It’s the Fundamentals

Designed to empower Indonesia’s diverse regions after the three-decade centralist reign of president Suharto, regional autonomy in many respects has not worked.

It is not surprising, therefore, that there are growing calls for the decade-old project to be scrapped, the most recent coming this week from the Democratic Party in Bali.

The main problem with regional autonomy, in which more law-making and spending power has been delegated to provincial and regency governments, has been a compounding of the cancer of corruption that continues to eat into the heart of this country. Our prisons are filling up with officials who have plundered their region’s coffers of funds which were meant to empower the people, who largely have not gained.

While it is crucial for the provinces to retain decision-making functions and revenue-sharing capabilities, it remains a fruitless exercise so long as controls are lax and salaries are so pitifully poor that temptation is eternally laid before officials.

Regional autonomy’s supposed failure is a result of a shoddy foundation in which the entire nation is suffering. The basics are just not right, and revoking regional autonomy will not achieve anything other than transferring the difficulty elsewhere.

Indonesia’s entrenched graft problem, which shatters citizens’ and foreigners’ belief in almost every agency of the state, will not be resolved until the government of the day decides to enter the 21st Century in terms of real wages and conditions.

At a time when Asia is again rising as the West is floundering, a government-mandated minimum monthly salary of the equivalent of around US$100 is not tenable in terms of living or preventing theft.

When the fundamentals are right, schemes such as regional autonomy will begin to look a whole lot better, to those implementing them and to the people they are devised to serve.

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