On a regular basis programs working in the area of governance and decentralisation come together here in Jakarta to share and discuss the results of a research, studies and analysis.
Yesterday I attended a presentation about the findings from an econometric analysis that looked at trends derived from 12 years (2001-2011) of secondary data on service delivery at the sub-national level.
The analysis is a contribution to the ongoing discussion here in Indonesia about developing a front line basic services approach at sub-national level. This is an approach where public services are seen from the point where citizens interact with government service providers (AIPD).
I found two points particularly interesting.
Access and equity in services
Access to health and education has improved over the twelve years analyzed in the study. At an aggregate level this is good news. However, if we zoom in, the distribution of financial resources to fund those services has become less equitable among regions. This is not negative per se. Poorer regions should receive more and do receive more but appear to spend less efficiently. This is particularly true for a region such as Papua.
It is good to see charts with a positive trend. But to tell whether those trends tell really a good story? As always it depends from expectations. With 10 years of solid economic growth rates is it ok to have moderate positive trends in basic services? Difficult to say. This type of aggregate analysis does not usually include a comparison (which is more qualitative in nature) with the expectation that, for example, presidents, their cabinet or the international community had. As an example, the data that in Indonesia access and equity in education (particular primary and lower secondary) have improved. At the same time Indonesia’s ranking in the Programme for International Students Assessment remains very low: 64th out of 65 countries. Positive trends in the access to education and other services do not automatically guarantee improved quality. Quality can actually deteriorate.
The data also show that in poorer and more remote areas do not result in improved access to services. Those areas are the areas where investments and funding are most needed. However more funding is only a partial; answer. What is also needed is better and more targeted funding. Broadly speaking, local governments receive funding based on expressed needs (i.e. plans) in the form of block grants. What may be missing at the moment is a system that includes in the implementation of the plans and policies in depth evaluations that would provide the evidence necessary to improve the way funding is allocated.
Local service delivery and district splitting
A second interesting finding was about the increase in the number of districts Indonesia. In 2001, at the beginning of the decentralization reform, the map of Indonesia showed 336 districts. Of these, 238 never split while 98 split also more than ones. In 2010 the map showed 419 districts and growing. The data shows that there is a correlation between deterioration in quality of services and the creation of new districts. Districts with relatively weak education and health services are more prone to split into smaller units. Does this lead to better services? Not really. The data show that after splitting the new local governments struggle to improve in their basic service provision. In some cases actually the quality deteriorates further.
New districts can catch up in terms of service delivery and some do. It would be would be interesting to study whether in those cases local governments and line agencies have had a different approach to collect evidence from assessments and evaluations to improve policy decision-making.