Bureaucratic designs : the paradox of irrigation management transfer in Indonesia

D. Suhardiman

    Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


    Irrigation Management Transfer (IMT) policy has been formulated and implemented worldwide, relying on three basic assumptions: that the irrigation agency are motivated to adapt their role in the sector's development; that farmers are willing to take over the system management; and that the process of management transfer is a neutral process, involving primarily managerial and technical aspects.
    This thesis illuminates the political dimensions of IMT policy. IMT policy formulation and implementation in Indonesia was shaped by continuous power struggles at the different administrative levels. The way the IMT policy agenda was defined and redefined in respectively Irrigation Operation and Maintenance Project (IOMP) 1987 and the 1999 Water Sector Adjustment Loan (WATSAL) shows that the idea of management transfer did not always coincide with either the irrigation agency's perception or farmers' actual needs in the sector's development. Under IOMP 1987 the irrigation agency transformed IMT into a construction program. Similarly, under WATSAL, IMT was reduced as a policy instrument to eradicate bureaucratic rent-seeking within the irrigation agency. Farmers' perceptions of their position prior and after management transfer remained obscured in both IMT programs.
    This study investigates the IMT policy channeling from the national down to the field level, using the seven technical irrigation systems in Kulon Progo district, Yogyakarta province, as the research context for IMT implementation. It started at the national level, looking at the way IMT policy characteristics under WATSAL were shaped by the policy elites' perceptions and interests under the WATSAL Task Force (WTF). Later, when the struggle over the principles of IMT occurred in September 2003, this thesis focuses on studying strategies and manouvres used by the policy actors from the different central government ministries to influence the decision making process at the parliament. These central government ministries are the National Development Planning Agency (NDPA), the Ministry of Settlement and Regional Infrastructure (Kimpraswil), and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA). From the national level, this study moves further down to regional level, before it analyzes the actual implementation of IMT in the seven irrigation systems in Kulon Progo district, from inter-system level down to farmers' fields.
    This thesis consists of nine chapters. After the introduction, chapter 2 started with the discussion of the changing characteristics of the Indonesian state. Following the fall of Suharto's government and the political reform in 1998, the concept of regional autonomy was introduced and widely applied. In practice, regional autonomy was handicapped by
    inoperative fiscal decentralization. Despite their decision making authority to direct the regional development, regional governments remained dependent on fund disbursement from the central government. The central government's domination in the country's development was evident from the preservation of 'project approach' as the only structure to channel policy program from the national down to the field level. Adopted in the late 1960s, the project approach continued to serve as the country's development engine in the post Suharto Indonesia. The way IMT policy was implemented relying on project structure and mechanisms linked the organizational functioning of the Federations of Water Users Associations (FWUAs) to the bureaucratic mechanisms and procedures within the government agency.
    Chapter 3 discusses how the irrigation agency's bureaucratic identity contradicts with the idea of management transfer and thus how the first assumption in IMT flaws. As IMT policy embodied the shift from infrastructure-oriented to farmer-focused irrigation development, this contradicts with the irrigation agency's interests and organizational foundation in construction and rehabilitation activities. Unlike what is assumed by the international policy makers, the irrigation agency perceived IMT as a threat that could endanger their bureaucratic position and decision making authority in the sector's development. Despite the abolition of the Ministry of Public Works (MPW) in 1999, the bureaucratic identity of the irrigation agency remained unchanged. This was evident from the way the core policy actors in the agency continued to direct the agency's organizational development following the construction-based approach. Following the abolition of the MPW, the core policy actors defended their bureaucratic position with the formation of the State Ministry of Public Works (Meneg PU) next to the newly formed Ministry of Settlement and Regional Development (Kimbangwil). Later, the core policy actors in the irrigation agency resumed their bureaucratic power with the unification of the Meneg PU and Kimbangwil into the Ministry of Settlement and Regional Infrastructure (Kimpraswil)in2001.
    Chapter 4 shows how the decision to transfer the management of government irrigation systems from the irrigation agency to farmers was neither rooted in farmers' opinion nor their capability in system management. Similarly, the idea of management transfer was not based on organizational performance and functioning of these farmer organizations. Rather, the shift from organizational to institutional approach in irrigation development was triggered by the overall dominance of the neo-liberal development approach and the extrapolation of farmers' capability as this was observed in the farmer managed irrigation system (FMIS) as the means to solve the persistent poor performance of government irrigation system. Using the evolution of IMT policy in Indonesia, this thesis illustrates how the manifestation of IMT policy as the new international policy trend in irrigation management was rooted primarily in the international donors' concern of their earlier investments in the sector's development, and thus failed to focus on the actual management problems encountered by the irrigation agency and farmers. Despite the strong focus on farmers in IMT policy, the policy formulation was based primarily on the international policy makers' perception on how farmers' role in system management
    could contribute to a better system performance. The way fanners perceived their own role in the overall system management remained obscured.
