Tue, 09 Mar 1999

Legal experts fault autonomy bill

JAKARTA (JP): More criticism has been heaped on the bill on regional administration, with legal experts and regional figures saying that the government has not comprehended the resentment caused by decades of centralization.

Hasrul Azwar, chairman of the North Sumatra provincial United Development Party (PPP) chapter, said that despite several good points on autonomy in the bill, at least two old and crucial issues remained unresolved: appointment of regional leaders and a centralistic administration.

"If regions are given autonomy, they should have full authority to appoint their leaders, set their annual budget and make their own rulings," he told The Jakarta Post in an interview in the North Sumatra capital of Medan recently.

He criticized the bill for giving the central government the opportunity to intervene in the election of governors, regents and mayors.

"If the government is committed to upholding democracy and reform, the election of regional leaders should be fully in the hands of provincial and regency legislatures. The central government is only authorized to give approval and support," he said.

Constitutional law experts have voiced similar views.

The bill, submitted to the House on Feb. 15, requires that provincial and regency legislatures consult with the central government, or the president, on candidates for governors and regents.

"This is clearly similar to the present mechanism, regulated by the 1974 law on regional administration which negates autonomy principles," Hasrul said.

Rusadi Kartaprawira, a constitutional law expert from Bandung's Padjajaran University, said that to be consistent with reform goals of democracy, including true autonomy, all present governors, regencies and mayoralties should be dismissed and replaced by elected ones.

"Most governors, regents and mayors were appointed by the central government under an undemocratic mechanism. The forming of new provincial and regency legislative councils, following the next elections, should be followed by the election of new governors, regents and mayors," he said.

Rusadi pointed out that the principle of autonomy implies that "at each level of government there is no hierarchical relationship".

He said that in regional autonomy, the head of the central administration could not interfere in the election process of regional leaders.

"The president, or the minister of home affairs, only have the authority to accept and approve elected governors, regents and mayors," he said.

Rusadi also criticized the "dualistic" mechanism of administration accountability required by the bill, saying regional leaders should be accountable to provincial and regency legislatures, and not to the president as required in the bill.

"A regent or a mayor should only be accountable to the regency or municipality which elects and appoints him," he said.

Rusadi added that the House should be extra cautious in deliberating the bill and should consult with law and public administration experts and regional leaders.

"The House should channel all aspirations in several provinces about the balanced shares of natural resources exploitation," he said.

Syumli Syadli, deputy chairman of the East Java provincial legislative council, also urged the central government, through the regional administration bill, to give full authority to provincial and regency legislatures in electing regents, mayors and governors.

"For the sake of consistency with democracy and political reform, provincial and regency legislatures must be truly empowered," Syumli said.

"The legislatures, regencies and mayoralties should have balanced power in managing their budget and income and making their own rulings," he said in Surabaya recently.

Hasrul said that regencies and mayoralties should gain a greater portion of the income from their natural resources.

This is in line with the fiscal balance bill, also being deliberated by the House, that regencies should gain a bigger portion in their natural resources exploration, he said.

He suggested that North Sumatra should get 60 percent of the state income from the large oil palm plantations in the province.

Meanwhile, an alliance of 17 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) recently rejected the bill, which they said did not touch on people's political and economic interests.

They said the bill's substance was inconsistent with the spirit of reform: "a remake of all relations between state and society".

The main reform principle should "respect people's sovereignty in determining their future", given the diversity across the archipelago, the NGOs said in a joint statement after a seminar on regional autonomy in Yogyakarta last week.

Separatist movements have continued in Irian Jaya, Aceh and East Timor despite the firm hand of the former government.

The NGOs were, among others, the Yogyakarta-based Institution for Social Transformation, the Mitra Tani organization for farmers, the Indonesian Forum for Environment (Walhi), the Independent Riau Foundation, Ambon Baileo of Maluku and Yapsel, based in Merauke, Irian Jaya.

The NGOs said that the bill would not be able to solve long- standing disputes between the regions and the central government on, among others things, land rights.

They also said the bill should be rejected because it was deliberated by an illegitimate House whose members were elected undemocratically. (21/43/nur/rms)