By Hermawan Sulistyo
JAKARTA (JP): The initial ""reform agenda"" proposed by concerned scholars and college students in the early stages of the Indonesian transition in 1998 was not only intended to include the eradication of corruption, collusion and nepotism.
The agenda was also to reform statecraft and state management, particularly as regards center-periphery relations and other fundamental issues, such as those related to security. But, of course, the whole range of changes envisaged was much wider.
On the restructuring of relations between the national government and provincial-local administrations, the role of the Ministry of Home Affairs is particularly important.
Some political analysts have raised doubts about the anticipated performance of the new minister in continuing the adoption and implementation of the regional and local autonomy scheme, basing their analyses on the track record of Minister Hari Sabarno.
The three-star-general spent many years of his career in the legislature, a background which has made him infamous as a politicized military officer. He was one among a few political architects involved in the three successions of power over the past four years; and he managed to survive the political struggle.
But a minister's personal background may not be as significant in predicting the future of the autonomy scheme and its implementation as the match between President Megawati Soekarnoputri and the ministry's paradigm of stability, security and national integration.
Megawati's administration prioritizes stability -- a euphemism for a more repressive approach. Protests and demonstrations are seen more as a disturbance than as a sign of political participation. The paradigm may not only be seen at the national level, but also in the approach that the administration takes on regional-local issues. The extreme cases of separatist movements, particularly the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, or GAM) are to be cured by harsher, firmer and stronger measures.
Under such a paradigm, an interior minister of military background (although Hari Sabarno will be required to quit the military) will fit into the overall policies. He has repeatedly stated that he would let the people watch closely and judge for themselves whether his policies are democratic. The problems of restructuring the regional-local administrations, however, go far beyond the mere issue of whether he will act democratically.
Separatist movements, communal conflicts, local demands over the management and allocation of natural resources, and other ""non-national issues"" are only the phenomena and results of the more serious and longer problems of the unjust and unfair structure of the state administration. The issues seen from the national perspective as ""provincial and local"" would not come to the fore if their scale and intensity were not threatening to the national government.
The reform agenda concerning these issues is known as the local autonomy scheme. The agenda was adopted in Law number 22 on regional autonomy and Law number 25 on the fiscal balance. The agenda was first implemented into the administration system in January 2001. Now, after less than a year of implementation, some provisions in the laws have already shown some flaws and weaknesses. A striking example is the provision on the ""territorial division"" of the sea, as regulated by the law.
The major discourse in the issue is dominated by scholars who agree that the management of the sea cannot be divided under local administrative managements. The control and management over the sea should be placed in the hands of the national government. Had the national government not changed, a return of the rights over sea management from the local administrations to the central government might not have become a serious issue in governance.
But under the more centralized paradigm of Megawati's administration, the return will significantly contribute to the paradigm. It will strengthen the new paradigm of establishing a stronger national government. While some political leaders have expressed their endorsement of the new policies, political analysts and pro-democracy activists have expressed their concern and worry over the possibility of backlashes in respect of these policies.
Ryaas Rasyid, the architect of the local autonomy scheme, has openly expressed such a concern. He said that a failure in the implementation of the decentralization scheme may lead to the country's real disintegration. Many political analysts would share his view. This view should be taken as a precautionary warning and not disruptive opposition by Minister Hari Sabarno.
The national administration should therefore move carefully to balance the stability paradigm and the decentralization of governance programs that hitherto have been pursued by local administrations.
Unfortunately, Megawati's administration has only less than 37 months left to deal with the complex situation until the next change of government in 2004.
Dr Hermawan Sulistyo is national coordinator of Conflict Studies Network (CSN)-Indonesia and chair of Conflict and Peace Research Network (CONCERN).