Fri, 21 Mar 2003

`Regional autonomy must be properly implemented'

Arya Abhiseka, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Regional autonomy is clearly one of the best products of the reform movement; however, its implementation is tricky in nature as both the central and regional governments are still widely divided in their interests, say several experts.

Satish Mishra of the United Nations Development Program/United Nations Support Facility for Indonesian Recovery (UNDP/UNSFIR), said that regional autonomy had become ineffective, as both the central and local administrations had lost their sense of direction.

"The central and local governments are often more concerned about the technical aspects of regional autonomy, as the priority and the essence are being forgotten.

"Both the central and local governments must realize what binds us as a country, so that we could all prioritize our basic needs," he said.

Mishra cited that both governments needed to prioritize civil and social rights.

"People need to be equal in law; they also need education, healthcare, security and welfare, which regional autonomy must be able to provide," he said during a seminar, organized in conjunction with the second anniversary of the New Indonesian Alliance (PIB).

The concept of regional autonomy was greeted with euphoria when its implementation began on Jan. 1, 2000.

Many hoped that the decentralization of power and services would increase effectiveness and efficiency, as well as improve the quality of public services. However, the hopes died as soon as conflicts between the central and regional administrations often heightened confusion for many people and created high costs for businesses.

Speaking at the same seminar, Agung Pambudi from the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said that business sectors were reluctant to invest in several regions due to "double billing" -- he was referring to the new legal levies which were being imposed by local administrations on top of the old taxes and levies charged by the central government.

Meanwhile, Oentarto S.M., director general of regional autonomy from the Ministry of Home Affairs, said that despite certain divergencies, regional autonomy had achieved some progress in terms of democracy, the economy and public services.

"However, we admit that there is much groundwork still to be laid before it can be implemented properly ," he told reporters.

He acknowledged that Law No. 22 on autonomy and Law No. 25/1999 on fiscal balance between the central and local administrations still had many loopholes, in particular over the division of responsibility between the central and local governments.

Harun al Rasyid, governor of East Nusa Tenggara, placed more blame on the central government for being reluctant in transferring many of its responsibilities to local administrations.

"We have not fully been given the green light by the central government to govern our provinces," he said.

Meanwhile, Sjachriel Darham, governor of South Kalimantan, said that local governments needed to be more active in checking the exploitation of its province.

"So many cases have already occurred in which central government officials have contacted officials in our regencies to conduct business matters without our consent. We, as the provincial government, should have been notified first.

"But it is clear that the central government violated its own system of governance," he said.