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DPR Passes Village Law Revision Does it align with the nation’s interest and aspirations of its people?

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Jakarta, IO – Strong villages are the foundation of a strong nation. However, the Village Law (Law 6/2014) revision passed by the House of Representatives (DPR) on March 28, 2024 has yet to be fully implemented, to ensure village autonomy. The amendment appears to intend to pander to village chiefs and officials, by handing them more funds and allowing them to stay longer in positions of power – at the expense of the state. Political parties seem to engage in such “pork barrel” politics in the hope that they can leverage more votes in the 2024 elections. A noble goal to build autonomous and empowered villages does not in fact seem to be adequately addressed by the Government and the House. 

Dynamic legislative process 

Revision of the Village Law was first proposed by the Minister of Villages, Disadvantaged Regions and Transmigration, Abdul Halim Iskandar, in May 2023. Among others, it sought to extend the tenure of village chiefs. The proposal was welcomed positively by the House. On June 19, 2023, the House Legislative Body (Baleg) prepared a draft amendment, and on July 3, 2023 the bill was ready and tabled for discussion with the Government, pending a presidential letter directing relevant ministries/agencies to represent the executive branch. The letter was received and read out by the speaker of the House on December 5, 2023. However, this took place just as the legislature was about to enter a six-week recess, meaning the discussion could not begin immediately and had to wait until members of the House returned to their duties on January 16, 2024. 

The discussion was finally able to take place during the third legislative session, which lasted briefly, from January 16 to February 6, 2024. A work report prepared by the Baleg Working Committee was submitted on February 5, followed by decision-making at Stage I discussion, where Baleg and the Government approved the Village Law revision. The next stage was decision-making at Stage II, namely, the plenary session. However, the House did not seem to want to rush passage of the law before the third legislative session closed the next day. This meant that the bill had to wait until the next legislative term, beginning on March 5, to be passed into law. The House finally endorsed the bill and held a plenary session on March 28 to ratify it. 

The duration it took to debate the bill – 16 working days in total – was indeed too short to allow a serious and comprehensive discussion to take place. It was thus not surprising that many civil society organizations expressed regrets about the decision of the House to rush the discussion of crucial issues in the Village Bill, which should ideally have included broader community participation. Further complicating matters, the village heads’ associations held several large protests outside the Parliament compound in early 2024, to pressure the House to immediately ratify the bill, which would allow them to hold office for an eight-year term. This certainly undermined the opportunity for broader societal elements who aspired to see better village governance to have meaningful participation in the discussion of the bill. 

In addition to these demonstrations, the larger context that influenced the consideration and decision-making process of the House and the Government to pass the law was definitely the 2024 presidential and legislative elections on February 14, 2024. This could be obviously seen during the protests, when Farid Afandi, the chief of East Tentenan village in Pamekasan, East Java, threatened to “annihilate” political parties that did not support the Village Law revision. 

The alleged connection between the Village Law revision and the political interests to fish for votes in the 2024 elections is not merely a figment of imagination. If we look more closely at the crucial points that were amended and added to the bill, we can see that the revision gave a lopsided focus on perks and facilities for village chiefs and officials, which appeared to intend to “pamper” them, rather than creating breakthroughs to strengthen village governance – leadership that caters to the pressing needs of villagers and addresses issues that have hitherto hampered meaningful village development.

Crucial post-revision issues 

First, Article 5A, which stipulates the provision of conservation and/or rehabilitation funds for villages located in natural reserve areas and production forests, the amount of which will be further determined through an implementing regulation. 

Home Minister Tito Karnavian
Home Minister Tito Karnavian submitted the government’s arguments on the Village bill to the House Speaker Puan Maharani at the 14th Plenary Meeting of Legislative Session 2023-2024 at the Nusantara Building, Parliament Complex, Senayan, South Jakarta (28/3). (Source: dpr.go.id)

Second, Articles 26, 50A and 62 on the provision of a one-time retirement allowance at the end of tenure for village apparatus (village chiefs, officials, and members of the Village Consultative Body/ BPD), in accordance with a respective village’s fiscal capacity. 

