safety.
And the farther away from a city center the cheaper housing is, the more money has to be spent on transportation. Sometimes it is easier to sleep in the open air, close to -- possible -- jobs.
Toll roads, high-rise apartment buildings and malls are seen as essential parts of modern life. Urban kampungs have been and are being demolished to make way for these developments. These urban settlements are seen by the rich as the sour spots of a city, and modernization is used as justification for their demolition.
Is the (global) market the only answer? And what is then the role of the Indonesian state? The language of the market sounds fair: you will have a chance to succeed if you use your talents and work hard. In short, meritocracy.
Meritocracy is a society where socio-economic status is derived from one's own efforts and capabilities. In such a society one should not get rich because of one's family name, or skin color, or religion, or place of birth or party membership.
In Indonesia, though, unemployment (masked by underemployment) is so massive that a meritocratic is simply unfeasible. Even with good macro-economic prospects most Indonesians will not enjoy the -- literal -- fruits of these prospects. This leads to a widening gap between the rich and the poor, and it can also lead to conflicts (for instance the returning occurrence of anti-Chinese violence).
Not all poor are, of course, jobless. A job is no guarantee that one can escape poverty. A poor person with talent will have difficulty prospering. It will be very hard to leave the kampung behind. If the ideal of meritocracy is the hard currency it will seem as if poverty is one's own fault: One is just too lazy to make use of one's own capacities. But without networks one cannot advance. It is easy to stigmatize the poor, and to see them as an amorphous mass that can be pushed around.
Poverty is indeed a major threat to democracy, perhaps even more than fundamentalism. The writer lives in Jakarta and teaches philosophy at Parahyangan University
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
For the sake of democracy, the Press Council has asked the government to cancel its plan to revise Law No. 40 of 1999 on the press because it could restore the government's control over the mass media.Bambang Harymurti and Abdullah Alamudi, members of the council, said Tuesday it was important to preserve the freedom of the press gained during the reform era. Bambang said it was essential to protect the freedom of the press. Abdullah said, "In a democratic country, the government doesn't have the right to interfere with the public's affairs". "And the press is a part of the public."
It has been widely reported over the past two months the Information and Communication Ministry was planning to revise the Press Law. The ministry was to insert articles which would allow the government to close down any mass media company that violated those articles. In the new bill, paragraph 2 of article 4 stipulates the government has the right to shut down media companies that publish news or pictures which are unethical, threaten national security or disparage certain religions.
Some activists fear a revision of the law would take the country back to the authoritarian rule that existed in the Soeharto period when the media was under tight censorship control and any criticism of the government was made difficult. Abdullah said the revision of the Press Law was not really urgent. "(The law) isn't perfect, but it's the best (press law) in our country's history," he said. "As long as the government controls the press, it will only have one news source, which is the government."
The new bill also stipulates in paragraph 4 of article 9, the prerequisite to founding a media company is government permission. In a democratic country, the press is supposed to act as a watchdog, or functions as the Fourth Estate, for the government -- the legislative, executive and judicial branches.
"The press should be controlled by the public because it is the extension of the public's hands," Abdullah said. The government did not need to control the press as the public itself would choose the most reputable media, while the "rubbish" would not survive, he said. According to Press Council data, only 30 percent of the media in Indonesia is making profit.
"Since the reform era in 1998, more than 1,000 publications have ceased," Abdullah said. "Compare that to 57 years of both Soekarno and Soeharto, when 400 publications were closed down. "The public isn't stupid," he said. Legal expert Bambang Widjojanto said the government had the right to draft a bill on the press as long as it did not threaten the freedom of the press. "The press plays an important role in checks and balances," Bambang said. "The public also needs the freedom of the press so people (have access to) important and relevant information."
Koesparmono Irsan, former member of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), said the freedom of the press was a part of the people's sovereignty and it was very important the government guaranteed it. Djadjat Sudradjat, deputy news director of Media Indonesia daily, said the media was currently facing a systematic threat from the legislative, executive and judicial branches. "The press might need the help of a legal aid center," Djadjat said.

JAKARTA: The civil lawsuit filed by the Attorney General's Office (AGO) against former president Soeharto's Supersemar Foundation is likely to continue after a series of out-of-court meetings ended in a deadlock, said Junior Attorney General for State Administrative Crimes Alex Sato Bya on Tuesday.
"The meetings ended (with) both camps maintaining their rigid positions, especially regarding the money involved and the special letter of approval from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (for the Attorney General to carry on with the prosecution)," Alex told Before the case commenced, judges asked both camps to settle out of court. Initial hearings for the Rp 11.5 trillion lawsuit started Aug. 9.
One final attempt to settle is slated for Thursday. Soeharto's lawyers have questioned the validity of Yudhoyono's letter, saying it was issued to the then-Attorney General Abdul Rahman Saleh. The case is being tried under the current AGO, Hendarman Supandji.
The office said the letter was issued to the Attorney General without mentioning his name. -- JP
Muhammad Nafik, Jakarta
Friday was the 62nd anniversary of Indonesian independence. We celebrated it as usual, with flag-raising ceremonies, speeches and games as well as other community festivities nationwide.The celebrations reminded us of how this plural Indonesia was built into the prosperous nation that spans Sabang in Aceh on Sumatra island to Merauke in Papua province, the most eastern part of the country.

