RIP pak Muridan and the state of our regional autonomy

Image courtesy of Tempo
I guess I was too preoccupied on my life that I totally missed the passing away of Muridan Widjojo, one of Indonesia's finest researcher, specifically on regional autonomy in Papua. I remember writing this two analysis on regional autonomy in Papua (and oh how it has failed miserably) while clutching his book: the Papua Road Map, close to my heart.
Image courtesy of Yayasan Obor Indonesia

A reviewer in Goodreads likened this book to a "social science 'bible'", which is true. Muridan closely dissected the history and politics in Papua, a rare feat, considering the effort and resource he must have spent to complete his work.

I remembered that Muridan was very helpful during my own writing process. He even texted me when the story was finally put on print. And I took it as a major compliment.

Papua is like a black hole of state money compared to other "wasteful" regional administrations. Indonesian government spent Rp 28.1 trillion ($3.1 billion) in total between 2002 and 2010. And that is just Papua. A more recent study has brought to light the severity of overspending in local governments.

Thanks to the regional autonomy law that was issued in 1999 regions across the country are entitled to directly receive money from the state budget. In Indonesia this means as much as 40%. Indonesia has a state budget of RP 1,842.5 trillion in 2014, 592.6 trillion allocated for regional governments (32%). Indonesian Min. of Finance has a nice infographic here. (It kinda bugged me that the source link for it has the name 'advertorial' on it... huh?)
Image courtesy of Ind. Min. of Finance

What are the money for? Well according to the study, in average the highest fund still went to education (34%). Government "administration " however 30%, much higher than infrastructure (15%).

Compared them to US and UK, of which both received 3%, as well as Norway and Tanzania with 8% and 13%, respectively, ours does sound like a whopping lot.

The report mentioned lack of political accountability at the grassroots level responsible for the excessive spending.

“We regard administrative overspending as a manifestation of poor governance and thus, a lack of accountability at the local level,” it said.

Two proxies were used to test the “accountability level”: literacy rate and the direct election of district heads.

On the first proxy their findings showed that there was “weak evidence” that a population’s education level correlates to the region’s administrative expenditure, while of the latter the report said, “[It] did not have a significantly favorable effect on administrative spending for the entire sample.”
via Ameliaday

The revised decentralization law on regional autonomy which was issued in 2004 mandated that heads of local governments should be directly elected by the local population in order to increase electoral accountability at the local levels and thus improve local governance.

However, with the high effective barriers to entry and costly nominations, candidacy is limited to the local elites and major political parties.

“Despite these electoral reforms, rent-seeking behavior continued,” the report added.

Following the implementation of the 1999 regional autonomy law, Indonesia has seen an explosion of new districts. From 336 in 2001 the number almost doubled to 530 by end of 2013. Despite of a “moratorium” issued by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono three years before, the Indonesian House of Representatives (DPR) has already agreed in October last year to discuss a draft bill for the establishment of 65 new regional autonomies, justifying their decision based on “the people’s aspiration”.

“In principle, the proliferation of districts could be regarded as an enhancement of the homogeneity of the population within a district, allowing a better matching of public services with the preferences of the population,” the report said.

However, it also comes with a warning. When goes unchecked, it could become a vehicle for “rent-seeking local elites rather than a strive to enhance” government efficiency.

The establishment of new districts entailed large set-up costs for the new administration. However, using statistical models the researchers found that the setting up of new districts does not immediately explain the high administrative per capita expenditures.

via Geografika Nusantara
“The creation of new districts has led to a temporary shift in the sub-components of administrative spending but not to a sustained higher administrative spending per capita,” the report said. “[This left] the overall administrative expenditures rather unchanged in per capita terms.” 

The researchers also mentioned their qualitative approach in finding clues regarding regional budget misappropriations through web searches in popular news portals such as and it was not statistically correlative as regions farther from Jakarta received less media attention. There is however another statement made by our Minister of Home Affairs last month saying that more than half of Indonesia's district heads (320) have "legal troubles"

The research also looked into relative importance of political factors such as party concentration and composition of the local parliaments at 197 districts within their dataset that did not split up over the research’s time frame. 

“In districts with little political competition, as measured by party concentration or the existence of a dominant party in the local parliament, the waste of public resources is even worse,” the report said. 

It also found that regions with a higher vote share for Golkar, the dominant party in the “New Order” era, is significantly associated with higher administrative spending. 

However, the report refused to label decentralization and regional autonomy as failed policies, as the system has just put into place just a little more than a decade. 

“Even if our results may disappoint hopes for rapid improvement of governance quality through decentralization and democratization, […] it may be too early to hand down the final verdict on the success or failure of these reforms,” it concluded. 

Going back to Papua, Muridan noted that all things began to spiral downward when the Papuan governor failed to involve the actual parties in conflict  when drafting the special autonomy (Otsus) bill. 

“It was written by people from NGOs and Papuan academics", instead of pro-Independence groups sitting together with the Indonesian government.

We may also ask the same for other regions, has their representatives been really listening to the people's plight? (I can hear a loud NO somewhere). But yeah, one can always hope, right?