[Nasional-e] Idul Fitri: Potential for economic growth :-)

Ambon nasional-e@polarhome.com
Mon Dec 2 01:00:16 2002


Idul Fitri: Potential for economic growth
Bahtiar Arif, Center for Indonesian Reform Lecturer at the University of
Pancasila, Jakarta, bahtiararif@yahoo.com

Idul Fitri, or lebaran, is an annual tradition in Indonesia. Not only do
Muslims celebrate it, but non-Muslims also participate in the festivities,
making it a national holiday. The government has extended the Idul Fitri
holiday this year and workers are entitled to have six days off.

There are certain traditions that have become associated with lebaran.
First, there is the exodus of people returning to their hometowns, usually
in rural areas. Second, people usually buy new shirts, clothes and shoes,
which will be worn on that day. Third, people are in a giving mood before
the holidays and they give more money to those less fortunate, especially
their relatives. Fourth, people prepare special dishes and beverages.
Finally, after holiday celebrations are over, they usually bring something,
or someone, in terms of relatives or servants, back to the city with them.

These rituals may have an impact on the national economy. The government has
to prepare infrastructures, such as roads and bridges, provide reliable
transportation for those returning home, and make basic commodities, such as
rice, sugar, wheat, eggs and butter, readily available. This means that the
government has to allocate money for these public expenditures.

The government and the central bank have to control inflation, which usually
tends to rise at this time. People withdraw money out of their bank accounts
to spend on celebrations. Prices for most commodities will increase, such as
transportation, garments, shoes, sugar, wheat, eggs, butter and so on. If
demand surpasses supply, prices will also increase. On a large scale, it may
cause a decline in foreign reserves because most of the basic commodities
are imported, while exports are still minuscule.

Urban and regional governments face the problem of urbanization annually.
After the celebrations, people return to the cities bringing with them their
relatives, friends or servants. The government cannot control the influx of
newcomers, fueling fears of a rise in crime and a housing shortage.

The annual national event may prove very costly. However, there may be
advantages for the economy if the government and people manage the event
well. Those following the efforts and policies may see the potential to gain
from the annual national event.

First, the government has to make a policy empowering the real sector, in
particular, the production of basic needs, such as rice, sugar, milk, eggs,
palm oil and textiles. Most of them are imported. This policy may have
implications on other policies. For example, interest rates may fall, and
banks should allocate credit to these industries. In addition, the
government may impose measures on the import of these products.

Second, although a reliable infrastructure has to be provided by the
government, the private sector would be enthusiastic to participate,
provided that the principles governing transparency and competitiveness are
established. Adequate public transportation should be supplied by the
private sector. The government's responsibility is in the regulation that
maintains fairness in competition.

Third, regional governments have to be well-prepared for welcoming the
people returning to their hometowns. They usually bring with them a lot of
money to spend at home. This would be useful in distributing money brought
from the big cities to rural areas. The bulk of money is unquestionably
centered in large cities, such as Jakarta and Surabaya. Without any cost,
the government could take advantage of this distribution of income, but it
depends on the regional governments and their residents to provide local
goods and services for the returnees.

Fourth, state-owned companies, such as the national railway, the post office
and the national airlines, providing public services relating to the festivi
ties could see large profits. Tickets for trains and planes are totally
booked, and even the respective companies have added additional services.
People also buy stamps to mail their greeting cards. It would be
unbelievable if these companies failed to make a profit at this time.

Idul Fitri may encourage economic growth because of the increase in
consumption and investment. This would give the economy a much-needed boost,
provided that the opportunities are managed properly.