Jokowi takes cashless drive to Sumatra

Jokowi takes cashless drive to Sumatra
Indonesian President Joko Widodo (2nd L) visits evacuees of the eruption of Mount Sinabung in Karo district located in Sumatra island on October 29, 2014.

President Joko Widodo made his first working trip out of the Indonesian capital yesterday, visiting residents displaced by the eruptions of Mount Sinabung in North Sumatra.

But it was not just a sympathy visit, as Mr Joko set about distributing stored-value cashcards and longer- term aid as he signalled that electronic cash payments will be more widely used by his government.

Mr Joko gave all affected families 500,000 rupiah (S$53) each in cashcards that they can use at minimarts and post offices. They were also given health cards and smart cards for medical and school expenses.

Mr Joko introduced similar cards in Jakarta when he was its governor. He has pledged to introduce such cards nationwide to help disadvantaged citizens, for whom health care and school-going costs are big concerns.

The week-old President also handed 11.5 billion rupiah to the local territorial military commander to immediately repair an access road in the affected area, expecting the construction work to be done within a month.

"Next we will disburse more for housing. We have budgeted 80 billion rupiah to build and repair houses," the President told reporters.

Mr Joko has said more widespread use of electronic cash payments will raise efficiency and cut out graft. The government will also help every Indonesian open a bank account to make such payments easier.

As Jakarta governor over the past two years, Mr Joko was praised by Indonesia's central bank for leading the first city administration to carry out cashless payments to project contractors to avoid fund leaks through middlemen.

Mr Joko also started widespread efforts to use cashless transactions for city bus and train tickets.

Still, the President's first blusukan - or trademark walkabout - in North Sumatra received a mixed reaction.

Some observers say the trip is a political move to appease the North Sumatran Batak ethnic group, which has traditionally been represented in government but which was not included in his Cabinet line-up announced on Sunday.

But others, including Mr Ali Nurdin, who teaches at Banten's Mathla'ul Anwar University, believe the trip has nothing to do with the Cabinet announcement.

"Ethnic representation in the Cabinet is not too important, although there has been a tradition that the president tries to have all major groups represented… but it is not a must," Mr Ali told The Straits Times.

On Tuesday, Mr Joko paid an impromptu visit to the office of the country's investment coordinating board in a signal that he is serious about carrying out reforms to cut red tape to attract more foreign investment.

Mr Joko spoke to the people who were lining up to apply for licences, and he also went into the back offices to check foreign investment application documents.

This article was first published on October 30, 2014.
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