Musings from Indonesia: Banjarnegara (my first impression and deciphering the possible jurisdictional difference)

Turning on a combination of reflective and academic mode now…

Armed with a strong intuition that implementation of public policies across 500+ districts in Indonesia is bound to be different - a natural assumption that one could make under a highly decentralized context in Indonesia - I came to this country with a research project that aims to tease out those differences that I speculated in terms of their implementation mechanisms.

While gazing at the lush greeneries, looking at the trees interspersing among the wide paddy fields and dense forests in the mountain, I was reflecting on what I have heard from my informants, as well as observed from different health facility visits so far. It has been an intense first week in the field, and I am still mustering thoughts on what should be the focus in my research. It was not a long journey, but the winding roads from Kota Magelang to Banjarnegara (the second district that I will be conducting my fieldwork at) is enough to create some motion sickness.

Our arrival at District Health Office in Banjarnegara immediately established my impression of how under-equipped this district might be in terms of its capacity.

We were greeted by dispassionate bureaucrats at the doorstep, who were browsing internet on their computer screens and watching televisions while we made our way to the entrance. I won’t fault them for that, as I can imagine how mundane tasks can easily challenge our convictions. Been through that when I was a practising social worker, and I can only imagine this to be the norm to hundreds and thousands of bureaucrats in this world. The buildings that we saw, as opposed to the ones in Kota Magelang, are run down and under-maintained. Office space was designed (or non-designed I should say) in an open concept, perhaps allowing more interactions amongst the staff, but naturally less privacy for an individual, with frequent interruptions in between while we were conducting our interview.

My initial impression was that Banjarnegara has a very obvious and inevitable set of challenge that most cities in Indonesia are probably not facing. First, it has more geographical challenges than others in which many of its sub-districts are located at sparse mountainous areas and mostly subsisted on agricultural economy, naturally posing unwanted hurdles to health access, unlike folks in the city who enjoy convenience of health facilities that are within proximity. Second, infrastructure is sub-standard. We were told that not every community health centre has the capacity to implement a full-fledged health information system that requires good and stable internet access to be in place at this point. In short, there are obvious issues of supply-side readiness. Third, this area is more disaster prone as compared to other areas. From a random chat with a senior official in BAPEDA (yet to verify with newspaper source), a landslide and soil erosion that happened last year swept away one entire village, buried more than 100 lives within a night. I was immediately hit by the thought that life is just so fragile under such circumstances. Again, for someone like me who has been enjoying a first world privilege for a while by now, fighting with issues involving life and death like this every now and then while juggling the nitty-gritty seems unimaginable. I can only imagine good public service implementation to not be a priority in this area when it is side-tracked and overwhelmed by these many other challenges.

These are just initial observations, and I am yet to establish deeper insights from a series of interviews and focus group discussion that are bound to happen in the coming week.

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