Thursday, August 31, 2006

Robbery of Public Space, in the Name of Poverty?

I am quite disturbed by Media Indonesia's editorial today. What's interesting is that I agree with most of the facts and suggestions presented. It's just the tone that bugs me. Consider these phrases (my own translation):
In the name of poverty, informal street vendors/hawkers are free to rob the public of its right to streets.

They have become dictators.
Would I be out of place to guess that Media Indonesia's editors are personal cars users? Hmm.. OK, comments follow:

Why don't you do a little research on the relationship between street vendors and the other party in the "conspiracy", namely state apparatus. See who's the "dictator" now?
It's time to make a rule, for example every mall should provide space for street vendors.
What I heard is: there already is such rule. But many mall developers would rather give money to the government (legally, that is), instead of providing space for the informal sector in their property. It's similar to the 1:3:6 rule for housing developers (for every high-income housing unit built, a developer should develop 3 middle-income units, and 6 low-income units). Many high-income housing developers would also rather give money to the government rather than build middle and low-income housing themselves. But do we see enough economic space and life space for the poor in the city? So, in whose hands does the problem lie in now?

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Monday, August 28, 2006

The cost of freedom (apparently not that expensive)

How much money do you think you have to own (or is 'enough') to enable you to be 'free'? For Indra, an ex-taxi driver in Jakarta, it's 11 million rupiahs (~ USD 1,200). [Some of you may be saying... "hey, I have that kind of money!"]

Indra's story was told by Martinus, another taxi driver from the same company, whose taxi I rode in yesterday.

Martinus told that Indra is a fine, honest, very-likeable man. One day, a drunk got in to Indra's taxi and left a small luggage on the backseat. Later, Indra opened the luggage to look for an address or telephone number. He found it alright, but to his amazement, he also found 300 million rupiahs (~ USD 33,300) of cash. Being an honest person, Indra gave the luggage to the taxi 's management. The management then called the person who lost the luggage. In short, the person came, claimed his luggage, (maybe gave some money to the management), and gave 11 million rupiahs to Indra.

Indra was happy as hell. He immediately said goodbye to Jakarta, returned to his village in Kabupaten Semarang, and opened up a restaurant. Today (3-4 years later), he'd sometimes come to Jakarta to see his old cabby mates and tell stories of his successful restaurant and happy life. Sometimes he'd give money to those who are needing it.

Martinus was 'honest' as well. He told me, "if I found that kind of cash left on my backseat, I wouldn't give it to the management. I'd return the taxi to its pool, say goodbye to my cabby mates, and run away with the money."

"And what would you do?" I asked.

"I'd return to my village in the Kupang area (in NTT), and open a restaurant as well. My wife is a great cook!"

Wouldn't you be interested to know how many people are actually living & working in big cities ONLY because they have no other choice? Despite all the talk of how great cities are, its important role in the economy, and how we should support villagers/the poor who want to come to the city (and I do believe in these), it's heartwarming to hear stories like Indra's and Martinus'. They make me think again, and again: "am I doing /promoting the right thing?" They keep me in praxis.

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Friday, August 25, 2006

In Defense of Ghost-blogging

A. Fatih Syuhud criticizes those who blog anonymously (apparently this is not the first time). I think there are many legitimate reasons to support those who chose to "ghost blog." Unfortunately, only one seem to be acknowledged by Fatih: security.

So I'm putting forward three points (not in order of importance) to refute his argument.

First point: about authority. What makes the Internet (including blogging) interesting for many people is that there are very few rules. For the large part, the Internet is (still) a free world. Sure there are ethics, but I think they should be applied forcefully only to issues that are damaging (such as spam), not issues such as "linking back," as Fatih said here:
this is one of unwritten conventional rule in blogger world: whenever someone link your blog, you're obliged to link it back.
Since when is blogging full of "rules" and "obligations"? Conventions, maybe. Consider this: saying "thank you" is not common in many Indonesian villages (unless you actually give them something), but we'd more likely get a smile or a nod instead. Or, my Japanese friend told me that there is no "please" in Japanese language. Or, I had a hard time finding the Javanese expression for "excuse me."

Second point: about Narcisism. I'm NOT apposed to it, but isn't that a bias in itself? Delicate, Delightful, Delicious said (my own translation):
People say, welcome to the era of narcisism. This saying refers to blogs and their increasing quantity and popularity.
Fatih is acknowledging this just fine, by saying
Indonesian bloggers tend to make their blogs and their names known in the google world and are proud to see their traffic achieves PG (page ranking) four plus. ...
I hardly found any Indonesian bloggers whose pictures, true full names and CVs are not attached in their blogs.
And this:
blogger is an ego-driven medium, a self-publishing means and a self-satisfying "lust" of own-self existence. Let's be honest about it.
I agree, to a certain extent. But I think your statements may be pushing it too far (they don't apply to everyone). And some bloggers may NOT like to hear that blogging is identical with narcisism.

