Odious Debts

Letter to World Bank President from Indonesian Activists

February 18, 2000

To World Bank President James Wolfensohn

JAKARTA (JP): We feel we have met you, know you and dream the same things as you and many of us have faith in you. We have waited for your coming. We have sent letters to you but the response has been that you are too busy. We have wanted to meet you to discuss our problems and explain what you can do for us, but we are confronted by a wall. Every minute of your time has been organized for you and there is no space left for us.

Many important people will meet you and tell you how our economy can recover, how our government and banks can be restructured, how our democracy can be made to work, how our society can become “civil”, how you can help the poor with programs like the social safety net. We feel that your money and programs with their sophisticated technology, instruments and international and local experts impose new ways on us. We are scared that your money and programs, even with all your good intentions, will harm us.

Let us explain. You try to reach us but fail. You fail because you use the government, private consultants and companies as channels of communication to us. They do not really care about us. We think you have now understood this and are now trying to work through non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and academic institutes. Some of these care for us, but many still do not. They never ask us what we want. They come to us with programs that they themselves have prepared or programs which have been designed for them by you and other international and national agencies. These programs have little relevance to our needs.

Applying programs to every subdistrict at great speed with set targets are unlikely to succeed. Encouraging the development of new institutions instead of building on traditional ones means that we lose control and do not feel we own these institutions. We have many of our own traditional institutions which are never noticed and have been emasculated by the New Order. We do not need constant training courses, research surveys, consultants’ reports and program proposals. Who benefits from these activities? We do not.

Your focus on numbers and concrete structures is not always useful for measuring the success and happiness of our lives. The benefits we receive often cannot be seen or measured. Ultimately, our joy and success comes not from the accumulation of wealth or material possessions but from working together in a good environment and sharing and caring for each other. The mass accumulation of capital and concrete structures is destroying our environment and our caring and sharing. Only we can tell you how we can live better and happier lives. So how can you help? You could make life easier for us (and yourself) if you listened to us and encouraged our way of doing things instead of listening to others and letting them impose institutions, programs and funds upon us. What we need is trust and small pilot programs — one per district — which will show what we can do and the success of them will spread like fire to the rest of Indonesia. At the kampung level we can plan, implement and control and success will spread naturally. This is already happening only 20 minutes from your hotel. In only eight months, our lives have transformed through an innovative community driven savings and lending program which is starting to address our health, education and other needs. Many people think that our political and economic crisis can be overcome by more international investment, more growth of big business and by using your money for the government, restructuring of banks, building democracy, decentralization, human rights and civil society. All these opportunities for political reform and economic growth are only given to the rich and powerful and the middle class. It is assumed that these benefits will penetrate — “trickle down” to us, but they do not.

We believe that you will give us a chance. Thank you for reading our letter. We know you are busy but if you could come and see our program for yourself, we would welcome you.

The writers are NGO activists based in Jakarta.

Categories: Odious Debts

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