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Jakarta Post

Overcoming problems in new autonomy era

  • Robert Endi Jaweng

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, December 22, 2014   /  10:14 am

The Home Ministry recently published a circular reminding all provincial, regional and municipal governments of the penalties for regional heads and councilors who fail to meet the deadline for the regional budget approval.

The penalty is the freezing or suspension of financial entitlements '€” the salaries and allowances of governors, regents, mayors and councilors.

The penalty is only one example of a new chapter of intra-governmental relations. Under Law No.23/2014, local governments no longer have broad autonomy as before, which they enjoyed under Law No.22/1999 and Law No.32/2004. The central government'€™s authority is now stronger and more assertive, including mandates to dismiss renegade regional government leaders.

For 13 years relations between the central and regional governments have been tumultuous. The central government appeared weak, having only three instruments for controlling the regions: fiscal instruments, determining civil servant formations and general authority such as cancellation of local regulations.

Only in fiscal matters do local administrations seem obedient and disciplined enough to meet prerequisites and submit all reports required by the central government. Responding to the abnormal situation to date, Law No. 23/2014 introduces a number of measures aimed at correcting and rearranging decentralization so that governance of the public sector becomes more effective in the future.

For the first time in the history of our regional autonomy, we have a law on local administration directly opened with articles related to the authority of the central government. While we have had seven laws on local government where the initial clauses always make arrangements about regional authority, this new law directly stresses the state'€™s presence through regulation of the central government'€™s authority.

Clause 2 to 4 confirms the hierarchical relationship between central and regional administrations, while the clause 5 to 8 regulates '€œgovernmental power'€ as embodied in the figure of the President as the source of all matters delegated to the regions and a central figure in general, as mentor and supervisor in the implementation of decentralization.

 Through this new law, Jakarta clearly wants to remind the regions that all subsequent articles should be read within the framework of compliance with the central power as a source of autonomy and authority that at times can impose and even recall autonomy affairs.

Second, the law strengthens the governor as Jakarta'€™s representative in the regions '€” in response to many instances where the governor'€™s authority is seen to be weak since regional autonomy came into effect in 2001.

However, the approach to strengthen governors must be right; namely the governor is the central government'€™s representative in providing guidance and oversight over the regencies and municipalities.

Unfortunately, in the new law, the strengthening of the governor moves too far. What stands out is the strengthening of the provincial status as an '€œautonomous region'€œ by pulling back the affairs that all this time had been managed by the regents and municipalities '€” mining, forestry, maritime affairs and fisheries '€” to the province, on the grounds of both efficiency and prevention of further environmental degradation.

Yet this approach of pulling back all those powers is partial recentralization or micro-centralization that actually distances society from the locus of authority '€” the bureaucracy '€” which should take care of local problems. This paradox of distance would be inefficient and difficult for public participation and control over governance.

Third, the new law introduces administrative penalties for the local governments up to the dismissal of the regional head for a number of violations.

A number of articles in the 2014 law assert that if the local policy is contrary to the national interest and does not comply with the obligation to report bylaws, including the establishment of a regional financial information system to ensure the transparency of budgetary governance, and so on, then Jakarta will issue, in stages, special coaching and finally, if necessary, the dismissal of the regional head.

Decentralization does require clear accountability. People of course will be harmed if the regional administration is late in drawing up the local budget, either for political or technical reasons.

What happens if Jakarta ratifies its budget in April, Kupang (East Nusa Tenggara) regency in June, Karo (North Sumatra) regency in August, or scores of other new regions only finish preparing their budgets when the fiscal year has already come into force?

However, more than just procedural accountability, what we need is substantive performance accountability. The substance of local development planning, for example, often differs from the large framework of the central development policies. Likewise, local budget allocations are not always in line with the scale of priorities and national budget politics.

All this is taking place without clear control and penalties, as if the regions are left to perform poorly in development and public services, and directly affect the public.

Experience shows that governance is not merely a matter of rules and institutional arrangements, but is also a political issue. Here lies the importance of the leadership of President Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo, Home Minister Tjahjo Kumolo and the governors managing the relationship with currently 508 regents and mayors. The President'€™s two national coordination meetings with 34 governors so far were commendable; but expanding such meetings with regents and mayors is clearly no less important.

Transparency and open political communication, as well as a clear national policy direction, is the key to future policy synchronization. Political divisions at the national and local levels have clearly affected the regions. Leadership, communication and policy direction are the key to unlocking the political
blockage.

To that end, the central government must be careful in combining the enforcement of penalties in the form of cutting transfer funds along with strong negotiation and facilitation to the local administrations, so that they become more capable in making policies, disciplined in enforcing government hierarchy and accountable regarding their authorities.

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The writer is executive director of Regional Autonomy Watch (KPPOD), Jakarta

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