Third point, let me support nad's note on the issue of objectivity. As Nad wrote, there are two opinions on objectivity:
1. a work cannot possibly have been made in void and thus better understanding can derive from understanding and knowledge of the background of the very person behind the work itself.

2. the work itself should be the main focus of attention. Once a work is released to public domain, it thus becomes public and its interpretation therefore rests with the eyes of each beholder.
Let me ask Fatih: If you knew beforehand that a post is written by an anonymous foreign blogger, then would you view it "differently" than a post written in the same tone by an open-identity Indonesian?

If such post is critical of Indonesia, then would you think that the former is objective and credible, while the latter is biased? If such post is critical of the foreigner's country of origin, then would you think that the foreigner is objective, and the Indonesian is biased?

We can apply this to many things: nationality, religion, gender, what have you. The truth is, not every person is a fundamentalist. I am a Muslim, but at certain times I can be very critical of other Muslims, and other times supportive. Why? Because another part of me is liberal, and another part socialist, etc., which may - sometimes - contradict with Islam. I am pro marginal communities, though I come from a well-off family. I work in a field that champions the use of ICT and hails "the death of geography," but is a fan of urban studies and learned that geography/space is still alive and kicking (ICT even makes geography more important than ever!). I'm sure I'm not the only one who lives with inner contradictions.

I'm sure Fatih means well. But hope this contributes to keeping the internet and blogging a free world.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

To Be a Tax Payer in Indonesia

Triggered by the Tax Department's slogan: "wise people pay taxes," I've finally decided that I'm going to get an NPWP (taxpayer identification number), start paying my income tax, and be a wise guy.

(okay, I'm lying. I did a gig for some agency early this year, and a month ago the agency's head told me that he needs to include my NPWP and a copy of my ID card for reporting purposes. Hehe... not so wise after all!)

But anyways, I HAVE been thinking about getting a proper NPWP for a while now. It was James Surowiecki's book, "The Wisdom of Crowds," that really triggered me. Being a fan of the Vicious/Virtuous Circle theory, I immediately bought in to Surowiecki's thought: If enough people pay taxes, then more will follow. If NOT enough people pay them, then eventually those who pay will stop paying altogether. No one wants to be the odd dufus who pays taxes while most other people who don't can get away easily.

Someone then told me, "It's easy to get an NPWP. It won't take you a day at the tax office."

"Okay," I thought excitedly, "I want to be one of the dufuses that lead the way for change." Viva pioneer dufuses! So today I went to the Tax Office of City of East Jakarta.

It turned out that to apply for an NPWP, I have to include a Letter of Business Location (Surat Keterangan Domisili Usaha).

"But my business does NOT have a location." I told the nice lady. "I go and work wherever an employer would need me to work." She told me because I'm applying for a personal NPWP, in administrative terms that would be equivalent as if I'm working from home.

"So how do I get a Surat Keterangan Domisili Usaha?" She told me that I'd have to go to my village/kelurahan office to get one.

Okay. Since I thought this is one day that I've put aside to deal with this business, so happily I head towards my village office. But after getting off the bus at the main road, and walking about 500 meters on a small road in the glaring sun, I found that the office is being torned down. There's nothing but debris!

"The office is being redeveloped," said the man in the warung next door. To go to the temporary office, I have to walk back 500 meters in the glaring sun and catch another bus. There was no sign whatsoever at the main road that the village office is not at the usual place anymore!

Finally I met the Lurah (village head), and he said there are several documents that I need to prepare to apply for that.
  1. An endorsement letter from my RT and RW (the small and larger neighborhood units that makes up a Village)
  2. A copy of my home's land certificate
  3. A copy of my home's latest building tax (PBB) receipt.
  4. And of course, a copy of my ID card and Family Card (KK)

You see, RWs and RTs are quasi-formal entities. There IS a head of RW and a head RT (from whom I must have letters of endorsements), but no one is really holding the posts full-time, and there are no RW and RT offices. So the heads "work" from their homes, in their "spare time." Which means I have to come knock on their home doors later in the evening to ask for the letter.

Hmm... It turned out that getting an NPWP is not a one-day-done business after all. I don't know, maybe after I've collected all the needed documents, then it will be a very fast process at the East Jakarta Tax Office. But we'll see. I'll update you on the process.


