Decentralization in Nation State Building of Indonesia

Research Papers


by Kazuhisa MATSUI
August 2003

Today, many countries, regardless of developed or developing, are trying to promote decentralization. According to Manor, as his quoting of Nickson’s argument, decentralization stems from the necessity to strengthen local governments as proxy of civil society to fill the yawning gap between the state and civil society (Manor [1999]: 30). With the end to the Cold War following the collapse of the Soviet Union rendering the cause of the “leadership of the central government to counter communism”meaningless, Manor points out, it has become increasingly difficult to respond flexibly to changes in society under the centralized system.

Then, what benefits can be expected from the effectuation of decentralization? Litvack-Ahmad-Bird cited the four points: attainment of allocative efficiency in the face of different local preferences for local public goods; improvement to government competitiveness; realization of good governance; and enhancement of the legitimacy and sustainability of heterogeneous national states (Litvack, Ahmad & Bird [1998]: 5). They all contribute to reducing the economic and social costs of a central government unable to respond to changes in society and enhancing the efficiency of state administration through the delegation of authority to local governments.

Why did Indonesia have a go at decentralization? As Maryanov recognizes, reasons for the implementation of decentralization in Indonesia have never been explicitly presented (Maryanov [1958]: 17). But there was strong momentum toward building a democratic state in Indonesia at the time of independence, and as indicated by provisions of Article 18 of the 1945 Constitution, there was the tendency in Indonesia from the beginning to debate decentralization in association with democratization. That said debate about democratization was fairly abstract and the main points are to ease the tensions, quiet the complaints, satisfy the political forces and thus stabilize the process of government (Maryanov [1958]: 26-27).

What triggered decentralization in Indonesia in earnest, of course, was the collapse of the Soeharto regime in May 1998. The Soeharto regime, regarded as the epitome of the centralization of power, became incapable of effectively dealing with problems in administration of the state and development administration. Besides, the post-Soeharto era of “reform (reformasi)” demanded the complete wipeout of the Soeharto image. In contraposition to the centralization of power was decentralization. The Soeharto regime that ruled Indonesia for 32 years was established in 1966 under the banner of “anti-communism.” The end of the Cold War structure in the late 1980s undermined the legitimate reason the centralization of power to counter communism claimed by the Soeharto regime. The factor for decentralization cited by Manor is applicable here.

Decentralization can be interpreted to mean not only the reversal of the centralized system of government due to its inability to respond to changes in society, as Manor points out, but also the participation of local governments in the process of the nation state building through the more positive transfer of power (democratic decentralization) and in the coordinated pursuit with the central government for a new shape of the state. However, it is also true that a variety of problems are gushing out in the process of implementing decentralization in Indonesia.
This paper discusses the relationship between decentralization and the formation of the nation state with the awareness of the problems and issues described above. Section 1 retraces the history of decentralization by examining laws and regulations for local administration and how they were actually implemented or not. Section 2 focuses on the relationships among the central government, local governments, foreign companies and other actors in the play over the distribution of profits from exploitation of natural resources, and examines the process of the ulterior motives of these actors and the amplification of mistrust spawning intense conflicts that, in extreme cases, grew into separation and independence movements. Section 3 considers the merits and demerits at this stage of decentralization implemented since 2001 and shed light on the significance of decentralization in terms of the nation state building. Finally, Section 4 attempts to review decentralization as the “opportunity to learn by doing” for the central and local governments in the process of the nation state building.

In the context of decentralization in Indonesia, deconcentration (dekonsentrasi), decentralization (desentralisasi) and support assignments (tugas pembantuan; medebewind, a Dutch word, was used previously) are defined as follows. Dekonsentrasi means that when the central government puts a local office of its own, or an outpost agency, in charge of implementing its service without delegating the administrative authority over this particular service. The outpost agency carries out the services as instructed by the central government. A head of a local government, when acting for the central government, gets involved in the process of dekonsentrasi. Desentralisasi, meanwhile, occurs when the central government cedes the administrative authority over a particular service to local governments. Under desentralisasi, local governments can undertake the particular service at their own discretion, and the central government, after the delegation of authority, cannot interfere with how local governments handle that service. Tugas pembantuan occur when the central government makes local governments or villages, or local governments make villages, undertake a particular service. In this case, the central government, or local governments, provides funding, equipment and materials necessary, and officials of local governments and villages undertake the service under the supervision and guidance of the central or local governments. Tugas pembantuan are maintained until local governments and villages become capable of undertaking that particular service on their own.

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