New Government, Governance and Infrastructure
    Category: Column By : Scott Younger Read : 1035 Date : Saturday, September 13, 2014 - 09:36:55

    Not surprisingly the candidates in the recent presidential election run-up included infrastructure as one of the key platforms of their agenda. In the meantime the outgoing government is trying to tidy up what might be termed loose ends, with projects being finished off and steps taken to try to move along some legislation and conditions that would help facilitate development, geothermal being a case in point, albeit still more is required to be done to motivate the players in this field into action.

    While a good marker of intent is for the new government to immediately prioritize and push through key well-identified overdue projects, there is also needed a drive to change the “business as usual” scenario if there really is to be acceleration in the building of infrastructure. One increasingly clear message is to galvanize more focused attention to delivery in the regions. Reflecting on the different levels of government across the archipelago from central to provincial to regency or district (kabupaten), following decentralization in 1998/9 and assessing performance of these different strata over the ensuing 15 years, it would seem on the whole as if the middle level of provincial governance has underachieved.

    One reason would seem to be, and this certainly applies to basic infrastructure, is that delivery is primarily the responsibility of either central or district government and there would thus be insufficient need for provincial involvement as it currently stands. In 2011, with the launch of the MP3EI initiative, the government released a framework from which to provide the basis of sustainable equitable development across the archipelago.

    There are 22 key areas of consideration in the six corridors set out, with infrastructure high on the agenda for all corridors, which implies a recognition of underperformance across the country and the need for more responsibility at the provincial government level to provide sustainable growth. In my visits around the country this requirement would seem to be clear: if equitable development is to take place, it cannot all be driven from the center. Provincial levels of government have to have the confidence to take on the responsibility to push the development agenda in each of their jurisdictions. Otherwise, the GDP/capita numbers between the center and the many rural areas will widen further.

    There is also a great need to fully engage the private sector in the provinces, whether central, international or even regionally-based, if the infrastructure investment goals over the future years are to be achieved. For instance in the water sector, the government has identified that some $30 billion required countrywide to meet Millennium Development Goals by the end of this decade, but only about one third of this amount is expected to come from government budget.

    To date, mechanisms for proceeding directly with and delivering clearly identified projects have been stuck by various obstacles, sometimes due to conflicting regulations but also due to the slow implementation of a project. It is believed that a proposal to establish provincial enterprise bodies, based on highly successful U.K. experience, combining private and public sector interests to facilitate quickly key hard and soft infrastructure developments, as discussed in the August 2013 issue of this magazine, should be seriously considered by the incoming Jokowi administration.