In the evening, after going to my RT for the letter, I realized that, "Hey, doesn't the Tax Department now has an online facility?" And surely there it is. The site actually has an "e-registration" page! But can I actually do this all online?

So I filled out all of the forms, and in the end. This note appears:
"Thanks for applying. Please print these documents, and send it with other requirements to your tax office. Requirements:
- Copy of ID card
- Letter of business location."
There it is. The instruction. Right at the end of my day. Still, I need to go to the RT and RW, and Kelurahan, and then I can send the documents to the tax office. Hey, that's saving one out of four trips. Not bad, for a newbie country in ICT application. If only I had checked the web first!

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Saturday, August 19, 2006

A universalist reflection on Indonesia’s independence

During my college years, Indonesia's independence day celebration every August 17th was always coupled with ITB students rallying to say that "we're NOT really independent." Of course, those were the days of Suharto; and they were criticizing Suharto's regime. Now, after ten or so years have passed, what does independence day mean to me? Apparently I've put less weight on nationalism, and more weight on independence as a prerequisite for interdependence.

Why do many people think nationalism is so important? When I was in L.A., independence day celebrations at the Consulate were often coupled by protests by the pro-independence Mollucans and Papuans. I also remember participating in an AMARC conference in Jakarta last year, where a participant from Timor Leste explained how proud she was of Timor Leste's independence from Indonesia. Whereas in Indonesia, so-called nationalists raged about Timor Timur’s break-out. Can nationalism hurt? Apparently so.

I am NOT an advocate of disintegration. But if a certain people think they can live better off by themselves, and not beneath another's wings, then why not? Who are we to say that they should be a part of us when the feeling's not mutual? Nationalism is a state of mind. Anderson said that it's "imagined." After Indonesia gained independence, Sukarno had to work hard to build the nation. And to a large extent, he was successful. But time moves on, leaders change, policies change, distribution of wealth gets to be unfair, and administration corrupts. Who is then to blame for the thinning of Indonesia's nationalism? Nationalism, as a state of mind, should be earned, not imposed on.

Why am I so lenient on nationalism?
  1. because I believe today is the era of interdependence, not independence. However, to be interdependent, each and every component involved must be essentially independent (this is from Covey, and often reminded to me by my friend Alex Lai). I think Indonesia (as a region) and any other region in the world would work better with the principle of interdependence. To achieve this, if some areas feel that they need to have their independence first, then be it. Any area that breaks out from Indonesia (given the break-out was peaceful and left no grudge) would eventually need to cooperate with Indonesia. In the end, they would still be a part of "us," just wearing a different "jacket."
  2. because first and foremost I care about the people, then secondly, the country. Humanism, brotherhood, sisterhood, or whatever word fits this concept, is universal; it knows no boundaries.

Having said that, independence (aka freedom) has its own virtues. Amartya Sen said that this should be the core of "development" (Development as Freedom). Sick of enomomics-oriented developmentalists putting too much emphasis on economic growth as the core of development, Sen rebutted by saying that the goal and the means of development should be five freedoms:

  1. political freedoms
  2. social facilities
  3. economic opportunities
  4. transparency guarantees
  5. protective security

By achieving one type of freedom, we increase our chances of achieving another. In essence, these freedoms enable people "to live a life that they value, and not a life that others value." Unfortunately, as Enda pointed out, for the poor, there are obstructions to achieve these freedoms. Thus the poor face unfreedoms which need to be removed.

So this weekend, I celebrate Indonesia's independence day to remind me how:

  • I am proud to be a part of the Indonesian people
  • I, as an Indonesian citizen, knowingly or unknowingly, may impose unfreedoms on other peoples, and I am sorry for that
  • many people of the world are still facing tremendous unfreedoms, maybe not so much because of their nationality, but more likely because of their race, class, gender, and religion. If these people form a nation, then that’s the “nation” I want to be associated with
  • by enabling people to achieve freedoms, they can live a life that really matters to them, based on their own standards and measures. Then, together we can build an interdependent relationship that's genuine and long-lasting.

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Friday, August 18, 2006

Low Income Flats: More Polemics

Ever since Jusuf Kalla's statement, low-income vertical housing (flats) are gaining attention. Jakarta's Deputy Governor Fauzi Bowo rebutted the VP's call to build 20-storey flats in all cities with more than 2 million. He said, "to build flats we need a wide area. We just don't have that kind of land in the middle of the city." Fathi R Shidiq from the Parliament exacerbated the logic of this whole argument by saying "if the government forces its will to build low-income flats in the middle of the city, then get ready to confront the urban poor."

