UN Report highlights rising inequality of opportunities in Indonesia

“I dream of a time when we can no longer guess who, among high school graduates, will be more likely to pass university entrance test just by knowing who their parents are. That is how I envision a society with equal opportunity. Definitely not Indonesia today.” This is the opening remark of a presentation by Dr. Arief Anshory Yusuf, the executive director of UNPAD’s SDGs Center at the Indonesian Development Forum (IDF) 2017 held on 9-10 August, 2017 in Jakarta.

The session at the IDF-2017 titled “Equality of opportunities in Indonesia” is a venue for the disemination of a report comissioned by United Nations Economic and Social Commision for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP). Dr. Arief Anshory Yusuf, the lead author of the report, discussed the status and trend of equality of opportunity in Indonesia in various dimensions (education, health, water and sanitation, and employment). Ms. Ermina Sokou, Social Affairs Officer from UNESCAP, while introducing the report, said that the report on Indonesia is part of an ongoing global study.

In the session, Dr. Yusuf showed that although on average, development achievements have been positive in all areas of interest, the analysis reveals mixed progress in terms of convergence between groups. For example, gap in the number of schooling years between the top 10% and the bottom 40% has been quite large and seems to be worsening during the last 15 years. In the health sector, inter-regional disparity (both between Java and non-Java, and between urban and rural areas) is still large and persists over time. Access to water and sanitation between income groups (the top 10% to the bottom 40%) is also very unequal. Lastly, in the area of employment, the report finds that the degree of formality in the Indonesian labor market, even for the country’s average, has not been improving for the last 15 years. Informality also remains concentrated in non-Java and rural areas as well as within the 40% poorest population. Inequality of opportunity in terms of access to better employment has been one of the hardest ones to tackle for contemporary Indonesian development.

The session at the IDF-2017 also featured other prominent speakers that commented the report’s findings as well as sharing other related studies of their own. These speakers are Prof. Sharon Bessel from the Australian National University (ANU), Ms. Anna Margret Lumban Gaol from University of Indonesia, Dr. Firman Witoelar from SurveyMeter and Ms. Nikmah Khoirun from INFID. Dr. Sudarno Sumarto from TNP2K hosted the session.

At the end of his presentation, Dr. Yusuf hihglighted several policy recommendations on how to improve equality of opportunity in Indonesia. First is by commiting to global development targets, in this case sustainable development goals (SDGs) as guiding principles. This is useful because global long-term development goals are free from the impact of national political cycles that force a more short-term view on policymakers and electorates. Second is by increasing the share of social spending in national budget. Indonesia is among the lowest in developing countries. Third is by scaling up conditional cash transfers for human capital development. Evidences have been clear about its effectiveness. Lastly by identifying and scaling-up of existing local government best practices. Examples are budgetary reform and transparency in Surabaya, Education subsidy for the poor (Kartu Jakarta Pintar) of Jakarta and SME credit scheme (Kredit Melati) of Bandung city are among the few.

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