Candidates fail to address autonomy 'seriously'

Candidates fail to address autonomy `seriously'

The Jakarta Post
Erwida Maulia

They may support pluralism and national unity, but the three presidential candidates missed the chance to address more crucial issues on the immature and still troublesome regional autonomy.

During the final presidential debate on Thursday, the candidates barely touched on key issues such as fiscal decentralization, deconcentration and assisting functions of regions, and power-sharing between the three levels of government.

These issues are deemed the heart of problems in regional autonomy implementation, observers say.

Counterproductive bylaws and the looming threat of a full-fledged independence movement in Papua only glossed over.

As were other issues, such as budgetary planning, the unequal development of western and eastern Indonesia, and regional health and education services.

Shortly after President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Vice President Jusuf Kalla and former president Megawati Soekarnoputri appeared in the final debate, members of the Working Group on Regional Autonomy - comprising autonomy watchdogs - discussed the issue.

Novi Anggraini, from the Regional Administrations Innovations Institution (YIPD), said it was understandable the candidates could not address the issues comprehensively due to the limited time.

"But they could have incorporated important issues like financial decentralization during their *seven-minute* vision-mission presentation, or when answering the questions," she pointed out.

Of six questions asked by the moderator, only two were closely related to regional autonomy issues: the continuation of regional autonomy, and the necessity for direct elections of regional heads.

Agung Pamudi, from the Monitoring Committee on the Implementation of Regional Autonomy (KPPOD), said it was "interesting" that the candidates, particularly Megawati and Yudhoyono, had reiterated the need to uphold the country's philosophy of Pancasila as the uniting factor in the vastly diverse archipelago.

Cecep Effendi, from the Germany-funded Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ), concurred, saying it was good that all candidates had agreed they had to safeguard the country's diversity.

"The issue *on the threat of disintegration* in Papua, although touched on by the moderator, wasn't addressed seriously by the candidates," he said.

"This should have been a major concern; Papua could be the second Timor Leste."

Agung regretted that fiscal decentralization and regional budgetary planning was not discussed at all.

"This is despite problems of human resources incapability in regions to manage their money, resulting in unused funds of up to Rp 45 trillion *US$4.5 billion* every year since 2004; before that it touched Rp 90 trillion," he said.

YIPD executive director Alit Merthayasa said problems surrounding distribution of authority between the central, provincial and regency or municipal administrations should have been addressed.

"We know this is an unresolved problem; and regional administrations continually seek the central government's assistance *to handle their duties*," Alit said.

The coalition of 43 NGOs said the three hopefuls had failed to address problems over the mass exploitation of natural resources as it impacted regional autonomy.

"Such exploitation has triggered environmental snags, causing an increase in natural disasters," Oslan Purba, from the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), said Friday.

The coalition said the implementation of regional autonomy had contributed to the increase in illegal logging, environmental damage and human rights violations.