Tue, 13 Jun 2000

Decentralization not a better bet for environment

JAKARTA (JP): Years of relentless exploitation of the country's rich natural resources have taken a terrible toll.

Forests are gone, many species of flora and fauna are threatened or endangered and the archipelago's pristine coral reefs are dying.

Non-governmental organizations and private institutions have sounded the warning, but they argue the government appears to be lacking a comprehensive plan to deal with the problem.

A new development could make matters worse.

It is feared the implementation of regional autonomy, with the governing regulation criticized as still far from perfect, will fuel more intensive destruction of the world-renowned natural splendor.

Participants at a recent seminar here on decentralization and environmental management faulted the regulation for lacking adequate local legislative stipulations on protecting the environment.

"Various regulations on environmental management and those on natural resources, which have an impact on the ecosystem, are still placing the authority with the central government and only a small part to the provinces," Mas Achmad Santosa of the NGO Indonesian Center for Environmental Law said on May 31.

He cited Law No. 23/1997 on environmental management, government regulations No. 20/1990 on water pollution control and No. 19/1999 on marine pollution and destruction control, as well as Law No. 41/1999 on forestry as examples

"As a consequence of the decentralization regulation, there's a need to prepare guidelines and strategies on law enforcement and environmental compliance to enable mayoralties, regencies and provinces to do the task of environmental management, including to control environmental impact (as required by the regulation)," Santosa said.

Government Regulation No. 25/2000 on the authority of the central government and the provinces as autonomous regions, which was issued in early May, is supposed to provide details on the implementation of autonomy as stipulated in Law No. 22/1999 on regional government.

Under the law, provinces, regencies and mayoralties will gain greater autonomy to manage their own affairs, including on the environment, in the maritime sphere, mining and energy and forestry and plantations.

Santosa said the issue of decentralization of natural resources management was more popular than the issue of decentralization of environmental management even though the two were strongly related.

"People prefer to talk about decentralization of natural resources, which are more economically or profit-oriented, instead of decentralization of environment management which is considered a 'responsibility' or even by some people thought of as a 'tragedy'."

Present problems

He urged the government to look at current environmental problems in anticipation of the troubles that could lie ahead, noting the prevalence of "failures".

He said "policy failure" was one of the potential problems because of the many unholistic policies, including the 1945 Constitution, which failed to touch on the aspect of environmental protection.

"The development of holistic policies should start with the amendment of the 1945 Constitution as the source of policies on natural resources and environmental management."

Old policies must be changed for the times, he added.

"The new policies should also integrate the interests of pro- job, pro-people and pro-environment factors ... "

He named "implementation failure" as another obstacle, with the need to transform members of the authorities, as the executors of the policies, into professional, credible and responsive officials with high integrity.

"I think this (implementation failure) is the most crucial problem to be handled right away," Santosa said.

"Institutional failure," either in the central or local government or community level, is another problem that cannot be overlooked. He said it was evident in the partial views of legislators in the House of Representatives.

Environmental issues are handled only by the House's Commission VIII, he noted, instead of in cooperation with other commissions, such as on forestry and trade and industry, with pertinent interests.

"With the partial view, it's no wonder that an (environmental) issue receives different responses from the House's members."

Open government is another issue.

Santosa noted the need for strong public control by mass media, public interest lobbyists, legislative members, experts and observers to ensure open and transparent measures in protecting the environment.

"In Jakarta, the power of civil society (mass media, lobbyists, legislative, experts and observers) in executing public control is strong. Unfortunately, unlike Jakarta, the local authorities are still not very open ... Decentralization of environmental management won't be effective if such a practice is still prevalent at local levels."

He urged local NGOs and communities to push for open government.


The effectiveness of the regulation in protecting the environment is a big question to many.

Leiden University professor of law Jan Michiel Otto said the effectiveness of environmental management depended on many factors, including the degree of legal certainty.

In his understanding, he added, full decentralization involved four components: tasks, legal powers, resources and decision- making power.

He noted there was a wave of decentralization in developing countries in the 1960s and 1970s.

"However, they (the models) failed to produce the desired results. They remained models on paper, the paper of the law and the organization scheme," said Otto, who has conducted research in Bandung, West Java.

He said that in most developing countries, the central governments did give tasks and some legal powers to regional and local governments. However, they did not provide enough resources and decision-making power, with the people tending to rely on private networks instead of local councils to achieve their goals.

"Consequently, the lower levels of government had neither the manpower nor the money, nor the political power, nor the legitimacy, to be successful."

He said a precise policy on environmental management was needed for Indonesia with its great regional differences.

"It is hard to see how local governments will function in environmental planning and enforcement without strong environmental management at the provincial level," he said. (ste)