one stitch at a time

Yesterday I attended a workshop on Indonesia's decentralization, sat there for hours and listened to the bureaucrats, experts and consultants talk about the results after almost 5 years, didn't say a single word, and went home.

Indonesia's decentralization started in 2000/1 and is basically a political decision to decentralize powers to the lowest levels of government, down to provinces and kabupatens. It has been dubbed, of course, the world's most ambitious decentralization plan--if a plan at all. Many scholars and consultants haved laid interest in it to observe what happens in this biggest laboratory. First off, I'm not pro or against it--it's too big something that I know I can hardly affect. Here's just from a citizen that wishes for some things to run well.

The findings of the World Bank's survey on the impacts of decentralization on public services have been pleasing to many ears, especially at a time when cases of chronic and fatal under-nourishment emerge from many parts of Indonesia. At best, these findings represent long-awaited rationalization over the money nicely wasted on projects related to decentralization. At least, they should do for boosting the spirit of some people too intimately charged with this mega project: government officials, heads of regions, decentralization experts and consultants. To a majority of the general public, they want to see changes, not surveys. They are too busy surviving to bother whether there is a kernel of truth in the findings. With globalization already in our living room, the clock is ticking, time thinning out, and the momentum for change soon dying out.

After almost five years, most of us have no idea how large resources were spent (and corrupted) on this issue and how much more will have to be provided. The preoccupation still lingers over the questions: do you think decentralization will work? Has it been working? Is there proof that our decentralization is successful? These questions have underpinned the mindsets of those engaged in such studies.

A synthesis of a few major studies on decentralization suggests that we cannot suggest that decentralization by nature will render better services to its habitat: the general public. One would not be mistaken in concluding that no matter how a country is run; centralized or decentralized, if it is run well it runs as well.

Indonesia's Big Bang decentralization was not something well designed. It was a bang. It was not planned at all--but I'm being bombastic in stretching the line-----now. Still, it might as well have sprung out of some spontaneous urges of several "decision makers" exercising decisions in a toilet room, or over cellphones to other fellows" "OK, let's decentralize, shall we?" After the big bang, they quieted, some no longer around.

To parties genuinely concerned with the process of decentralization, there is no room for self complacency yet. Who are they trying to fool around anyway? In spite of the big bang approach, even without expensive sophistication in the proofing we would arrive at this undeniable fact: the singular approach ensuing up to today have been nothing far than patchwork--still one bloody stich at a time! The lessons in our decentralization have been literally too expensive to learn, and with still many lessons ahead, we have not done our best as a learning nation.

Yesterday's decentralization workshop held by the World Bank re-proved the already proven: a great major issues that circulated at the dawn of our silent revolution almost 5 years ago among government bureaucrats, and expensive experts and consultants have virtually gone round and around. We have allowed ourselves with the counting and labelling jobs on the failures we keep harboring. For after five years, do we already have a grand strategy where we want to go? If yes, where could one read it? What happens with the minimum service standards? Has there been a change in the local budgetting process? Why did we change the faulty laws with new ones as faulty? When will implementing regulations be prepared? Would one be such a wet blanket to ask these questions?

So here's a point of embarkation, an important hook to guide our thinking if you will: Indonesia's decentralization is unlikely to stop or be stopped without further wastes of resources. The country is therefore left with but one damn option, this decentralization must work! We cannot afford to fail. Nobody ever mentioned the Big Bang was a blatant fiasco, but the folly is history now, anyway. What we must do now is design our decentralization and work our purposes.

One way or another these points have been raised in some occassions--whether by others or by myself. And that was two or three years ago. Yesterday I was convinced the relevance still holds.