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What is the current poverty statistics? In Indonesia, the answer depends on whom you ask the question to? When you ask The World Bank, the poverty rate is quite substantial. On the other hand, when the question is directed to the government, the rate is quite small. Why the difference when both are referring to the Central Statistics Office data? This was the central question in the monthly discussion conducted at the Freedom Institute Indonesia.

Taking as the theme “Poverty: Statistics, Policies and Reality,” speakers in the discussion Budiman Sudjatmiko, a member of parliament from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), and Ms. Vivi Alatas, a senior economist with the World Bank office. Sitting as moderator of the discussion was Ari Perdana, lecturer and researcher at the Economics Faculty of the University of Indonesia.

Ms. Vivi Alatas in her presentation explained that the current national poverty rate has decreased by half from that of the 1990s. Except for the 2005 data, the rate has been decreasing. The current data shows more poverty happening in the rural area as compared to the urban area.

Ms. Alatas acknowledged that the Indonesian government’s poverty reduction program has been relatively successful. It is just that Indonesian socio-political condition as well as its natural climate conditions has made the people vulnerable to moving into poverty. In the absence of a clear security system, people easily fall into poverty in the face of natural disasters. Likewise, the uncertain socio-political conditions make some people suddenly become poor or otherwise rich.

Budiman Sudjatmiko agreed with Ms. Alatas on the vulnerable socio-political conditions that has created either sudden poverty or wealth. In his opinion, though, the number of poor or rich people has remained the same. It is the people that have changed places. He criticised the stark difference of the poverty rate issued by the World Bank (60%) and the Indonesian government (17.8%). The 42.2% difference is outrageous.

A member of the audience commented that poverty rate in the country is one of the commodity that politicians use during electoral campaign. When in opposition, they raise the number, while in power, the number become smaller by data manipulation.

The discussion was conducted on 28 April 2011 by the Freedom Institute with the support from the foundation’s Indonesia office. It is one of the series of discussions on Freedom, foundation’s effort of introducing liberal ideas to the public.

Nur Rachmi, Program Officer FNF Indonesia

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