"Unity in diversity" is the key to the soul of this huge nation's survival amid separatist challenges from community groups in several regions disadvantaged by the country's socio-economic development. A serious threat to national integration is also emerging now from Islamist groups that have been campaigning for the enforcement of sharia in the world's third-largest democracy, after India and the United States. Yet, many of us, the government in particular, seem to be ignorant that increasing fundamentalism and sectarianism could pose a real danger to national integration and development. This year's independence anniversary was a timely moment to renew and strengthen the nation's commitment to the unity-in-diversity principle and pluralism mandated in the state ideology Pancasila and the Constitution.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono alluded to this issue in his state-of-the-nation address Thursday, saying the four basic pillars of the state -- Pancasila, the 1945 Constitution, the Unitary State of Indonesia and pluralism -- are non-negotiable and final. But the statement lacked clarity and weight since the President failed to unveil specific measures to deal with Islamist movements that offer sectarian ideologies to replace Pancasila and reject democracy. It would have been laudable if the President had used the annual address to heed the repeated calls from the Muslim moderates for the central government to revoke the sharia ordinances being enforced in some regencies and provinces across the nation.

In this case Yudhoyono, who is likely to run for reelection in 1999, appeared hesitant to get tough on sectarian groups, fearing he would lose support from Muslim voters. The fundamentalism issue is more relevant for a serious discussion today as trans-national Islamist groups, including Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, are increasingly propagating national disintegration through their campaigns for sharia and an Islamic state. Five days prior to Independence Day, Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia convened in Jakarta for a conference on Aug. 12 to call for a caliphate, khilafah in Arabic, or an Islamic state to govern the world. The hardline group, banned in several Middle Eastern countries, aims to unite all Muslim countries in a caliphate, ruled by Islamic law and led by an elected head of state or caliph.

It says the caliphate, which was applied during the early years of Islam after the Prophet Muhammad, should be revived because it is the only system that enables Muslims to enforce sharia comprehensively. Failure or refusal to establish a caliphate is a "big sin" for Muslims, the group claims. At the conference Hizbut Tahrir spokesman Muhammad Ismail Yusanto blasted secularism as "the mother of all destruction" on earth, and called for an end to it by establishing a caliphate based on the prophetic tradition.

The International Caliphate Conference got significant attraction worldwide as it received wide coverage from the foreign media. Since the massive rally held at the national Bung Karno sports stadium attracted some 80,000 Hizbut Tahrir supporters, it created an image that suggested Indonesian moderate Islam was now shifting to fundamentalism. The claim gained justification with the presence at the forum of prominent Muslim scholar Din Syamsuddin, who leads the country's second largest Muslim organization Muhammadiyah, and the once popular preacher Abdullah "Aa Gym" Gymnastiar. What is called a caliphate is merely a historical romanticism by Hizbut Tahrir because it is not be viable in the changing and modern Muslim world.

There are no authentic references in the Koran and the Sunnah or throughout Islamic history for Muslims to establish an Islamic state and enforce sharia as understood by some Muslims here today. The term of khalifah is only mentioned in Verse 30 of Sura Baqara, concerning the creation of humans on earth. Interpreting this verse, most classical Muslim scholars said the mandate of khalifah on earth is not to establish a caliphate but to ensure a prosperous life in the world (in any democratic political system). The caliphate, according to famous Muslim historian Ibnu Khaldun, as quoted by noted Indonesian scholar Azyumardi Azra, ended with the deaths of the four al-Khulafa al-Rasyidun -- Abu Bakar, Umar bin Khattab, Utsman bin Affan and 'Ali bin Abi Thalib. And the Islamic political entities -- the dynasties of Umaiyah, Abbasiyah and Utsmaniyah -- which existed after the al-Khulafa al-Rasyidun period, were not caliphs, but Islamic kingdoms or sultanates, Azyumardi further said in an opinion piece published Saturday in a national newspaper.

In this way, Hizbut Tahrir's campaign for the revival of a caliphate to reign over the world is reasonably questionable and misleading since the idea has lost its historical context and textual references in Islam. But the Aug. 8 conference at the Bung Karno stadium should remain a grim concern for all of us because the event will give further weight to the movement for the enforcement of sharia in Indonesia by the Hizbut Tahrir, the Indonesian Mujahidin Council of former terror convict Abu Bakar Ba'asyir and other Islamist groups including the Prosperous Justice Party. Any claim that the state can enforce sharia should be completely rejected because the idea undermines democracy and endangers pluralism, thus triggering disintegration. What the government should do is to join hands with the moderate Muslim groups to perpetually counter the campaign with concrete action to oppose such an anti-pluralist idea.

Public debate is to be promoted consistently among all levels of Muslim communities, focusing on the idea that Islam should stay away from the state and that sharia is an individual obligation, not a state one. The author is a staff writer at The Jakarta Post.

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