Thu, 25 Dec 2003

Regional govt behavior contradicting aims of local autonomy law

Ignas Kleden Sociologist Director Center for East Indonesian Affairs Jakarta

After three years of implementation, regional autonomy has produced a number of unintended results that will very likely negate its original aim. One of those unintended results is obviously the tendency of every regency (kabupaten) to become more and more inward-looking to the extent that one regency feels no need to consult its neighboring regencies concerning possible collaboration between them.

This tendency might have its origins in the misperception that regional autonomy, which has provided local regents with more substantial power than ever before, is to be understood as meaning a sort of regional self-sufficiency or, even worse, political parochialism.

Needless to say, this tendency is highly detrimental to the interests of every region for the following reasons.

First of all, the absence of collaboration at regional level will certainly make a regional division of labor all but impossible. There is no forum or venue to discuss what has to be done in the respective regencies in order to forestall unnecessary duplication on the one hand, and to encourage necessary action on the other.

If I were to speak of the eastern islands of the country, it is very obvious that the use of marine natural resources by the locals is still close to minimum possible level while most local conflicts have something to do with land.

This is, of course, a sad situation considering the fact that people are still deeply embedded in dry-land agriculture despite the scarcity and the poor condition of land, while paying very little attention to the aquaculture made possible by marine resources that are more than enough due to the archipelagic nature of those islands.

If there were to be solid and well organized coordination among the regents, this misplaced orientation towards agriculture in the eastern islands could be reversed systematically through the introduction of marine cultivation. Fishing is of course a traditional choice but marine cultivation will make people aware that it is not only the land that can be cultivated, but also the sea.

Besides that, there is a propensity among the regents which can be called "container tendency". This means, each regent wants to have everything done or established in his or her regency, be it agriculture, trade, banking, airports, container harbors, or institutions of higher learning.

This should be prevented because of two obvious reasons. First, it is not necessary, and second, it is also impossible. It is impossible for a regency the islands of Flores, Timor, Sumba, Ternate, or Buru (whose populations are on average less than 1.5 million), for example, to become at the same time main producers of agricultural produce, service economy centers, higher education centers, and telecommunications centers.

It is not necessary because a container harbor would perhaps be more than enough for the whole island, or even the whole province. It is also impossible because human resources are far from enough to run even one single university for the whole island in order to meet minimum academic requirements and produce qualified graduates.

As a consequence, there should be a regional division of labor among the regencies whereby a regency which is suitable for agriculture must not have pretensions of becoming a center for telecommunications should it be isolated and lack the necessary human resources.

In the same vein, another regency that has more educated people capable of running a local university must not force itself to become a producer of agricultural produce, something which might be very difficult for the regency concerned due to its lack of fertile land. The question is of course: how to coordinate such a division of labor among the regents, who tend to believe that such a division of labor will only lessen their own autonomy?

In order to answer such a question satisfactorily one has to refer back to the original aim of regional autonomy. This new policy is explicitly intended to reduce political centralism and economic concentration in the central government as a product of the New Order government, while at the same time encouraging politically responsible local government through providing local governments with more powers.

The double goal of regional autonomy is well reflected in Law No. 22/1999 and Law No. 25/1999. The democratizing effects of these two laws arise from their desire to create political balance between central and regional governments by means of giving the regencies more substantial autonomy to take care of themselves, as well as to push for financial balance between the national economy and regional economies by means of creating a fairer apportionment of the revenues originating from the exploitation of natural resources as well as taxation.

It is clearly assumed that in order to build up solid regional autonomy, more cooperation at regional level is badly needed. This turns out not to be the case. By contrast, every regent wants to have his or her own access to departments in Jakarta to encourage the working of corresponding sectors at regency level.

This means in settling agricultural problems in Central Timor, for example, the regent from Southern Central Timor (TTS) tends to come to Jakarta to the department which is in charge of agriculture, before talking to the regent of Northern Central Timor (TTU) as to how to arrange cooperation and the division of labor between the two neighboring regencies in agricultural matters.

The same can said of fishing, transportation, transmigration, housing, water supplies and education. So far, there seems to be no legal provision or political decision that necessitates regional collaboration among the regencies. As a result, there is a sort of concentric movement from the regions to Jakarta.

If this tendency is not reduced and if no initiatives are taken to encourage more horizontal coordination and cooperation among the regencies, an unexpected consequence of regional autonomy might well come to pass, namely, the political centralism of the Jakarta government will be unwittingly restored by the local governments who behave in a misconceived manner based on the powers provided to them by regional autonomy.

As a general rule we can say that the there is a direct correlation between horizontal coordination at the local level and the reduction or the strengthening once more of political dependence on the central government. The more regional coordination and collaboration can be organized the less the political centralism of Jakarta will be, and the less regional coordination and cooperation that is initiated the more likely political centralism will come back.

Thus, it is ironic to find that regional autonomy, which was designed to reduce political centralism, could eventually restore centralism owing to the contradictions between the spirit of the law and the political behavior of regional governments.