Third, Article 34A, which outlines the guidelines for the number of village head candidates. Article 34A provides a solution if there is only one candidate, even after the registration period has been extended several times. A decision will be made by the Village Head Election Board, together with BPD. In this case, the law allows a village chief to be directly appointed, without having to win an election. 

Fourth, the controversial Article 39, which extends the term of office for a village head from six to eight years, for a maximum of two terms. This was actually fewer than the nine years that the House had initially proposed. 

Fifth, Article 72 on village revenue. The law stipulates that a village’s financial structure is comprised of locally-generated revenue, along with state budget (APBN) and regional budget (APBD) funds, as follows: APBN allocation from the proceeds of regional taxes and retribution, village funds which are part of regional transfer funds from the central government, financial assistance from the provincial capital and regencies/municipalities, and non-binding grants and donations from third parties. 

Article 72(2) further governs sources of revenue from APBN allocation, to ensure village-based programs can be implemented in a more effective and equitable manner, in the form of regional transfer funds, the amount of which can be further increased, based on the state’s financial capacity. Article 72(4) reads: “The allocation of Village Funds as referred to in clause 1(d) is at least 10 percent of the General Allocation Funds (DAU) and Revenue Sharing Funds (DBH) received by regencies/municipalities in the Regional Budget (APBD).” The phrase “at least” leaves room for additional village funds from APBN and APBD. 

Sixth, Article 118 stipulates the retroactive nature of the new Village Law. This means that the village chiefs who were elected prior to the law’s passage will have their tenure automatically extended to eight years. This is definitely a boon for incumbent village heads. 

Skewed focus 

Of the revision points described above, it is clear that the Village Law amendment only focuses on two major agendas: (1) increasing the allocation of village funds and (2) appeasing the village apparatus, particularly the village chiefs, through provision of higher salaries, retirement allowances and longer tenure. Other changes related to the Constitutional Court (MK) ruling and improvements to the previous law concern, among others: (i) the position of villages, (ii) implementation of village governance, (iii) principles and objectives in village governance, (iv) rights, duties, responsibilities, requirements and terms of office, (v) village finances, (vi) village development, and (vii) transitional provisions regarding the term of office of incumbent village chiefs. 

In other words, the Village Law revision falls considerably short of tackling the various problems that have beset the implementation of village governance, as confronted the previous law. The revision, which only focuses on village funds and facilities for the village apparatus, shows that the revision was indeed politically motivated and only intended to serve the interests of political elites who seek to garner support from village apparatus for electoral gains. On the other side, village apparatus craves longer tenure and more perks. This was where the two interests intersect and came to define the entire Village Law revision process. 

A meaningful revision should not only focus on the personal interests of village apparatus but also raise the recognition of the rights of source of origin which sees the village as a social and cultural community; legal, political and government association; and an economic unit (as a manifestation of village control over the sources of its livelihood and customary rights) (Zakaria, 2022). At the very least, the revision should focus on improving the governance system, community-based development, as well as the regulation and management of natural resources and the environment in a sustainable manner. 

Problems left unsolved 

The absence of any serious progressive reform in the new Village Law leaves a number of problems unresolved, ones that prevent villages from immediately becoming strong and autonomous nodes of governance. These include: 

PPDI
A bevy of village officials from the Indonesian Village Officials Association (PPDI) rallied outside the parliament compound in Jakarta, demanding that their aspirations be heard by the people’s representatives, 7/23/2023. (Doc. IO)

First, the involvement of two to three ministries in village management. It is common knowledge that Government Regulations (PP) derived from the former Village Law provisioned for the involvement of two ministries in this regard – the Home Ministry (Kemendagri) and the Villages, Disadvantaged Regions and Transmigration Ministry (Kemendes PDTT). The latter is responsible for aspects of village empowerment and development, as well as managing village funds as the so-called “project implementer”. In fact, village funds should be managed in accordance with the development planning of each village. There should be clarity in the Village Law which vests the coordination authority to Kemendes PDTT. The complexity of implementing Village Law is further exacerbated by involvement of the Finance Ministry (Kemenkeu) which is responsible for village funds originating from APBN, as per PP 60/2014, which establishes the separation of duties – financial regime governance in the hands of Kemendagri, village fund-driven development priorities in the hands of Kemendes PDTT, and determination/disbursement of village funds under the mandate of Kemenkeu. 

