Regional autonomy way off
track, expert says

Ten years down the track, regional autonomy may be doing more harm than good, the founding father of the country’s current self-reliance model says.

“The practice of regional autonomy has strayed far from its initial path,” Ryaas Rasyid, a former director general of regional autonomy and minister for bureaucratic reform, told an audience of regional representatives during an overview at the State Administration Institute in Jakarta on Wednesday.

After the fall of Soeharto’s New Order regime, the country’s centralized governance system gave way to regional autonomy, a system in which regions have more authority to manage their own affairs such as budgeting and lawmaking.

According to Ryaas there has been no real improvement on the whole in either management or welfare within the regions. “There has been no significant rise in prosperity for the regions following their adoption of autonomy measures.”

He said major changes in the rules and practice of autonomy should be made if the country wished to maintain decentralization. “For instance, the central government needs to regulate regional expansion to avoid the establishment of numerous new regional territories and administrations.”

Ryaas said the establishment of new regions was often plagued by vested interests and was rarely thought through with sustainable goals in mind. “Thus, the people from the newly established regions will almost always ask the central government for money.”

Since the government implemented regional autonomy in 1999, as many as 192 new regions have sprung up throughout the country.

Other problems which have emerged from the scheme include overspending on regional elections. “The quality of local leaders has not improved either,” he said.

The organization of power has also ebbed away from the original structure behind autonomy.

“In the beginning, the provinces were meant to be the watchdogs for the administrative areas under them. However, in practice, too much power is in the hands of the regencies, cities, and other administrative units,” Ryaas said.

Political expert from the University of Indonesia, Kusnanto Anggoro, said decentralizing the country had triggered numerous conflicts in the regions.

According to Kusnanto, autonomy was aimed to bolster democracy and minimize conflicts.

“However, in practice the political, social, cultural and economic processes leading to autonomy have the capacity to trigger larger problems.”

He said a regional rule which prioritizes those considered ‘local sons’ to be regional leaders was discriminatory toward migrants. “This discriminative ruling could sow the seeds for conflict in the future.”

Kusnanto said that since the establishment of regional autonomy there has been a shift in the nature of conflicts erupting in the country.

“Previously, violent conflicts had been massive, encapsulating a whole region or even beyond, such as those in Aceh and Maluku,” he said. “Now, conflicts are more small-scaled.”

From January to November 2006 alone, there were 240 violent incidents throughout the country, Kusnanto said, “meaning communal violence occurred every one-and-a half days.”

He said most violence was triggered by local elections, especially during public campaigning.  (dis)

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