Govt’s social aid funds — Political fund for survival
The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) released a seminal report this month on local governments’ social assistance fund policies.
The KPK said that the abuse of funds disbursed directly to society was rampant as it announced that auditors discovered 10 potential loopholes in funds disbursement that might lead to graft (The Jakarta Post, April 6, 2011).
The amount of the funds disbursed, according to the KPK, was much greater than the amount disbursed during the pre-decentralization period.
Although the KPK did not state it explicitly, the abuse of social assistance funds is closely related to the survival of local administration leaders. In the era of liberal democracy, direct voting in regional elections has sparked fierce open competition.
Kompas (July 23, 2010) asserted that a candidate running for regent might at a minimum spend Rp 5 billion (US$579,878.2). Meanwhile, a gubernatorial candidate’s expenditures might top Rp 20 billion. Much larger amounts are spent by incumbents.
For incumbents, their political budgets do not merely cover campaign and elite support. The budgets might also cover political costs during their stay in office and be paid for, ironically, by unfair budget allocations.
The logic of political survival is adequate to explain how political funds are allocated by incumbents. According to de Mesquita, the enabling factors for an incumbent to win reelection in a political contest are related closely to an incumbent’s ability to manage three elements: the selectorate, a winning coalition and affinity.
The selectorate is the majority of people supporting an incumbent. A winning coalition is a group of people attempting to keep incumbents in power. Affinity is the attraction to or sympathy for an incumbent due to shared characteristics.
These factors may explain the allocation of an incumbent’s political funds while in office. Every public expenditure is selected through a political credit calculation process. Incumbents attempt to ensure that every public expenditure sustains their popularity.
Incumbents seek to manage the relationship of these factors through policy choices, namely decisions to allocate public and private goods for their selectorates and winning coalitions as well as to keep sustaining incumbents’ affinity.
Incumbents have the ability and access to manipulate local budgets (APBD) to turn public goods into private goods. For instance, populist programs to intensify road and bridge construction seem to be indicators of incumbent success. Indeed, this is an ordinary policy and it does not reflect an individual incumbent’s achievements.
All activities involving direct contact with local residents are an arena for incumbents to increase the size of their selectorate.
With public funds, incumbents have sufficient opportunity to launch government projects, make donations and other activities relevant to constructing an image of closeness to the grassroots.
Political funds, including social assistance funds, for a winning government coalition would give a benefit to several parties, including political parties, the bureaucracy, private entities, community and religious leaders, NGOs, the mass media and other entities having close relationships to an incumbent and the potential to mobilize selectorate.
They directly develop connections to sustain incumbents in office before and after elections. As a token of sharing, members of a winning coalition benefit from private goods doled out by an incumbent.
Due to their exclusive character, social assistance funds are effectively a commodity for political transactions. A donation to develop a physical or social project is an incentive for a winning coalition and the selectorate to support an incumbent. These incentives are addressed as a mutual barter for their involvement in sustaining and constructing an incumbent’s power.
Moreover, political funds are spent to sustain a ‘conducive’ relationship between a winning coalition, the incumbent and the local legislative council (DPRD). They cooperate to decide on the regional budget to strengthen an incumbent’s selectorate and winning coalition.
The consequences of pro-incumbent policies reduce the democratic commitment of local elections since proportional justice principles do not underpin every policy choice for resource allocations.
Thus, there must be efforts to encourage public awareness of development projects (development literacy). Local residents must be critical to ensure that local development is a collective performance to be financed by public money.
As well, we can boost the DPRD’s critical stance although it does not mean that they always have to show opposition or disagreement with the local government.
The most important thing, indeed, is to encourage more commitment from the local government for the public.
Finally, it is a must for local administration leaders and the DPRD to promote transparency and participation in the decision making process for local development programs.
The writer is head of the political science department at Brawijaya University in Malang.
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