20 October 2010

Wasteful 2011 budget ignores poorest students, activists claim

Jakarta Globe - October 18, 2010

Dessy Sagita, Jakarta -- Activists have slammed the government for not allocating more funds to aid poor students while preparing to spend billions on its vehicle fleet and laptops.

A coalition of NGOs that monitors the state budget said the Education Ministry had budgeted just Rp 17.3 trillion ($1.94 billion) for school operational aid (BOS) for 39 million elementary and junior high school students next year.

Coalition member Muhammad Firdaus, of Asppuk, which helps women set up small businesses, said aid had fallen from the Rp 19.4 trillion allocated for 42.5 million students in 2009.

The coalition said the data was included in the 2011 ministerial work plan and budget submitted by each ministry to the National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas).

However, Sukemi, a member of the Education Ministry's special staff, said next year's BOS spending would in fact be higher than the Rp 16.4 trillion allocated this year. "We are certainly not abandoning the poor students," he said.

Firdaus said even though the figure for 2011 would be slightly up on this year it was still far from enough because it was less than in 2009. The House of Representatives is set to pass the 2011 budget this month and NGOs have been campaigning for major changes before this happens.

The Indonesian Forum for Budget Transparency (Fitra) said over the weekend that the budget was filled with meaningless and extravagant expenditures that would do little to improve the welfare of the average Indonesian.

The group said it included Rp 371.5 billion to buy more than 4,000 government vehicles, Rp 32.5 billion for 3,109 laptop computers and Rp 6.1 trillion for maintenance of government buildings.

Firdaus said this meant that while the government was allocating more than Rp 10 million for one laptop, the education allocation would effectively give each needy student just Rp 300,000 a year.

"This is far from enough. We estimate that students need at least Rp 300,000 to Rp 400,000 a month to cover their tuition, books and transportation," he said.

Firdaus said he was concerned that the government was intending to have the regions share the responsibility for education. "The problem is, very few regional governments have shown a strong commitment to education," he said.

Bali Governor Made Mangku Pastika, for example, had said he would cut the education budget for 2011, affecting scholarships for poor students.

Firdaus also said the government did not allocate enough funding for literacy programs. "There are four to five million illiterate people but the government will help less than 50,000 next year," he said.

But Sukemi said educational goals had shifted. "We no longer aim to teach people how to read and count but to train them to use proper knowledge to be independent and to be able to provide a good life for their family," he said.

Utomo Dananjaya, of the Institute for Educational Reform at Paramadina University, said allocating 20 percent of the budget to education, as stipulated by the Constitution, might seem like a lot but implementation was far removed from the expectation.

Utomo said much of it went to paying teachers' salaries and infrastructure, which he claimed had no direct impact on education development.

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