Thu, 30 Jan 2003

More regions could mean less public service

Berni K. Moestafa, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The creation of new regencies and municipalities has increased concerns over deteriorating public services in regions across the country, as more local governments claim a share of the limited state budget, experts said.

Indonesia grew by 23 regencies and two municipalities on Monday, when the House of Representatives endorsed 10 bills on the formation of the new regencies in 10 provinces throughout the country.

But whether the creation of new regencies and mayoralties will mean better public services remains questionable, said University of Indonesia political analyst Chusnul Mar'iyah on Tuesday.

"Public money shouldn't be spent financing new local administrations, but on improving public service," she said.

The central government has set aside Rp 78 trillion (about US$8.76 billion) this year under the General Allocation Fund to help finance all of the regencies and mayoralties in 30 provinces, according to a government statement released on Tuesday.

The money, however, did not include the 23 new regencies and two municipalities. Now, since the same amount of money must be shared by more local administrations, some might receive less until the next fiscal year at the earliest.

And although this year's general allocation fund marks an 11 percent rise from last year's Rp 69 trillion, Indonesia's tight state budget provides little leeway to increase spending on new administrations.

"Is a region's own revenue enough to support itself, since otherwise it will only become a burden?" asked Chusnul.

"Our worry is that this will affect public services," she said.

Under the autonomy law, regions must be able to support themselves as Jakarta grants them greater authority to manage their own affairs. But many among the new regencies and mayoralties come from provinces that boast little revenue.

"Bangka-Belitung and Gorontolo aren't exactly rich," said Chusnul, referring to six of the 23 new regencies and mayoralties that are located in two new provinces.

Residents in the newly created province of Banten have complained about a drop in income since they broke away from the province of West Java, Tabrani Rab, a member of the government- funded Autonomy Council Board, said.

"They earn less than they did before the split," Tabrani said, citing a survey he did before and after Banten became a province in 2000.

The secretary-general of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Siti Nurbaya, said new regencies would receive financing from the local governments of the regencies from which they broke off from.

"For now, new regencies are still entitled to receive the funds which were meant for them under the old budget," she said.

Ideally, however, a local government that plans to split off should have set aside funds to help the new government during the transition period, Siti said.

She said the amount of money required to establish a new administration varied in line with the size, population and needs of the particular region it served.

Both Chusnul and Tabrani, however, questioned the motives behind the desire to set up new regencies.

Under Law 22/1999 on regional autonomy, regencies have more power than provinces in managing their affairs.

During the last four sittings of the House last year, the legislative body endorsed the creation of 36 new regencies, one municipality and the Riau Islands province.

"Of course, the rhetoric at the House is about public service, but is it really?" asked Chusnul.

Legislators said the aspiration of the people to govern themselves under the autonomy law was a key consideration in deliberating the bills on the new regions.

Chusnul said many regions felt they were underrepresented at their local legislative council or in the House. Being a separate regency boosts local politicians' chances of securing a seat in the legislative body, she said.

Seats in the legislature are partially distributed in accordance to the number of voters in the regions.

"I am afraid this is a reform euphoria where everyone wants to become a regent," said Tabrani.

He said no region should be established based on political motives, especially if these motives only served the local political elite.

"The autonomy law clearly states that the only reason for the government to establish a new region is to improve public service in that area," Tabrani said.