What interesting statements. Here's my response:
  1. To Mr. Bowo: Isn't vertical housing invented as a solution to the issue of land shortage? Your reason to disagree with flats is all the more reason to build it.
  2. To Mr. Shidiq: Won't these flats be built FOR the urban poor? If they can still stay in the same strategic area of the city, with secure tenure, then why should they oppose it? Unless you're saying that usually what happens is that the poor previously living in the area get evicted, and that the flats in the end are occupied by the middle class...
It seems like building these flats is not as simple as the VP may have thought, eh?

1) Pak Darrundono, in another article, provided the more institutional and cultural challenges of flats provision. These include such flats being too product oriented, too expensive, exclusive to the private sector and tenants, weak on management, opposes the principle of government as "enabler," transplanted into Indonesia from other cultures, are difficult to accept by the low-income population since to live in such flats, hey have to undergo a sudden change of culture.
2) Another article profiles Jakarta's attempt to redevelop the Pulomas flats in Jakarta into a middle class settlement.
3) Photo above portrays the chaotic utility (water) pipes in the Penjaringan Flats.

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Hate Cartoons and Double-standards

An international cartoon exhibition on the hollocaust is being conducted at a museum in Tehran, Iran. Republika reported that the event is to get even at "the West" for the Muhammad cartoons on the Danish daily Jyland-Posten, or at least to challenge the double standard applied to free speech when dealing with religious issues.

Earlier this year (shortly after the Muhammad cartoons), Saskia Sassen wrote that in a time of war, "free speech" is a contested issue. Indeed, this condition has made us brought in to "a new frontier-zone."
Frontier-zones are spaces of imbrication. They are not lines where civilisations clash. They are areas of hybridity. What liberal democracies are experiencing is the limits of their closure and of the presumption that the world should like the way they look.
So what are the boundaries of "free speech" and "hate speech"? Even in the U.S., these boundaries have been defined only recently, and "through struggle." Still, double standards apply. Masoud Shojai, head of the Iranian Cartoonist Association said, "They can write whatever they please about our Prophet (Muhammad, PBUH). But when one person questioned about the Hollocaust, they are fined, even imprisoned." Republika reported that David Irving, an English historian, and Frederick Toben, an Australian hostorian, have had to stay in the cells for being skeptical about the hollocaust.

Many discussions about this issue, such as shown here, just proves that a particular issue may be a laughing matter for one person (a "light" issue), while at the same time it's hurtful (a "serious" issue) for another person.

For me, intentionally hurting anyone's feelings and beliefs (not just in terms of religion, but also race, gender, etc) is a mean act. In this case, I consider the anti-Islam, anti-Semit, anti-gay, white supremacists, and other fundamentalists mean. But imposing a double standard to cover one's own fundamentalism, that's hypocricy, and it may well be meaner.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

On Local wisdoms

The best take on local wisdoms I've read lately comes from the arts scene.

Last Sunday, Kompas featured Sardono Kusumo, a well-respected Indonesian dancer. Sardono re-examined (or rather 'day-dreamed'/ngelamun) about Indonesia's geographic position in the Pacific Ring of Fire and what it means for its civilization. He thought that the term "tanah air" (literally meaning "soil and water"), that Sukarno coined as a loose alternative for the word "country," does not only signify the conceptual, but also the real.

During the era of classic Indonesian kingdoms, the locations of these kingdoms move about, probably due to earthquake and tsunami impacts. The partly-destructed and burried condition of Borobudur and Prambanan temples at the time they were founded by the Dutch may also strengthen this hypothesis. The term "tanah air" thus may have been a call to Indonesia to give proper attention to its soil and water, as her life depends much on them.
In that case, should (Indonesian) modernity be redefined?

"Yes, because much (of it) contradicts the character of where we build lives with such soil and water."
Sardono's picture taken from Asialink, Univ. of Melbourne.

In another article, the daily profiled an exhibition titled "Understanding Merapi," in which the Merapi Community calls for better understanding of the different perceptions when dealing with the volcano.
For thousands of years harmony has been created between the Merapi community and the volcano through a mutual way of life. The people gain their livelihood from Merapi and, in turn, the mountain's nature is preserved by the people. This bond between human and nature was destructed during the evacuation phases. The sensitivity of people's intuition were put aside because they were considered irrational.
This quote reminded me of one of my favorite books, Staying Alive, by Vandana Shiva. Here Shiva said that modernism and its brain-child, "development," has largely destructed nature, and marginalized women's ways of knowing, such as through intuition and story-telling, and replaced them with the so-called rationality.

