Jakarta: A city with a big heart and an unopened wallet

Jakarta: A city with a big heart and an unopened wallet

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Twenty-five-year-old student Dyah Apsari keeps small change on the dashboard of her car. Every day, she restocks the pile. The money goes on the daily expenses of driving: parking fees, self-appointed traffic directors, buskers, street children and beggars.

Fashion stylist Ayunda Merkhanty, 25, gives away up to Rp 10,000 a day to beggars, while office worker Dave Ardian Seta, 27, also keeps money spare.

Part of life in Jakarta is paying for this street-level charity. From people like Dyah, Ayunda and Dave, beggars, street children, and pengamen (street singers) can earn Rp 15,000 to Rp 30,000 a day, enough for their daily needs.

Almost all able Jakartans spare some of their money for charity, be they compelled by religious obligations or other motives. But only a few channel their money through philanthropic organizations. And if they do, very few are concerned with how the organizations use their money.

The city has a population of more than 7 million people, not including unregistered dwellers. The average Gross Domestic Regional Product per capita among those residents was over Rp 43 million per year, according to 2004 data. As a society that views giving as a social and often religious obligation, Jakarta has a great potential to give to philanthropic organizations.

According to Hamid Abidin, a researcher at the Public Interest Research and Advocacy Center, individual charity contributions in the city could be as high as Rp 9 trillion per year, higher than Jakarta’s 2007 budget allocation of Rp 6.08 trillion for education and health.

This bulk of money, however, is not distributed in an organized or effective way.

Hamid said that according to a 2004 survey in 11 cities — including Jakarta, Bandung, Semarang and Surabaya — more than 90 percent of donors gave their money directly to individuals and religious organizations. Donors would on average give the most money to individuals, such as family, friends, beggars and street children, averaging Rp 884,950 per year. Religious organizations received an average of Rp 483,000 per year from donors.

Hamid said 77 percent of donors also allocated Rp 301,500 per year to non-religious organizations such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and charities.

He said that giving money straight to individuals, the most popular method of giving in Indonesia, was in fact ineffective in lifting the needy out of poverty.

"It helps, but only in a temporary way. It doesn’t lift them from their position, and sometimes it makes them dependent on help," he said.

Indonesia Philanthropy Association member Rika Anggraini said giving to beggars on the street sets the wrong example. "People think they’ve done their part to help others by giving money to other people. But to lift up the poor and to provide them with a better life, giving money is not enough," she said.

However, Rika conceded that lack of trust in philanthropic organization was the main reason they were bypassed in favor of direct giving.

Rika said there was a gap between the money the public could be willing to donate and the shortage of transparent and accountable charity organizations.

However, Rika said a culture among Indonesia’s donors of rarely questioning how organizations would manage their money had contributed to organizations not preparing reports.

"There should be a paradigm shift here. People should start to donate through the right channels and demand reports on where the money goes. The government should also give out tax incentives to people who donate to accountable organizations," Rika said.

Rika said tax incentives would encourage people to donate to trustworthy organizations that had passed a "screening test".

"That way donors can be sure their money is going to the needy," Rika added.

Ayunda is a skeptic. She said one of the social problems that most troubled her was street children. "But I don’t really trust the organizations. They can be bogus and corrupt."

Dave said he donated annually to a mosque. But he said that however the mosque decide to use the money was its own business.

With its root in Islamic teachings, there is a saying in Indonesian culture that, when it comes to giving to charity, the left hand should not know what the right is doing. This has led people to give anonymously to charity and not ask for reports.

Hamid said some organizations are reliable, such as the religious philanthropy organizations Dompet Duafa and Badan Amil Zakat.

"People have a high awareness of helping others, which is shown when everyone helps out during disasters. But Indonesians should also be drawn to help out in more organized and fruitful ways. (They should) focus more on prevention than just giving out money," he said.

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