Tue, 29 Jul 2003

Govt set to revise autonomy law

A'an Suryana The Jakarta Post Jakarta

The government is set to revise the 1999 Law No. 22 on regional governments punctuating two years of fiery public debate.

The election of heads of regional governments, however, will be a contentious issue, according to Progo Nurjaman, a government team member involved in the revision of the law.

"The government is revising the law. The revised law will be completed and handed over to the House of Representatives (DPR) in October this year for further deliberation," the director general for general governance at the Ministry of Home Affairs Progo told reporters here on Monday.

After the law took effect in 2001, it promptly became a focus of public debate with those in favor saying that it brought the government closer to people, offered more autonomy to regional governments and hence could help quell separatist elements in the regions.

Others were skeptical of the law, saying that it only shifted corruption from the central government to the regional governments. Likewise, central government officials also opposed the law, subtly indicating that it had curtailed their powers.

Investors have also complained about the attitude of regional governments following the enactment of the law. They said regional governments enacted various bylaws for their own interests, thereby compromising the investors' interests.

The debate has prompted the government to begin revising the law.

Empowering regional governments has become a new focus of public discourse in Indonesia and was only made possible following the collapse of the New Order government in 1998. During the 30 years of Soeharto's rule, the subject was taboo.

Observers say that separatist movements which are especially rife in two of the 31 provinces, Aceh and Papua, stem from the resentment of regional governments toward the central government. The regions feel Jakarta has taken too much of the cake and left too little for them.

Progo said among the articles in Law No. 22 most likely to be revised was the one that said that the heads of regional administrations shall be elected by local regency and provincial councils.

"It has wide repercussions in politics and in the life of the people in the regions. We have heard a lot of resentment in the regions, pointing to the flaws in the election of the heads of the regional governments," he said.

People in the regions, he went on, were distrustful of local councils adding that the elections of the heads of the regional governments had often been marred by "pork and barrel politics", that betrayed the people.

"As the level of trust has been put to the test, people have demanded direct elections for heads of regional governments. People believe that it will give them a fair and just election, promoting democracy in the regions," said Progo.

Progo added that the central government understood the people's aspirations, and promised that his team would accommodate it in an article in the revised law.

However, Progo admitted that there was a long way to go before the revised law could take effect. He said that the revised law would not take effect until after the 2004 general election due to the tight schedule at the House prior to the elections.