'Bureaucracy, parties striving for recentralization'

A survey by the Civil Society Alliance for Democracy (Yappika) discovered that the implementation of regional autonomy between 2001 and 2005 gave rise to ethnocentrism and tribalism. One of the key researchers in the survey,Eko Prasodjo of the University of Indonesia, recently talked to The Jakarta Post's M. Taufiqurrahman on the pitfalls and fallacies of decentralization. Below are some excerpts from the interview:

Question: Can you tell us about some other interesting findings from the survey?

Answer: Among the interesting findings are the fact that discrepancies prevail between the resources that local governments have and the greater authorities given by the central government. In most regencies we surveyed, we found 85 percent of their budgets were used up paying civil servants while local income makes up only between 5 and 10 percent. So providing quality services is the last thing on local bureaucrats' minds.

Such a condition was aggravated by the penchant of incumbent leaders to use resources as a means to meet their political ends. In some regencies, agriculture has lagged behind other sectors as the bureaucracy failed to deliver much-needed pesticides, seeds and fertilizers and, as a result, farmers resorted to illegal logging, for instance. Even the bureaucracy of the New Order regime could perform better. In some regions, such as resource-rich regencies in Kalimantan, we discovered that an authoritarian government like the New Order has been on the rise.

There are, however, shining examples of how decentralization has meant better services for the public, such as what we found in Solok, Sragen, Kebumen and Tanah Datar, just to name a few. But it depends largely on elected political leaders. How progressive they are.

One of the recommendations of the survey is that the supervisory role of provincial administrations be strengthened

As the law now stands, the supervisory role of the provincial government has already been abolished. The hierarchy between the provincial administrations and the regencies has also been severed. As a consequence, regency leaders now turn directly to the central government and the central government gives money directly to the regencies. This is, I think symptomatic of a return to centralism.

In my view, centralization should stop at the provincial administration, because once the door is open for officials from regencies to come to Jakarta and haggle with the bureaucracy, it will just be a return to the New Order regime.

What is the possibility of a return to a centralized government?

There are two entities that want to bring an end to decentralization: political parties and the bureaucracy. The central boards of political parties that serve as patrons for their local chapters have bemoaned the fact that they hold little sway over local politics. The bureaucracy at national level also suffers a similar fate. It no longer gets the bulk of the state budget that had been shared with local governments.

Is it possible for the two entities to make concerted efforts and bring about a centralized regime?

Very likely. If within five years the implementation of regional autonomy fails to bring any good to the public and the central government thinks that local governments are no longer capable of assuming their law-given authorities, then the door for recentralization will be open.

But the central government should also share the blame for producing numerous laws and regulations that contradict one another?

Indeed, but it has gone on for a long time because a large number of laws that regulate individual sectors are the legacy of the New Order regime, while the law on decentralization was produced only recently. But, there are also examples in which the present government could be faulted for creating legal confusion.

The regional autonomy law clearly stipulates the land issue is the domain of local governments, but the central government recently issued a regulation to retract such an authority. During the survey, we also received complaints from local bureaucrats that they had problems catching up with the ever-changing regulations.

Most of them didn't even study the regulations when the central government decided to replace them. I think it has to do with the rent-seeking and budget-maximizing efforts made by the bureaucracy of the central government.
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