Thu, 25 Sep 2003

Governors call for greater role in autonomy

Nani Farida, The Jakarta Post, Banda Aceh, Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam

Governors from 29 provinces went ahead with their first working meeting here on Wednesday, in an apparent show of support for the ongoing joint operation against the separatist movement in the province.

Security was tight, with the Aceh martial law administration deploying some 1,200 police and military officers, several tanks and three helicopters to guard the three-day event organized by the Indonesia Provincial Administrations Association (APPSI).

Minister of Home Affairs Hari Sabarno also attended the meeting that began on Tuesday.

"The government's decision to impose martial law on Aceh on May 19, 2003 to destroy separatism here is the best solution, although not a popular one," APPSI chairman and governor of Jakarta Sutiyoso said without elaborating.

Aceh Governor Abdullah Puteh noted in his speech that the tight measures were "the Aceh military administration's way to welcome the guests."

During the meeting, the governors collected some Rp 15 billion (US$1.7 million) in donations for Aceh's education budget.

"We'll give a priority to education, either to rebuild schools, to procure stationary or to pay for the school fees," Sutiyoso told reporters.

Hundreds of school buildings in the province were burnt down shortly after martial law was declared.

Puteh welcomed the donation, saying that over 15,000 students who had lost their parents in the conflict could not afford to pay for their education.

He said that the funds would be used to rebuild some schools.

"Each school building will be named after a province that donated the money," Puteh said, adding that some 549 out of 607 schools had been rebuilt.

Sutiyoso said that the association's first meeting in conflict-torn Aceh, would be followed by its second meeting in Maluku, which is just now recovering from a bloody religious conflict in recent years.

Meanwhile, the meeting has produced several recommendations, including a recommendation that the central government revise Law No. 22/1999 on regional autonomy.

"The revision should not be aimed at withdrawing autonomy in substantial matters," Sutiyoso cautioned.

Association members bemoaned the autonomy law, which they said had obscured their roles. Following the issuance of Law No. 22/1999 on regional autonomy, the central government tends to deal directly with regency and municipal administrations, bypassing provincial administrations, leaving the latter in the dark about many policies or interactions between the central government and regency and municipal administrations. The same is true concerning the flow of funds from the central government to regencies and municipalities.

The association has therefore demanded that the government draw a clear guidance on their roles and status.

Andi Mallarangeng, a member of APPSI's board of advisers, told reporters that the demand for a revision of the autonomy law was understandable.

"Since the law took effect, governors feel they have been bypassed," he said, adding that there must be a way to synchronize the distribution of power between the central government and regional administrations.