HMINEWS, Opini- The fall of Soeharto in May 1998 put an end to the centralized governance system in Indonesia. Since that day, a new wave of democracy and decentralization has been sweeping the nation toward better well being.

Decentralization in Indonesia is materialized through the concept of regional autonomy. Autonomy grants the regions a right to take care of their own business with minimum intervention from the central government. The 1999 law on Regional Autonomy has granted autonomy to seven provinces, 164 regencies, and 34 municipalities.

However, after more than a decade, regional autonomy remains a fancy and bedazzling concept with problematic implementation. The concept aims to pursue even development, but in fact economic disparity between the developed and less-developed cities is still a familiar phenomenon across the country.

The lack of jobs in the less-developed areas leads to a big wave of urbanization. The greater Jakarta area remains the most popular destination for migrants looking for better welfare.

Urbanization, undoubtedly, has created the chronic problems of urban poverty in the greater Jakarta area. The emergence of slum areas and high crime rates are among the consequences faced by the city administration.

Take for example Bantar Gebang, the biggest dumping site in Greater Jakarta, which is home for more than 6,000 migrant scavengers. This site paints a blatant portrait of the failure of regional autonomy’s ultimate mission to vanish uneven development.

The migrants mostly come from less-developed cities in Java and Madura islands. They depend for their survival on 6,000 tons of trash dumped daily in the 108 hectare dumping site by Jakarta residents. It is hard to believe that there are people who can live in and make a living from a very disgusting environment like this site.

The scavengers collect materials like plastic, aluminum cans, Styrofoam or glass, then sell them to recycled-material traders, who are known locally as pelapak. These scavengers usually earn in the range of Rp 20,000 (US$ 2.20) to Rp 30,000 daily.

The scavengers mostly settle in semi-permanent houses constructed from plywood for the walls and asbestos for the roof. Some houses even do not have tiled floors; just pieces of tarpaulins spread over the cold, damp soil.

The low income has forced some of their children drop out of school and to become scavengers to help feed the family. Some scavengers even send their daughters abroad to be domestic workers. This lack of education makes their upward social mobility almost impossible. They will stay in the desolate valley of poverty they were born into.

The reason they stand for the situation is classic; they have no choice. They mostly moved from their hometowns due to no job available there. This is the only way they can make money.

The migrant scavengers’ poverty is not fully their fault. It is partially due to the impact of poorly managed regional autonomy in which regional governments fail to provide proper jobs for their residents.

Bantar Gebang is only one among many places where urban poverty, as the consequence of poor implementation of regional autonomy, takes place. Urbanization, however, is clearly not the best solution to raising living standards.

At the end of the day, urbanization constrains the efforts of the regional governments to generate development because human resources, which are vital for economic activities, move to the bigger cities.

Saying that regional autonomy has fully failed is definitely an exaggeration. Some regions have managed to improve their economic growth faster, but the bitter fact is that some others are growing even more slowly compared to the time when centralization ruled.

Those failed regions usually contribute massive amounts of migrants to the bigger cities like Jakarta, Bandung, or Surabaya.

Many reports have blamed the incapability of the newly-formed regional administrations as the core of the problem. Concern lingers over officials who bribe, and the solicitation of gratuities is commonly heard of in newly-formed regions.

A researcher from the Center for Asia Pacific Studies of Gadjah Mada University, Achmad Maulani, wrote, in an article titled The Spoiling of Regional Autonomy (Pembusukan Otonomi Daerah), that the Regional Representatives Council (DPRD) is where corruption happened most often.

What can be concluded is that the central government needs to reevaluate the poor implementation of regional autonomy. It has been too benevolent in granting autonomy. Learning from the failed newly-formed regions, it should tighten up the requirements for regions to be granted autonomy by considering their readiness and capability in running their regions independently.

The better management of the autonomous regions will boost economic development and end up creating more jobs. In turn, the success of regional management will decrease the rate of urbanization and eventually curb urban poverty.

By: Rangga Dian Fadillah