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Indonesia’s 5 Levels of Government: Cities, Regencies, and Sub-districts Administrations

As we have discussed the provincial level of the government in Indonesia, I would explain further the third to the fifth level of Indonesia's government.

Source: Australia Indonesia Centre

Cities, Sub-districts and Villages Administrations

The third and fourth level of administration consists of both cities (kota) and regencies (kabupaten) that are led by an elected walikota (mayor) or an elected bupati (regency chief), respectively. There are 98 cities and 416 regencies across Indonesia.

The sub-districts known as kecamatan is the fifth level of administration. Unlike provinces and cities and regencies, Kecamatan administrations are not autonomous organisations – they form part of the city and regency administrations. It is led by a camat, who is a career civil servant appointed by, and accountable to, their mayor or bupati. Across Indonesia there are 7,246 sub-districts.

Below these five official levels of administration, there are two further levels both of which are subsidiaries of villages. The first is a hamlet (rukun wilayah – RW) and contained within each rukun wilayah are to be found several neighbourhoods (rukun tetangga – RT). During the Japanese colonialism, these systems were established and represent information and support services systems of the village administration including on matters as varied as social and welfare mapping to staffing polling booths at elections. Initially set up as coercive bodies by the Japanese occupying forces to mobilize resources during World War II, neighbourhood associations were repurposed by the New Order for mass surveillance, electoral control and ensuring public compliance with government programs. The heads of each RT also act as civil registrants verifying the identity of their residents needing permits from higher levels of administration.

Mobilizing neighbourhood authority for crisis response

Governments across Asia, including Taiwan, Vietnam, China and Phillipine, are also relying on neighbourhood associations to manage a global health crisis. These countries have mobilized similar grassroots residential bodies for COVID-19 response, with varying levels of success.

The first clear set of instructions for setting up neighbourhood-level COVID-19 task forces in Indonesia were issued in April 2020. Simultaneous regulations issued by the Health Ministry and regional governments instructed RT/RW leaders to make similar interventions in their neighbourhoods, in coordination with village and hamlet-heads. These can be classified into two categories. First, a set of interventions assigned to RT/RW leaders are “community-wide” measures that impact all residents. These include the provision of health information, distribution of economic aid, restriction of large gatherings and imposition of local lockdowns. The second is “targeted” interventions that involve identifying specific residents and imposing special restrictions on them, such as quarantining and reporting suspected patients to health officials or restricting entry of those travelling back from high-risk areas.

Following the democratic transition in 1998, neighbourhood associations continue to be an indispensable part of statecraft in Indonesia. Routine administration was managed by RT/RW leaders, by collecting and verifying resident eligibility for public services, socializing government programs, updating voter-lists and coordinating disaster responses. Initially, the coercive tasks assigned to the RT/RW leaders under the New Order were abolished but they have gradually assumed new social control functions, especially in anti-terrorism surveillance and management of local order.

Democratisation has made neighbourhood leaders more community-oriented in two ways. First, the government no longer exercises central control over these grassroots bodies through the Ministry of Home Affairs as it did under the New Order. Instead, neighbourhood associations were managed by each district or city government to meet local needs. Second, while RT/RW leaders were previously vetted by local bureaucrats, since 1998 residents have elected them freely, making neighbourhood leaders more accountable and responsive to their communities.

Despite the evolution of their role and functions, the basic hierarchical structure of these associations remains the same. In each village and hamlet across the country, sub-neighbourhood (RT) leaders are responsible for managing residents in a clearly defined housing cluster. Neighbourhood (RW) leaders supervise all RT leaders in their area and in turn report to the village or hamlet heads. As under the New Order, RT/RW leaders are not part of the formal bureaucracy and do not receive a salary. However, several regional governments now allocate varying amounts of funds to support their operational costs.

Have you known the RT/RW leader in your neighbourhood?

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