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Sunday, August 13, 2006

When Indonesia's VP and Jakarta's Governor Exchange Statements about Low-income Flats

Yusuf Kalla was again premature, while Sutiyoso was again ignorant. This is my conclusion from reading Kompas's article, titled "Vice President: Cities with 2 Million (population) has to Build Low-income Flats."

After visiting the Cengkareng flats, Kalla said that in the city flats have to be at least 20 storeys tall, using lifts. He said, "the money can be from outside the country. Repayment is not a difficult issue, since it is a sure thing."

Okay, I get what he meant. But really, the issue is not that easy. Maybe our VP should read two of my previous posts, here and here. There ARE problems with repayment. A major one. So giving out statements like that was certainly premature.

Whereas Sutiyoso, interestingly, after explaining several areas in Jakarta where flats will be made, washed his hands off the issue by saying that the funds (to build) is impossible to come from the Jakarta municipality, "because, the people who come and live in the low-income flats come from the regions" (therefore not a Jakarta citizen, therefore none of his business).

Doesn't he know that these "orang daerah" (regional/village people who come to cities) are what makes a city competitive? Without them, it would be at least twice as expensive to buy food, to have a hair cut, to have our shoes shined, etc. Then, employers would have to pay higher wages for people working in Jakarta. If so, these employers would have to look for other alternative cities to invest in: those which offer cheaper services and labor.

This kind of attitude towards the urban working poor shows how the Governor of Jakarta is ignorant as to how a city's economy works.

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Saturday, August 12, 2006

Kompas: Sulak Sivaraksa on development and buddhism with a 'b'

Last week, Kompas featured an inspiring interview with Sulak Sivaraksa, a complete individual, playing various roles simultaneously. Or as Kompas puts it: a "philosopher, spiritualist, activist, social critique, and intellectual rebel, holding firmly to the Buddhist non-violence ethics," who has for many years become a "professional" pain for the Thai government.

Here are some quotes from the interview (my own translation):
As long as development is measured by material success, greed will continue to create tension, conflict, and humans will keep fighting for profit by hurting each other.

"We are pressured to satisfy our wants by buying, buying, owning, owning, and owning more. 'To own' becomes more important than 'to be'. Consumptivism has exploited the mind and body of the young generation."

The modern education system within capitalism produces cleverness without wisdom. "The values of education no longer love goodness, but competition." And in competition, people don't only face each other, but also nature.

"We should practice buddhism with the letter 'b', love life, peace, and reject violence."
And this is my favorite one, put at the end of the article:
"Life is fun, you know..."
I hear you, Acharn (teacher) Sulak.

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Friday, August 11, 2006

A plea from two diaster affected communities to help one another

The slow and tiring eruption of Mount Merapi seems to bring more impacts on the local community than many people realize. Some of the more important ones include lack of water, destruction of crops, and inability to plant - due to heavy ash coverage.

Two days ago, Sukiman, a community leader in the dusun of Deles, said that replanting (after current crops have been destroyed) will have to be held back until the rainy season starts. Given the weird weather condition in Indonesia nowadays, who knows when this will start. In the past it's been from October until April. This means the farming community will have no work and income for at least 4 months.

As for water, many wells and springs have been covered by ash so bad that it's impossible to extract clean water. Many communities in the Merapi slope now have to buy water. A 5,000 Liter container of water costs Rp 125,000 (USD 12.5), and a family (including their livestock!) can consume this for a maximum of ten days. This means an additional expenditure of 1.25 dollars a day per family. Quite significant.

So what can we do to help them? Simple. Let them help their fellow communities in Southern Yogyakarta and Klaten, whose houses were destroyed by the May 27th earthquake.

How so?
The Merapi community has access to an almost endless supply of bamboo. And the community members are experts in constructing a bamboo house. Twelve bamboo poles as posts, combined with walls made of bamboo sheets, and tin roofs, then we'd have a 4 by 6 meter temporary house that can last at least 4 years. Once the materials have been prepared, one Merapi resident can assemble an average of two houses per day. After we calculated the costs to gather and prepare materials, transport, and assembly, one house would cost about Rp 1.8 million (USD 180). Complete, all-in.

If someone is smart enough to allocate resources for this, then these are the benefits:
  1. Better social cohesion between the Merapi volcano community (majority farmers) and the communities affected by the earthquake (many craftmakers, farmers, and urban day workers)
  2. Communities affected by the earthquake will immediately be able to produce again, once they have a stable shelter.
  3. Communities affected by the volcano will be able to have funds/capital to replant again.

A three-in-one deal. Anyone interested?

PS: First photo taken from Jalin Merapi. Second photo from Saksigempa.

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