Learning about Indonesian language, history, society and culture

Month: November, 2012

Some thoughts on ‘Contested Accountability, Decentralized Informality, and the Missing Middle in Indonesian Development’ by Thomas B. Pepinsky

In a recent post on his blog Indolaysia Thomas Pepinsky links to his new paper ‘Contested Accountability, Decentralized Informality, and the Missing Middle in Indonesian Development’. Reading it through, many of the ideas resonate strongly with my thinking on the relationship between different layers of government in Indonesia. In particular three areas of the argument seem to me to be particularly significant:

1)      The contestation between levels of government linked to jurisdictional overlaps and the intersection of electoral accountability (however modified by money politics) from the bottom up and fiscal accountability from the top down:

Policymakers have jurisdiction over policies in the sense that they are responsible for certain policies and not others. In the realm of development policy in contemporary Indonesia, accountability is contested in two important ways. Most obviously, accountability is contested when two or more agencies have jurisdiction over a single policy…

Contested accountability also emerges as a consequence of the different accountability mechanisms that are meant to shape local government behavior. Electoral accountability generates good governance on the logic that local legislatures and district heads—who today are both directly elected—will strive to deliver good development outcomes to their constituents in order to win elections. But regulatory and fiscal accountability rely on a logic of oversight to generate local government accountability, as the local government is tasked with implementing policy guidelines formed in Jakarta or the provincial capital, and majority of the funds for doing so come from Jakarta rather than from local taxes or fees…

2)      The role of both formal and informal networks for shaping policy:

The politics of Indonesian development policymaking is also shaped by actors and interests: in particular, firms, business networks, trade associations, unions, NGOs, and others. Some of these actors have developmental agendas, although most do not, and their actions together shape policy, and in turn, development outcomes. They are informal sources of political power in that they are not legally mandated political institutions—unions and some trade groups are registered organizations, but unlike bodies like SPSI under the New Order, they are not empowered as the peak representatives of particular interests, classes, or segments of Indonesian society…

3)      The importance of investigating how local and national level elites and groups interact for understanding policy:

While it is possible to analyze elite networks in Jakarta in isolation, any empirical claim about how these elites shape Indonesian development outcomes must address their relationships to elites, power brokers, and business networks at the local level. Such a comprehensive multi-level analysis remains missing from the literature on Indonesian development policy in the era of decentralization.

Whilst the focus of the article is development, to me these arguments seem just as relevant to other areas of political life in Indonesia. One area that comes to mind is religious life and freedom of religion (of course these areas are not entirely separate from development). In particular, recent responses to the Ahamadiyah community, helpfully summarised in an Inside Indonesia article fit well into this analytical framework. Here the (re)issuing of a fatwa by the Indonesian Council of Ulama (MUI) in 2005, violent protest in 2008 involving some of the more irascible Islamic groups (including the Islamic Defenders Front and Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia), followed shortly after by a joint ministerial decree has encouraged a pre-existing (and highly controversial) process of provincial and district level government putting in place restrictions on the Ahmadiyah. In doing so they have,  according to leading Indonesian lawyer and legal scholar Adnan Buyung Nasution, exceeded their authority and violated Indonesia’s constitution. Moreover, these regulations have facilitated the further harassment of the Ahmadiyah community. So here we have a quasi-official body (the MUI) and national level institutions (issuing the decree), acting as enablers for provincial and district level action but also raising potential jurisdictional and constitutional conflicts. Further complicating these dynamics are non-governmental organisations whose advocacy (and the threat of violence) has encouraged these processes whilst also feeding off them.

These issues also point to several themes where further investigation would be beneficial (and indeed Pepinsky highlights how much more there is to be learnt on the themes he discusses). One is state institutions at regional and national level with an eye to the interactions between them, whether those of elected officials, the bureaucracy, the army or the judiciary. Another avenue is the interaction between the leaderships of national non-governmental organisations (and here the massive Muslim organisations the Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah spring to mind) and their local branches. A third is more regional case studies with a concern for the interaction of these various institutions within their social and economic context and with an eye to comparative study.

None of these avenues of research is novel and indeed much fascinating research has been done and is being done to illuminate these issues. And it is this that should help us move beyond the ‘limits of oligarchy’.


Tan Malaka – Bibliophile

Source: Wikimedia Commons

One of the ways I like to keep up my Indonesian language skills is translation. Thus it so happens that I am crawling through the early stages of Madilog, the magnum opus of the Indonesian radical Tan Malaka. Reading through the forward I came across the below passage in which he descibes his regret at being unable to take a good supply of books with him during his wanderings. As someone whose bedroom always seems to have books spilling out of book cases and piling up in tottering stacks, I feel quite a degree of sympathy. It is also an apt example of the importance of books, and intellectuals, in revolutionary political change.

