Sat, 26 Apr 2003


Ahead of 2004, we see reckless establishment of new regions

Robert Endi Jaweng Regional Autonomy Watch KPPOD Jakarta

Early this year, a plenary session of the House of Representatives again approved the ratification of 10 laws regarding the establishment of 25 new autonomous regions. This increased the number of such regions -- 38 municipalities and regencies -- established in the past two years since regional autonomy was implemented.

The number of regencies and townships has jumped from 347 prior to the enforcement of regional autonomy, to 410. At least 22 more regions are planned.

The number of new regions would be really big. The establishment of new regions is not as difficult as described in article 5 of Law No. 22/1999 and its government regulation No. 129/2000 regarding the requirements for establishing autonomous regions.

A number of indicators, such as economic capability, regional potentials, population size and the total area of a region, have been set as a standard of propriety for the establishment of new regions -- but they have remained as mere legislation.

If the above regulations were really applied, many of the new regions should not have been established given their gross lack of capacity to exercise their autonomy.

The House of Representatives and the government as the parties ratifying the law on the establishment of new regions have acted recklessly. The government is yet to make clear the design and strategy of its policies regarding the establishment of new regions, while dozens of new regions have come into being and many more will follow suit.

Such recklessness is also seen in the national legislation program of the legislature. Although most of the bills on the establishment of new regions come from the House's initiative, they have never been part of this program, let alone being prioritized as we are made to believe. Some House members have admitted that they have been considerably influenced by the demand set by the regions.

Political motives obviously have often become a very important factor in this regard. Director General of Regional Autonomy, Oentarto Mawardi, has also said that political considerations outweigh administrative reasons. Such politicization involves many parties pursuing their self interests.

The local elite feel they lack access to the local power structure and political mobility; and the establishment of a new region would be followed by political institutions and hence emergence of new opportunities to control power.

Meanwhile politicians at the national level fear that autonomy in the hands of major regions alone will pose a threat for the elite of those regions to gain enough support for demands of federalism, or, worse, independence.

Further, political parties have their immediate and real stake in the 2004 general elections. The establishment of more new regions means an increase in the number of electoral districts, a crucial condition for a political party in the local political arena, their ability to gain votes for the House seats and for their eligibility to nominate a presidential nominee. More electoral districts mean a wider arena and more varied methods for their political games.

The granting of an autonomy status to a region is in theory a strategy to accelerate multi-faceted local development -- democratization, efficiency in the management of local resources, and better public services.

Most of these concern administrative matters and the interests of the public constitute the core of the problem.

Given the bulk of the technicalities involved the establishment of new areas is handled by the technical team of the Regional Autonomy Advisory Council (DPOD) rather than by the government, the legislature or regional legislative assemblies.

The main job of this team is to carry out field research to check objective requirements for possible implementation of autonomy in a given area.

The DPOD will then use the team's findings to draw up recommendations on the establishment of an autonomous region.

Yet this working procedure is often ignored. As a result, regional autonomy expansion seems to be devoid of planning as it is not based on a prediction of whether autonomy can be implemented in a particular candidate for a new region.

This policy is further yet to be oriented to democratization of governance and effective public services. It is clear that the motives for the establishment of most new regions tip the balance more in favor of the subjective interests of the elite, rather than meeting objective preconditions of a region and the attainment of local efficiency and democracy.