Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: The government hopes to reduce the number of poor people by 50% in five years

Laksamana.Net - The government hopes to reduce the number of poor people by 50% in five years, from 36 million at present to 18 million in 2010, says a senior minister.

"The number of the poor in the country now reached 36.1 million, which is 1.6% of the total population of 210 million, down from 37.34 million in 2003, or 17.42% of the total population," Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Alwi Shihab was quoted as saying Tuesday (17/5/05) by state news agency Antara.

He made the statement after presenting a Rp200 million soft loan to a group of housewives running a micro-business enterprise in Rancamaya, Bogor regency, West Java province.

The minister said the government would reduce the number of the poor under a loan program for small and medium businesses.

He said the government had increased the allocation of funds for the poverty-alleviation program this year by 29.4% to Rp24.4 trillion.

Most of the program's loans had gone to the poor in urban areas last year and therefore this year the assistance would be given to the poor in rural areas, he added.

Shihab said the government had been cooperating with non-governmental organizations in its efforts to empower community institutions, in conducting skills training for the poor and eradication of obstacles in farming development in villages to reduce unemployment and poverty.

At two-day national conference on poverty eradication held late last month in Jakarta, participants called for increased transparency and accountability to improve the provision of services to the poor.

Organized by the World Bank and Coordinating Ministry for People's Welfare, the conference focused on several of the principal services that the poor use, such as health, education, water and sanitation.

"When communities know what they are supposed to receive, they can hold program providers accountable to deliver these services," the World Bank said in a statement.

"The case was illustrated by the community program for the provision of water in Lumajang, East Java. Likewise, transparency and information about the budget increases the accountability of government, as in the case of Bandung, where an NGO widely disseminates information about the budget to the public," it said.

The conference also discussed the importance of tackling issues in the civil service in order to improve delivery of services. "Participants discussed the need for merit based recruitment and promotion. Current regulations also impede local governments' flexibility in choosing the staff they need to deliver quality services. Also, there is a need to clarify who is responsible for the delivery of what services in today's decentralized Indonesia. Often it is not clear whether it is the responsibility of the central government or of the local government to provide a service; and there is a need to coordinate between ministries for the delivery of essential services such as water provision," said the statement.

The World Bank said it was generally agreed that the targeting of current programs was inadequate to reaching the poor and that alternative systems need to be considered. "For instance, in water provision, it was discussed that due to the lack of investments in piped water connections, the poor currently pay more for clean water than the wealthy. It was mentioned they could save 16% of their costs if they have access to piped clean water, which is a significant sum for poor households."

A discussion of ministers at the end of the conference considered key issues to improving service delivery and how they applied to their sectors. "We want to create an Indonesia that is peaceful, just and prosperous. It is indeed a beautiful ideal but it is a huge challenge for all of us, especially the government," said National Development Planning Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati.

"When we talk about poverty, it becomes the problem of all constituents in the country, and thus should become the main priority of all programs being implemented by the government," she added.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla acknowledged the need to find solutions. "We are here because we have a common commitment, because we stick to our constitution to achieve public welfare, therefore we have to achieve it... There are schools that are falling down, no chairs, no classes, etc. We need to solve the problems regarding health, public health facilities. The problem of poverty should be solved comprehensively," he said.

"Poverty does not only mean low income, but also means low access to education and health services, water and sanitation," said Shihab.

"This conference is a manifestation of government's commitment to invent more effective ways of providing services to the poor. The achievement of the Millennium Development Goals - which is a commitment of heads of state to human rights to access basic services - is highly related to our efforts to fight poverty and is now our main priority in national development," he added.

The World Bank said conference highlighted several key factors that have explained success in service delivery to the poor, namely better targeting of the poor, improving capacity and changing the incentive structure within the civil service, giving the poor a multiplicity of choice of services as well as a voice to improve accountability of providers.

"Empowering citizens creates incentives for service providers to make available quality services for the poor. In Polewali Mandar, South Sulawesi, for example, households' participation in school management has improved the effectiveness and responsiveness of the education system to the poor. In Pemalang, East Java, vouchers provided to poor women has increased their access to pre-natal care."

The conference also stressed the need to bring resources under the management of those who actually deliver the services. Adequate block grants to schools in East Java have increased enrollment of poor students by reducing the costs that the parents need to pay for education.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) has said Indonesia must boost its economic growth to 6% in order to alleviate unemployment and poverty by creating more than two million jobs annually.

An estimated 110 million Indonesians live on less than a dollar a day and are at risk of becoming poorer if the nation fails to further improve economic growth.

The ILO says Indonesia needs to boost public infrastructure through a labor-based approach and should maintain policies that favor small and medium enterprises.

According to ILO data, half the world's workers - some 1.4 billion people - are trapped in grinding poverty unable to earn enough to lift themselves and their families above the $2 a day poverty line. It says this figure could be reduced if policies zero in on improving labor productivity and creating jobs.

Last December's tsunami disaster destroyed the livelihoods of an estimated 1 million persons in Indonesia and Sri Lanka.