Second, regulating the relationship pattern between village and regional administrations. In practice, the former becomes quite dependent on and powerless against the latter. Therefore, the new Village Law should set clear boundaries of authority between the two, in aspects of finance, planning and budgeting, as well as supervision and guidance. This commitment to respect village authority also reflects the Government’s efforts toward strengthening village autonomy, to create strong, advanced, self-reliant and democratic villages. The Village Law mandates that village authority is determined by village residents through consultations with the regent, formalized through a Regent Regulation (Perbup). 

Third, the new Village Law only focuses on efforts to increase village revenue, without paying adequate attention to village financial management, especially the allocation of village budgets to meet the interests of local communities. Without detailed regulations regarding how village funds are being directed, they are likely to be misappropriated by the village apparatus. 

Fourth, the new Law does not yet explicitly govern a system for utilizing actual and precise data in village planning and development, including on budgeting, by taking Gender Equality, Disability and Social Inclusion (GEDSI) into perspective. Additionally, efforts to foster inclusive village governance must focus not only on village institutions or organizational structures, but must also strengthen inclusive, participatory and socially-just governance. 

Fifth, reaffirmation of the position of BPD in village governance. From the beginning, it was designed to ensure checks and balances of power, similar to that of the executive and legislative branches at the national level. Thus, BPD should be positioned as representatives of the villagers, playing an oversight role over village heads and officials. Thus, if we talk about “democratic village governance”, the role of BPD is inseparable. For this reason, it must be strengthened. One way to do this is by giving it clear responsibilities to ensure that the principles of democratic governance become the bedrock in how village governance is to be carried out. 

Sixth, the expression of basic democratic values in village administration should be realized through community assistance and empowerment, specifically for the poor, the disabled, women, children and other vulnerable groups, so that they can fully participate and have a say in the policymaking process. The practice of democracy at the most basic level can flourish only when villagers of diverse backgrounds are given a chance to participate in the decision-making process. On the other hand, democracy will be undermined when the Village Law allows an extension of village chiefs’ terms, because it may facilitate authoritarianism taking root, allowing the rise of “little Napoleons” in villages. From this perspective, it appears that the new Village Law actually ignores the embodiment of democratic values when it fails to expand space for wider democratic participation by the villagers in the decision-making process. 

Seventh, building good village governance. How can village heads and their staff be dissuaded from engaging in corrupt practices? According to 2023 data from the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), 601 corruption cases involved village heads, resulting in a state loss of Rp433.8 billion in public funds. This data plainly shows how massive corruption is a real risk in village fiscal management. Thus, the Village Law should engender detailed regulations, regarding how the village funds are managed, to narrow or shut the door leading to corruption. 

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Strengthening village self-reliance 

The dream to build villages as the lowest and most important node in realizing a developed Indonesia will certainly be elusive if they are not fortified through a robust and detailed Village Law. The desire to build self-reliant and autonomous villages must be followed by sincerity on the part of the House and the Government in crafting comprehensive regulations to empower village communities. And this demands genuine political will, free of any ulterior motive. It is imperative that the House and the Government not resort to momentary and pragmatic political gains. Enacting Village Law when the country was about to hold elections was inappropriate and dismissive of the real needs and interests of village communities, revealing the optics of a naked political transaction (quid pro quo). 

Discussion of the Village Law should not be rushed through, without in-depth study and evaluation of various aspects – sociological, anthropological, cultural, legal, human rights and so on. The House and the Government should take into account the needs of village communities across Indonesia, not just village representatives on Java, as the outcome may not be applicable to all, bearing in mind that Indonesia is a pluralistic nation. Villages must develop into strong communities, so they can make a meaningful contribution to the realization of a “Developed Indonesia” dream.

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