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

by indonotes

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’.