"With particular relevance for accountable governance, we reflect on the way that different local governance actors exercise their agency, and how the interactions between them shape and reproduce the new structures offered by the Village Law."
In the context of rural development and local governance, this Making All Voices Count study investigates the implementation of Law No. 6 / 2014 ("Village Law") in Indonesia, asking whether it is functioning as an enabler or a constraint for more accountable governance. Indonesian non-governmental organisation PATTIRO carried out the study, visiting six villages that were selected as examples of good practice in governance. Section 1 includes introductory remarks and a brief discussion of the theoretical framework for the research, its methodology, and the research questions covering village governance and finance; Section 2 sketches the key aspects of the Village Law in these two areas; Section 3 presents a selection of the study's findings; Section 4 discusses the findings; and Section 5 reflects on PATTIRO's engagement and uptake strategy, which involved creating spaces for the local governance stakeholders involved in the study and others with an interest in accountable governance agendas to learn about the findings and incorporate them into their Village Law implementation practices.
In brief, the Village Law establishes village authorities as responsible for the administration of village affairs, social and economic development, and the empowerment of the villagers based on community initiatives, customary law, and local traditions. It also includes the Village Fund policy, which allocates funding to village governments. In other words, the idea is that the village government now has both the authority and resources necessary to govern its own affairs. With the new authority conferred on them by the Village Law, village heads have the power to undertake reforms that have a positive effect on local development. But in practice, for that authority to trigger change, other factors are needed: the capability to make a difference, motivation to change, knowledge of the village, and the support of other actors.
The study finds that overall, the law both enables and constrains positive changes towards more accountable governance. It is an enabler in that its stipulations have generally encouraged some village reforms, compared to the previous law, and has helped to increase national and district funds going to villages. For example, as far as the practices of electing village heads are concerned, the Village Law structure was found to be enabling for reformist change. In this scenario, the "agents" - the committee for village head election - feel comfortable with the norms as stated in the Village Law, including those that give authority to district government to play an active role, and therefore they comply with the regulations. Election committees in the villages have in general done a good job of gathering candidates, collecting voter data, and counting votes, independent of district intervention in the running of the election.
In this study, the six individual village leaders interviewed all demonstrated a positive mindset towards achieving high-quality democracy; this is described as an enabling force for active citizenship, because of the relative power of the village head. "Good practice around active citizenship happens and grows because of the combination of various factors that contribute to a village head pursuing a path that maximises village democracy and active citizenship:
- strong personal willingness to improve villages, and a commitment to change processes;
- openness to 'modern' values in village governance (transparency, professionalism, accountability);
- teamwork, especially between village heads and village officials; and
- ability of the village head in developing the village administration in a way that fits local values."
However, the Village Law also constrains village governments from optimising their development programmes in various ways, including by imposing a complex reporting burden. It fails to accurately define roles and responsibilities clearly, perpetuating ambiguities that impede better functioning and accountability. Citizen participation within the framework of the law is also not optimum: firstly, the law does not enable all village citizens to monitor village elections; secondly, there are restrictions on who can participate in village forums (Musdes); thirdly, implementation of the law limits the authority of "the village", subordinating it to district government for governance and finance.
Based on these findings, PATTIRO offers recommendations for different government authorities seeking to strengthen the Village Law's implementation. To cite one example: Village government should improve the quality of Musdes meetings by encouraging participants to be more active, improving decision-making mechanisms, and encouraging village heads towards social as well as administrative accountability.
Once the recommendations were formulated, PATTIRO engaged with governance stakeholders, creating research uptake spaces to share knowledge and practical experience of implementing the Village Law. In the offline space, PATTIRO has convened several discussions to share knowledge about village governance - including the role of the Village Representative Council (Badan Permusyawaratan Desa, or BPD) in encouraging village democracy, the role of the district in implementing the Village Law, and village financial management. The crucial issues that arise from these discussions are then submitted to the government in order to be considered in policy deliberations. In the online space, an active WhatsApp group has been established for sharing experiences and learning among participants in the discussions. PATTIRO also developed a website, kedesa.id, designed to share information on the Village Law and get feedback from community members and local village authorities on the implementation challenges they face. Users can upload content and the latest updates about Village Law implementation on the ground.
PATTIRO is working to keep spaces for change open in the longer term, to continue to build the knowledge of local governance stakeholders about Village Law implementation. The website was initially much less popular than the offline and mobile spaces. An action research enquiry highlighted the need: for intermediaries to proactively collect feedback from people and upload it online; for a wide network of intermediaries, beyond PATTIRO's staff, to get involved; and for the need to identify champions and interlocutors within local governments who can act on the feedback provided. This in turn led to the development of PATTIRO's current strategy, which includes: engaging with young people as content creators, through Village Youth Forums; building a network of civil society organisations (CSOs) that can play a role in documenting and tracking cases of implementation; and considering ways to combine the online platform with radio.
"These efforts continue in the belief that the potential for the law to significantly strengthen community participation in village-level governance remains untapped."
Making All Voices Count website, November 7 2017.