2.7. The Role of Village Intermediaries in Public Service Provision in Contemporary Indonesia: A Case Study of Three Communities in Serang District


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Iqra Anugrah (Northern Illinois University)

Abstract

Since the introduction of decentralization policy, local government has played an increasingly important role as the main provider of public service in post-authoritarian Indonesia. Nonetheless, this increasingly activist role of local government has met many challenges in recent years. As a result, local government often relies on societal actors in delivering public service.

This study analyzes state-society relations in contemporary rural Indonesia by looking at the role of village intermediaries in public service provision based on a six-months ethnographic study (September 2015-February 2016) of three villages in Serang District in Banten Province. More specifically, this study looks at the role of neighborhood (RT/RW) and informal community leaders, Posyandu cadres, village staffs, and engaged citizens in three areas of public service, namely healthcare, basic administrative services, and education. The period of this study also coincides with the implementation of the 2014 Village Law in and the inaugural disbursement of the Village Fund (dana desa) to these communities.

This study yields several findings. First, while the Serang District government continues to decide the terms for public service provision, its ability to deliver its services depends on the role of the village intermediaries and webs of patron-clientelism. Secondly, this pattern of relationship suggests that the capacity of Serang local government in public service provision is best described as intermediate because while it is able to “reach down” to society it is still lacking the effectiveness and efficiency to deliver its services. Thirdly, this phenomenon shows that while the local government has some knowledge about these communities, this legibility does not wholly reveal the characteristics of these communities, hence the need for village intermediaries who can interpret the complexities on the ground. Lastly, although the introduction of the Village Law has strengthened the administrative and budget capacity of the village government to some extent, old practices to induce service delivery from the upper layers of government particularly the practice of lobbying for external funding still continue to be practiced.

Keywords: village intermediaries, Serang, local government, public service provision, state-society relations