Thu, 31 Aug 2006

Regional autonomy 'fueling tribalism'

M. Taufiqurrahman, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Regional autonomy, which was championed as a means to improve accountability and public services, is instead bolstering ethnocentrism and tribalism, a survey found.

Eko Prasodjo, one of the lead researchers, said Wednesday the adverse impact resulted from the regional autonomy law which gave too much authority to regencies.

"We all know that the administrative borderline for regencies in the country was drawn based on an ethnicity fault line. And empowering regencies also means giving room for ethnocentrism to thrive," the University of Indonesia scholar told The Jakarta Post.

In a survey conducted from 2001 to 2005 to measure the impact of regional autonomy, the Civil Society Alliance for Democracy (Yapikka) discovered that ethnicity determined the outcome of the social and political process in the regions.

"Nepotism based on royal bloodlines, ethnicity and political affiliation have clouded the recruitment, assignment and promotion for certain positions in the regions," the report said.

Yapikka, with support from the Partnership for Governance Reform and the European Union, conducted research for the survey in 15 regencies and municipalities and four provinces: West Sumatra, Banten, North Sulawesi and East Nusa Tenggara.

Respondents comprised 1,800 citizens representing families, activists, academics, local leaders and council members. Yapikka also conducted policy impact studies and media analysis.

The survey also found that incumbent leaders or candidates vying for office resorted to the glorification of noble lineage to lend them authority.

"In certain regions, new royal titles were created to augment the powers of regent or mayors," the report said.

Another example of resurgent tribalism was rampant use of the terms putra asli (indigenous son) and laskar (militia).

Greater financial support from the central government and revenue from natural resources also were being diverted to fund local political rivalries, the report added.

And as part of the political compromises from newly elected officials, funds from the central government were spent for an expanded bureaucracy.

As a result, researchers said public services were still wanting.

"Despite improved public services, it is not enough to meet demands of quality, especially in health and education," the report said.

The condition prevails in the absence of controls from the public, which is only "involved in consultation and dissemination of information".

Although there are fears of a return to centralization, with its own set of problems, the researchers recommend reviving the regulatory and oversight role of the provincial administration.

Eko said local direct elections for the post of governors and regents were the key to public control, and would ward off a return to the authoritarian New Order era.

Another researcher, Rio Menayang of the Institute for Policy and Community Development Studies, which has also conducted studies in regional autonomy, attributed the problems to the absence of an effective audit of local administrations.

"The problem is not at which level the oversight role is placed, but whether such a function is implemented properly," he told the Post.