These Toyota Rush cars were donated to religious institutions, including Catholic parishes, by the Malaka district government on Aug. 3. (Photo supplied)
The Malaka district government in Indonesia’s Catholic-majority East Nusa Tenggara province has come under fire after donating a dozen cars to the Church and other religious institutions.
Critics called the gesture grossly inappropriate while people were struggling because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Malaka district head Stefanus Bria Seran gave 12 Toyota Rush cars — with a total value of 4.2 billion rupiah (US$288,700) — to 10 Catholic parishes, the Evangelical Christian Church of Timor, and the Malaka chapter of the Indonesian Ulema Council on Aug. 3.
He said the donation was to help religious leaders carry out their tasks.
Bishop Dominikus Saku of Atambua, who received a car, welcomed the gesture, saying the quasi-SUV vehicles would help them offer better services to the district’s people. “These cars would be very useful to help our ministry in these 10 parishes," he said.
Rev. Benjamin Mane Mau of the Evangelical Christian Church of Timor said the vehicles were an expression of government support for fostering faith and morals. "We will put them to good use," he said.
The move, however, drew a wave of criticism from local residents who turned to social media to voice their anger.
"The donation was misguided given this present situation where people are suffering and require a lot of government support, especially regarding basic needs," Roy Tey Seran, a Malaka social activist, told UCA News.
He said the Covid-19 pandemic was impacting many people badly and also questioned the need for the vehicles.
Benyamin Mali, a Malaka resident and lecturer on Catholicism at the University of Bhayangkara Jakarta, said the money spent on the cars should have gone to support projects aimed at raising living standards for the poor such as giving them access to a steady supply of clean water.
Mali suggested the donation had a political motive as it came shortly before local elections in which the district chief was seeking another second term.
Malaka district, located near the border with Timor-Leste, has 92,000 inhabitants, 90 percent of whom are Catholics.
According to the Central Statistical Agency, at least 16 percent of Malaka's residents live in poverty.