Methodius Kusumahadi : Striving for Democracy Through Activism

“Foreign NGOs are not intruding into government affairs,” maintains 67-year-old Methodius Kusumahadi, who has been dealing with international NGOs for over 40 years.

Meth, as he is commonly called, describes his juniors now engaged in various NGOs as retaining their nationalist spirit.

“The activists in foreign NGOs are not lackeys or agents of foreign countries but they are very patriotic. They struggle for humanity and a higher degree of justice in the country,” said the former chief representative of the Unitarian Service Committee of Canada (USC Canada) for over 16 years in Yogyakarta recently.

Meth, who was born in Boyolali, Central Java, on July 7, 1946, and speaks several foreign languages, broadened his relations after studying cooperative management at Loughborough University, England, in 1987.

He was offered the chance to join an NGO in the UK, but as the conditions he proposed were not approved, he finally entered USC Canada. Working with USC Canada, he was assigned to head 42 foreign NGO offices operating in Indonesia.

Now a lecturer in the School of Social and Political Sciences, Gadjah Mada University (UGM), Yogyakarta, Meth, who is also a graduate of Jakarta’s Management Education and Development Institute (LPPM) and has served a Jakarta NGO, Bina Swadaya, for over 12 years, noted that foreign NGOs in Indonesia had for a long time been viewed as interfering with the government’s affairs.

“This assumption should be straightened out because in principle, foreign NGOs aim at enhancing the nation’s dignity and empowering the population toward self reliance. Our NGO has also annually provided aid worth US$1-5 million,” explained Meth, who had toured different regions in the country as a consultant, including Papua, Sumatra, Sulawesi and West Nusa Tenggara (NTB).

According to him, during president Soeharto’s rule, foreign NGOs were considered enemies of the government. He even received a death threat via fax.

“I was helped after sending letters to a number of embassies in Indonesia, such as those of the US, Canada, the UK, Germany and Australia,” revealed Meth, who had studied in several countries.

He pointed out that foreign NGOs, working in community empowerment, had a considerable impact. During the rule of Soeharto, for instance, foreign institutions supplied more than Rp 200 billion a year to be spent entirely on the economic and social empowerment of communities all over Indonesia.

In his assessment, the distribution of aid from foreign NGOs has so far been far more effective and has reached its targets because all their activities are annually evaluated by their sponsors, with disbursements being suspended in the case of failure. This method has been practiced up to the present, which is different from government-managed funds.

“The distribution of funds to communities as empowerment targets reaches a level of 20-30 percent under government management, while those distributed through foreign NGOs can be higher than 60 percent,” indicated Meth, who is chairman of the board of patrons of Yayasan Satunama, an international foundation he started in Yogyakarta.

“There are three types of NGOs: those voicing concerns by giving input to and criticizing the government, those engaged in business for commercial ends and those backed by the government. The last group has the function of controlling projects, financed by the government. As the projects finish, these NGOs disappear,” said Meth, who had been a consultant for various foreign agencies.

Meth views the presence and performance of NGOs in Indonesia as inseparable from foreign funds, as concluded from his data on foreign NGO donors. With his experience as a foreign NGO chief representative in Indonesia, Meth is aware of the origins of funds transferred to different foreign NGOs operating in Indonesia. His data shows the funds have been gathered on a voluntary basis from companies, social foundations and private sources.

“By percentage, funds from private sources dominate donations with 70 percent, foundations follow with 7-12 percent and companies only have a share of 4-5 percent. They have voluntarily donated the funds without strings attached, merely for humanitarian reasons,” said Meth, who is now facilitating the Long-Term Plan for Land, Air, Sea, River and Lake Transportation Infrastructure Development 2012-2036 in Papua and West Papua, costing Rp 200 trillion.

Meth is also a member of the Merapi Resiliency Consortium (MRC), comprising the Central Java regional administration, the Yogyakarta regional administration, 30 NGOs and seven national companies, under the leadership of GKR Hemas, a consort of the sultan of Yogyakarta Palace.

With all his activities in NGOs and organizations so far, Meth has pursued his dream of creating a truly democratic Indonesia, but he is well aware his vision is still remote from reality, as the quality of democracy in Indonesia remains less than desirable.


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