Tue, 04 Sep 2001

Autonomy law reviewed to save unitary state

The government is revising the law on regional autonomy in a move to reduce the negative impacts, contradictory to the unitary state principle. The following are excerpts from an interview given by Director General for Public Administration and Regional Autonomy Sudarsono to The Jakarta Post's Ridwan Max Sijabat.

Question: Why has the government decided to review Law No. 22/1999 on regional autonomy?

Answer: First, the review is being done in response to a request by the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) through Decree No. 4/2000. Under the decree the government has also been asked to evaluate the implementation of regional autonomy, which has caused many new and complicated problems.

Second, the law is not written on "tablets of stone", but is a social contract that should be reviewed in line with the social dynamism existing in society.

Does the law's review have anything to do with objections on the part of President Megawati Soekarnoputri and the Indonesian Military to the regional autonomy concept, which is considered too liberal?

Neither the President nor her party nor the military have any objection to regional autonomy. The government has no intention of delaying its implementation either, because there has grown a national consensus and it is required by law. However, we should realize that the autonomy concept deviates from the unitary state principle stipulated by the 1945 Constitution. Its rigorous implementation has caused many problems, especially friction between the central government and regional administrations, between provincial and regency administrations and among the regions themselves.

The review of the autonomy law is being carried out regardless of who is the president or the minister of home affairs.

Would you please explain the political and economic background for the law's review?

In line with the start of the reform era, which was marked by the downfall of former president Soeharto, regional autonomy is considered to be an integral part of a national reform agenda that is geared towards the creation of a democratic administration. The earlier administration was strongly criticized for its tight grip over the provinces and regions.

Under the former, highly centralized mode of governance based on a structural efficiency model, authority in all fields, including the appointment of local officials in provinces and regencies, used to depend heavily on the president and the home affairs minister.

The much-criticized centralized administration model has inspired the political elite, especially those in the People's Consultative Assembly, to give greater authority to the regions through regional autonomy. The provision of more authority is also meant to help uphold democracy and improve public participation in political affairs, social welfare and the quality of the government's services for the public.

Under regional autonomy all licensing authority in various sectors, including mining, industry, forestry, agriculture, and trade and manpower, are entrusted to the regions. The central government has full authority only in foreign policy, defense, monetary and court affairs.

To improve the regions' revenues, the previous government has enacted another law on the central-regional fiscal balance, to enable the regions to retain a larger proportion of revenue from the exploitation of their natural resources. Central government has also provided general allocation funds to the regions to finance their administration operations, including salaries for civil servants and local officials.

So what's wrong with regional autonomy?

The transition, or shift from the old structural efficiency model to the democratic one has been too fast, excessive and bombastic. Instead of giving political and economic benefit to the people, regional autonomy, which was implemented on Jan. 1, 2001, has caused various problems.

Moreover, local elites, both in the provinces and the regions, do not fully understand the autonomy concept and its ultimate objectives. That's why the law needs reviewing in line with the unitary state principle and the Constitution.

The implementation of autonomy has given rise to negative impacts, contradictory to the unitary state principle. The regions and mayoralties have increasingly become sovereign entities, with their own authority separate from that of central government. According to the unitary state concept, autonomous regions do not have their own sovereignty or quasi-sovereignty. We don't want to see regions developing into independent entities within the Indonesian state. Indonesia does not consist of a federation of states like the United States of America or Australia.

Would you like to mention other problems?

We are deeply concerned about the loss of hierarchy between provinces and regencies or mayoralties, the arrogance of resources-rich regions and their egoism and racist policies. Under the current regional autonomy law, rich regions could easily demand separation from Indonesia. Therefore, besides amending the autonomy law, we will also ask the regions to review rules they have issued in line with the implementation of autonomy.

Would you like to explain the law's substance to be reviewed in details?

Preparations for the review are still under way. We will give the media a detailed explanation of all the changes to be made to the law as soon as the work has been completed.