On May 19, 2009, Minister of Housing M. Yusuf As'yari (2004-09) hosted the second National Congress of Housing and Settlement (Kongres Nasional Perumahan Rakyat II) at the Hotel Bidakara, Jakarta.2 Attended by some fifteen hundred people from various parts of Indonesia, the Second Congress is considered a milestone in the history of Indonesian housing and promised "a new era" for Indonesian housing and settlement.3 While looking ahead, the Second Congress also made a connection with the very first congress on housing, which was held more than half a century earlier, in 1950, when the newly independent country was feeling its way through decolonization and trying to provide housing for its population, the rakyat. The 2009 congress closed with a declaration that: [End Page 23]
We, participants of the National Congress of Housing and Settlement II, 2009, are heirs of the 1950 Congress of People's Housing, which declared housing as the responsibility of the state. We feel responsible to implement the 1945 Constitution (Undang Undang Dasar, UUD 45) and the Human Rights Law (Undang Undang tentang HAM), which declare that everyone has the right to live well, materially and spiritually, and to settle in a house with a good and healthy environment.4
The official publication of the Ministry of Housing, Inforum, also started its report on the 2009 Congress with a quotation from Mohammad Hatta, the first vice president of Indonesia, who opened the 1950 Congress on Healthy Housing for People (Kongres Perumahan Rakjat Sehat), where the term perumahan rakyat (people's housing) was perhaps first coined by the newly independent state. "Indeed, our goal [to provide housing for everyone] won't be realized in two years. It won't be fully completed in ten or twenty years. However, in forty years or in half a century, we will be able to fulfill our wish, if we are committed and make the effort with confidence."5 The optimism demonstrated in 1950 to provide housing for everyone within fifty years inspired those attending the 2009 Congress to keep the housing mission going.
The symbolic reference to the early years of independence by participants in the 2009 Congress seems to turn a blind eye on Suharto's New Order regime (1966-98), during which era a series of national workshops (known as lokakarya nasional) on housing were periodically held. By evoking the notion of kongres (rather than lokakarya), the 2009 meeting set up an identity of its own, one that reconnects its mission to that of the 1950s, while dissociating itself from the housing policy of the New Order.6 The break with the recent past seems ironic, for most of the order of things today could be said to have been already shaped during the Suharto years. The claim to have initiated a new era may be ironic, but it is not entirely bogus. The post-Suharto era is, indeed, different from what preceded it. The notion of rakyat, at least, is easily mobilized today to fashion the new era, so, with the 2009 Congress, one might imagine a shift in the strategy to provide housing for the poor.
Several new initiatives, indeed, were proclaimed by the Second Congress, some of which are clearly a departure from those of the New Order. For instance, housing is now considered a human right, rather than simply a human need for shelter, as was assumed by the New Order.7 Oswar Mungkasa, from the National Planning Board [End Page 24] (Badan Perencanaan dan Pembangunan Nasional-Bappenas), explains in his contribution to Inforum that the UUD 1945 already contained the principle of a right to housing for everyone, but it needs to be more specific in its formulation.8 According to Mungkasa, the meaning of hak rumah tinggal (the right to live in a house) as stipulated in the 1945 constitution can be extended to give a sense of hak perumahan (the right to housing). Such broadening of the meaning would allow Indonesia to conform to chapter 11 of the UN's International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights, which defines the right to...