We still remember the various satires of the late Leon Trotsky because he bought books by the crate load to his first place of exile in Alma Ata. I have still not forgotten several articles related to the crates of books that accompanied Drs. Muhammad Hatta to his place of exile. Truly I understand the attitude of these two leaders and as it happens I greatly regret that I was unable to do the same and always failed if attempting to do so.

For a person who lives in thoughts that must be disseminated, both via the pen and with the mouth, there is a need for sufficient books. A craftsman cannot make a building if materials such as cement, bricks and so on are not present. A writer or an orator needs notes from the from the books of enemies, friends, or teachers. Complete and apt notes can vanquish enemies as fast as lighting and can seize agreement and the fullest sympathetic belief. In polemic, a war of pens, as well as in propaganda, these notes are things that can’t be left behind, like cement or bricks  for making a building. Apart from being used as such materials, books of value certainly have great benefits for knowledge in the general sense.

In Indonesian the text reads:

Kita masih ingat berapa sindiran dihadapkan pada almarhum Leon Trotsky, karena ia membawa buku berpeti-peti ke tempat pembuangan yang pertama di Alma Ata. Saya masih belum lupa akan beberapa tulisan yang berhubungan dengan peti-peti buku yang mengiringi Drs. Mohammad Hatta ke tempat pembuangannya. Sesungguhnya saya maklumi sikap kedua pemimpin tersebut dan sebetulnya saya banyak menyesal karena tiada bisa berbuat begitu dan selalu gagal kalau mencoba berbuat begitu.

Bagi seseroang yang hidup dalam pikiran yang mesti disebarkan, baik dengan pena maupun dengan mulut, perlulah pustaka yang cukup. Seorang tukang tak akan bisa membikin gedung, kalau alatnya seperti semen, batu tembok dan lain-lain tidak ada. Seorang pengarang atau ahli pidato, perlu akan catatan dari buku musuh, kawan ataupun guru. Catatan yang sempurna dan jitu bisa menaklukan musuh secepat kilat dan bisa merebut permufakatan dan kepercayaan yang bersimpati sepenuh-penuhnya. Baik dalam polemik, perang-pena, baik dalam propaganda, maka catatan itu adalah barang yang tiada bisa ketinggalan, seperti semen dan batu tembok buat membikin gedung. Selainnya dari pada buat dipakai sebagai barang bahan ini, buku-buku yang berarti tentulah besar faedahnya buat pengetahuan dalam arti umumnya.



Idus’ Surabaya and ‘tremblingness’ in the Indonesian Revolution

One issue covered in my previous review of Pankaj Mishra’s From the Ruins of Empire was the psychological impact of the Japanese occupation in Asia. Following on from this theme I have been reading Surabaya, the classic Indonesian short story by Idrus.

Sutan Sjahrir, Indonesia’s first Prime Minister, used the word kegelisahan (tremblingness, restlessness) to describe revolutionary Indonesia. Part of the context was the profound dislocation as a result of Japanese occupation, recalling ‘As I look back on the Japanese period, it is clear to what extent everything in the Indonesian community, spiritually as well as materially, was shaken loose from its own moorings’.

To me Surabaya captures that sense of ‘tremblingness’, a society coming loose from its moorings, better than any other piece of literature. Set loosely around the events of Surabaya in late 1945 it begins with the Japanese capitulation

People were drunk with victory. Everything had exceeded their dreams and expectations. All of a sudden their valor emerged like a snake out of a thicket. All their self-confidence and patriotism bubbled over like the foam on a beer. Rational thinking declined, people acted like beasts, and the results were eminently satisfactory. People no longer had much faith in God. A new God had arrived, and he was known under various names: bomb, machine-gun, mortar.

Throughout the story there is a profound sense of the world turned upside down, with Indonesian ‘cowboys’ and Allied ‘bandits’ roaming the scene and refugees flooding from the city, Characters are wracked by madness or sexual disorder. Patriotism and courage jostle with paranoia, brutality and hypocrisy.

People were brave enough in the face of enemy cannons—but how terrified they were of enemy spies! This terrible specter howled like a hurricane over the cities and inside the hearts of men, leveling everything in its path—courage and rationality alike. Everyone suspected everyone else, and to free themselves from the torment of this specter they killed one another.

It is a supremely evocative, historically important and in some ways profoundly disturbing work. Thanks to the Indonesia Journal, it is available in English translation to download for free from their archive.