Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Strong but democratic government needed, say experts

Friday, June 29, 2007
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The government must improve its capacity to serve the people and enforce a just rule of law in the face of increasing pressure from the private sector, civil society and the international community to undertake further reform, experts say.

"A strong state is necessary, but a strong and democratic state. This is a state that involves citizens in the decision-making, empowers political life and ensures equity in the delivery of social policies. This is a state that balances decentralization with a national commitment to pursue social welfare," said Hans Antl”v, an adviser for the USAID-funded Local Governance Support Program.

Speaking at a seminar on social policy and decentralization Thursday, Antl”v said that although a decade of democratization in Indonesia had led to the basic protection of freedom of expression and association, as well as a separation of powers, part of the country's public administration remained unresponsive to the public and continued to use their power to further their own interests.

Antl”v said the picture of Indonesia's democratization was not totally pessimistic, especially at the local level, where attempts were being made to enlarge and deepen democracy.

These attempts were being spearheaded by NGO activists, newly emerging social movements, community-based social action groups, as well as by some government officials, he said.

He cited as an example the progress made in Padang Pariaman regency in West Sumatra, where government officials, health sector specialists and civil society organizations are collaborating to establish a community health insurance program.

The insurance program was introduced by the central government through a minimum service standard on health financing for the poor, which mandates that coverage be extended to 100 percent of the population, but only a few local administrations can achieve this standard.

The Padang Pariaman regency administration has developed procedures and policies to implement the minimum standard on providing coverage for the poorest people. The insurance premium for the poor will be paid from the local budget and the administration has committed to developing a special budget for the insurance program to ensure coverage in the future.

Antl”v said that Sinjai regency and Binjai municipality in North Sumatra, and Parepare municipality and Gowa regency in South Sulawesi have been developing similar programs in the past two years.

Hasbullah Thabrany, dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Indonesia, said that although reform in the health sector had started with the implementation of the first step of universal coverage by national health insurance under the 2004 law on the National Social Security System, health services were still treated by the government as "a market commodity that can be traded".

Thabrany said that facing the problem of healthcare in Indonesia, the government needed to use a combination of subsidies form the state budget for the poor, while the more affluent could pay for health insurance themselves.

The executive director of Prakarsa, Binny Buchori, told The Jakarta Post that the spirit of privatization that came along with globalization had blurred the state's obligation to provide basic and essential services for people.

The belief that the state should not confine itself to ensuring efficiency in a free market has led to the worsening of public services, she said.

"What we need is social welfare, and not only to overcome poverty. This means that the state has to fulfill its obligation to provide better public services. It is true that inefficiency in public services has long existed, but leaving the services to the private sector is not the answer. The state should take the responsibility, with greater room for public participation." (02)

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