The Jakarta Post
Almost drowned out by the controversies surrounding the regional elections (Pilkada) bill, the deliberation of an amendment to the 2004 law on regional administrations went almost unnoticed in spite of the possible consequences that it could bring back practices from the New Order era, during which the central government wielded ultimate control over local affairs.
Lawmaker Hakam Naja, who chairs House of Representatives Commission II overseeing regional administrations, said on Tuesday that his commission had ended discussion on the bill and expected to present it before a plenary meeting slated for Thursday along with the Pilkada bill.
However, unlike the Pilkada bill, which will require approval from the House, the regional administration bill, also known as the Pemda bill, which will grant the central government the authority to take back power from regional leaders, has apparently won unanimous support from lawmakers and is ready for formal endorsement.
'It seems that we all have the same perspective on the need to rearrange authorities wielded by the local governments through the amendment of the  law,' said Hakam, a politician from the National Awakening Party (PAN).
In a bid to curb the abuse of power by local heads, some of whom have become little kings ruling over fiefdoms, the revision aims to grant power to the president to severely punish local leaders who fail to perform well, as stipulated in article 5 of the latest draft bill that says, 'President of the Republic of Indonesia holds the authority over the government in accordance with the 1945 Constitution of the Republic of Indonesia'.
The stipulation thus gives the president the mandate to dismiss regional leaders when they fail to set up efficient bureaucracies, abuse their power for personal interest or misbehave. Conditions for such dismissal are detailed in article 78 of the draft bill.
The bill, which has been discussed by the House for the past three years, will also prohibit local heads from making policies that might harm public interest, such as illegally issuing mining permits or proposals for new autonomous regions.
For example, articles 33 to 43 of the draft requires an autonomous region proposal to include a comprehensive feasibility study, which will close the door to local heads making personal deals with lawmakers as the central government will conduct a final check on the process.
Article 43 further mandates the central government to annul a proposal when a region is deemed unfit to be an autonomous region.
'When implemented ideally, the amended bill will be effective in curbing corrupt practices that take place during the process of establishing new autonomous regions. Many of the existing autonomous regions are struggling to develop due to such corrupt practices,' analyst Siti Zuhro from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) said.
Siti also said that by giving control back to the central government, it was hoped that less controversial bylaws or ordinances would be issued by local governments.
'The central government, through the provincial government, can now closely supervise any policies planned and implemented by local leaders. It can thus ensure that all bylaws comply with the national standard,' she said.
President Susilo Bambang Yu-dhoyono said that the revisions were necessary to draw a clear line between the tasks of the central government and those of the local administrations, since he found that people often did not realize that there were deviations from the spirit of the unitary state of Indonesia.
Political analyst Teguh Kurniawan from the University of Indonesia, however, warned about potential abuse of power by the government.
'The public needs to constantly monitor the implementation of the bill, once endorsed, to see if central government exercises its authority proportionately,' he said.