Shahid Malik visits Indonesia

03 July 2008

Development Minister meets Islamic leaders

DFID Minister Shahid Malik made history last week when he became the first British Muslim Minister to visit Indonesia. Dropping in to Jakarta on 23 and 24 June, he found out about the role that Islam plays in development in the South East Asian country. With 90% of its 250 million people practicing Sunni Islam, Indonesia has the largest Muslim population of any country in the world.

A powerful force for change

Photo of Shahid Malik shaking hands with Din Syamsuddin of MuhammadiyahHistorically, Indonesia’s Islam has been marked by pluralism and tolerance. Islam forms the single most powerful social, cultu

ral and political force in the country, and has underpinned the reform and pro-democracy movement which has placed Indonesia among the world’s largest democracies.

The Minister met the Heads of the two largest Islamic organisations in Indonesia, Muhammadiyah and the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU). Their combined membership is 80 million people – more than the total population of either Egypt or Ethiopia.

The organisations' networks reach from central government to local government to village level. Muhammadiyah represents a modern form of Islam and NU a more traditional version of the faith. However, both are heavily involved in religion, education (Muhammadiyah runs 12,000 schools and 166 universities) and in social programmes. Both also lobby national and local government on behalf of their members.

Deepening democracy

Despite its middle income status, almost 40% of Indonesia’s population - 117 million people - still live on under US $2 a day. Members of NU in particular make up a large proportion of the country's poor.

Meeting with the groups' leaders, Shahid Malik discussed the challenges that the two organisations face in the future. These include ensuring that the Government listens to and acts on their members' concerns, and helping to deepen democracy in the country.

Mr Malik also discussed his role as a Muslim Government Minister in the UK and invited both organisations to join in the United Nations meeting on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) taking place in New York in September. Read more about the Call to Action on the MDGs.

Helping Indonesia's poor

The two organisations have recently benefited from a DFID-financed programme to build their capacity to reduce poverty and improve governance. The Minister heard about some of their major successes, such as persuading local governments to provide communities with free healthcare and education. He also heard how discussions on poverty and governance have brought a spectrum of Islamic communities together for the first time.

The DFID programme (which ran between 2004-2007 and was implemented by the Asia Foundation) provides local governments with the opportunity to receive technical assistance, like specialist personnel and training. It also works to strengthen the public's influence on government budgeting and policymaking.

The programme has succeeded in convincing 11 district and municipality governments to adopt pro-poor policies and budgets. These have included:

  • Free health and education services for the poor;
  • Simplified processes for obtaining licenses and permits to improve the investment climate; and
  • Greater budget allocation for pro-poor services.

By encouraging local governments to publish their budgets and increase public involvement in policymaking, the programme has also contributed to a more transparent kind of government in Indonesia. DFID Indonesia plans to support the Asia Foundation for a further three years to ensure that the programme's successes continue to benefit Indonesia's people.