Letter from the People (Jakarta)

Date: Fri, 14 Apr 2000 22:04:45 -0400 (EDT)

Dear All,

[If you are going to Washington, DC this weekend, see this e-mail before you go, and are in a hurry, please skip my commentary and read the forwarded message, borrowed from Indonesia's Jakarata Post newspaper. You will know what I have to say and far more, but during the frenzy of the coming days, you might find peace and inspiration as these words "from the people" echo in your mind and in your heart. Good luck to you. EAF.]
As many of you know, large protests will be taking place in Washington, DC this weekend to coincide with a meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). I seek to keep my words few, for the words that I would really like you to hear are those in the forwarded article, the words of some people in Indonesia, poor people who struggle to meet their basic needs, but (as you will discover) whose understanding of life is rich indeed.
I will, therefore, briefly discuss only the lending policies of the World Bank, for that is the subject of the letter below. (You can find a very good, relatively brief summary of the World Bank's activities at . There is information on the IMF at .)
The World Bank loans money at low, and sometimes no, interest to poor countries. Historically -- and still today -- these loans are for large projects, dams and power plants, for example. This is most unfortunate. These projects often are of little benefit to people. And sometimes -- for example, as land is flooded when dams are constructed, displacing people and destroying the local environment -- these projects cause serious harm.
Another vision of the Bank exists, a vision expressed in the letter below. In this vision, the Bank would try to eradicate poverty not through massive construction projects (for instance), but by giving people access to true engines of growth -- health care, education, human capital. The decisions on how to help the people in a village in Indonesia will be made not in Washington, but in that Indonesian village, by the people of that village. In this vision, if the people of that village think that a local health center or a new school will most benefit their lives, then that is what the World Bank would help fund.
I encourage you to write to the World Bank or to President Clinton, Vice President Gore, or your Senator or Representative. The President's e-mail address is president@whitehouse.gov, the Vice President's is vice.president@whitehouse.gov, and you can find Congressional contact information at . The World Bank's address is:

The World Bank
1818 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20433
More World Bank contact information is at http://www.worldbank.org/html/extdr/gen.htm. James Wolfensohn (to whom the letter below is directed) is the President of the World Bank.
You may want to cite to the letter below -- if I understand correctly, it has caught people's attention at the World Bank. And while you're writing, you might want to urge the recipient of your message to support completely canceling the debts of impoverished developing nations. The World Bank and the IMF are instrumental in constructing debt relief plans (as are national governments). According the UN Development Program's Human Development Report 1997, 7 million lives could be saved every year in Africa alone if money that went to debt payments instead went to health spending, education, and other social spending. Seven million, it is pretty unfathomable, isn't it? But more on this in a future e-mail.
I also encourage you to stay appraised of issues related to changes -- and hoped-for changes -- in the World Bank, the IMF, and other international institutions. Changing these institutions into more democratic organizations that work on the behalf of people and not power-brokers will not happen overnight (Washington travelers, perhaps you will prove me wrong?), and will be an important and ongoing challenge.
Thank you as always for your time. I think you will find the letter below poignant, as it was very aptly described to me. Let the voices of the people be heard this weekend, and forever after.



"I have only dreams: to build a better world, a world of harmony and understanding, a world in which it is a joy to live. This is not asking for too much." -- Yitzhak Rabin

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Copyright 2000 THE JAKARTA POST
February 18, 2000

LENGTH: 685 words
HEADLINE: From the people to Mr 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.

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