Tue, 09 Aug 1994

Unity in diversity

In a country which prides itself on maintaining the principle of unity in diversity, a true administrator is someone who understands the traditions, cultures and aspirations of areas outside his or her native region. This also means that an administrator who comes from one region should one day be ready to serve the local people in other parts of this vast archipelago.

About four decades ago this wisdom seemed to have gained a foothold in the hearts and minds of the people. But lately -- as the Republic prepares to celebrate its 49th anniversary next week -- we have heard voices demanding that a "son of the soil", or putra daerah, be named provincial governor.

This sounds like a lamentable retreat from our aspirations of national unity and cohesion because such exigencies seemed to have disappeared as far back as the early 1950s. Still, the demand seems reasonable enough. Perhaps some provinces have had uncomfortable experiences with governors who hailed from other areas and lacked hands-on knowledge of their new areas of jurisdiction.

This sentiment is of course nowhere to be found in the military sphere because of its command system. There, in terms of a commander's area of origin, leadership from the national level right on down has been diversified since the birth of the Republic in August 1945.

These provincial sentiments are no longer relevant at the present stage of our national development. It is in this context that we understand President Soeharto's message to the new graduates of the Public Administration School in the West Java district of Jatinagor over the weekend. He called on the newly inducted officials to be ready to serve in different parts of the country. Wherever the officials get assigned, they will still be in their own country and are expected to serve to the best of their abilities.

One thing that should be remembered, though, is that a provincial governor is -- according to law -- not only a public administrator representing the central government in that particular area, but also a local leader who is elected by his constituency. The central government thus has the right to reject a governor elected by the local legislative council although lately it has usually upheld the choice.

Many experts have voiced the opinion that this dualism places governors in an awkward position. To solve this dilemma, it has been said, the law on regional administration should be revamped. But the government has so far remained adamant on the issue. The reason could be that yielding all authority to local legislative councils would mean introducing a full autonomy system of administration, while in reality most of our provinces could only

manage administrative autonomy since they are far from self- sufficient financially.

In any case, the idea of widening the perspective of an official's task is certainly in line with modern thinking in a country with such a diversity of cultures and traditions. The timing of the idea is also proper now that officials in the Ministry of Home Affairs are much better educated. Most high- ranking officials have undergone administrative training at all levels. We are convinced that they possess the capacity to handle a variety of jobs in different provinces.

And to underscore the viability of the President's view that an official should be able to serve in any area of this country, even one outside that of his or her birth, governorships in Java, too, could be placed in the hands of capable administrators from other islands in Indonesia. True, this has never happened, but it would surely reflect a great step forward in our thinking as citizens of the unitarian Indonesian Republic.