    The way the process of management transfer is shaped by continuous power struggles is illustrated in respectively chapter 5, 6, 7 and 8. In chapter 5, the way IMT policy formulation was shaped by hidden policy agenda illuminates the policy political dimension. Using the evolution of IMT from the IOMP 1987 to the 1999 WATSAL, this thesis illustrates how the idea of management transfer has always been tempered by policy elites' interests and perceptions. In both IOMP 1987 and WATSAL, IMT policy agenda was defined as the result of power struggles between the different segments within the government bureaucracy. Under IOMP 1987, the irrigation agency manoeuvred their construction-based interests by redefining and extending the scope and degree of system rehabilitation as one of the requirement for management transfer. Under WATSAL, the WATSAL Task Force hid the real implications of the Kabupaten Irrigation Improvement Fund (KIIF) concept from the irrigation agency so that they could proceed with the application of 'stimulant fund'. By shifting the access to the sectoral development funds from the agency to FWUAs, the WATSAL policy makers attempted to use the FWUAs as their grass roots weapon to counteract the irrigation agency's bureaucratic power in the sector's development.
    The political aspect of management transfer became more apparent from the policy struggle over the principles of IMT which occurred in 2003. Chapter 6 illustrates how the struggle began when Kimpraswil realized the real implications of IMT under WATSAL for their bureaucratic existence. Kimpraswil strategically used the to-be promulgated Water Act at that time as its legal shield to redirect the development path in the irrigation sector, towards recentralization. Despite strong attempts made by both the National Development Planning Agency (NDPA) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) to counteract Kimpraswil's position on IMT, the WATSAL IMT program was halted following the promulgation of the new Water Act in February 2004. With the promulgation of the new Water Act in February 2004, Kimpraswil center staged its bureaucratic power and its decision making authority in directing the irrigation sector development. Kimpraswil's successful attempt to limit farmers' involvement at the tertiary level was linked to their ability to steer and direct parliament members' decision on the scope and degree of management transfer as this was incorporated in the Water Act Number 7 of 2004. As the government agency responsible for the sector's development, Kimpraswil had better access and resources to influence the parliamentary decision making process than any other government agencies.
    In chapter 7 and 8, the way the district irrigation agency directed the FWUAs organizational development towards their bureaucratic replica once again illuminates the irrigation agency's position on the idea of management transfer. Contradicting with the assumption that the irrigation agency was willing or could be forced to hand over the management responsibility to the FWUAs, in practice, the district irrigation agency remains pretty much interested to preserve their bureaucratic power by sustaining their role in irrigation system management. In the aftermath of the IMT policy struggle, the
    district irrigation agency in Kulon Progo decided to continue with the WATSAL IMT program. However, this decision was rooted in the agency's ability to steer the program implementation, in such a way that IMT sustained the agency's bureaucratic power in directing the sector's development. At district level, the way the district irrigation agency contested IMT policy was evident from the way they had directed the organizational development of the FWUAs towards bureaucratization. Like the irrigation agency, FWUA staff were more concerned with the management of the stimulant fund, and the necessary administrative and technical requirements related to the fund allocation, than ensuring farmers' actual water needs. FWUA functioning was focused on FWUA staffs ability to 'pull in' as many as possible development funds under the FWUA management. Like the irrigation agency, FWUA managed the stimulant fund in accordance to their financial interests, rather than to respond to farmers' actual needs for system repairs. IMT has extended the practice of rent-seeking to FWUAs, as FWUAs' access to the stimulant fund linked them with the cycle of bureaucratic rent-seeking in the irrigation agency.
    In water distribution context, IMT did not result in transferred decision making authority from the irrigation agency to the FWUAs. Even after IMT, the irrigation agency remained in charge for the inter-system level water distribution and the operation of the major irrigation infrastructure. FWUAs' role in system water distribution was limited to their ability to negotiate their water needs. FWUAs lacked any formal decision making authority to direct the system water distribution. Nevertheless, IMT reshaped the existing pattern of alliances between farmers and the irrigation agency. Unlike before, the establishment of 'spatial authority' as the result of alliances between FWUA staff and some staff in the district irrigation agency seems to diminish the centralized decision making in system management. Reacting to these new patterns of alliances, the district irrigation agency created a decision making platform to include FWUA staff in the overall water distribution arrangement at the inter-system level. The emerging patterns of alliances in water distribution formed the foundation for the establishment of polycentric decision making process in irrigation system management.
    The last chapter gives concluding answers on the research questions and discusses the IMT policy paradoxes. It argues that the main reasons behind the national government's partial initiative in IMT policy formulation and implementation, as well as farmers' lack of awareness of the idea of management transfer and thus their marginal involvement in the WATSAL IMT program are rooted in the IMT policy paradoxes. The first paradox concerned the way the international donors treated the irrigation agency as government agent incapable to conduct the sector's development, and at the same time as the reform agent responsible for the sectoral reform. The second paradox in IMT policy formulation concerned how international policy makers took for granted farmers' willingness to take over the irrigation system management, as proposed in the IMT policy.
    With reference to the above paradoxes, this thesis brings to light the multiple identities of international donor agencies in relation to their role as the trend setter in irrigation development as the area for further research. Similarly, future research on IMT policy
    should focus on farmers' actual role and capability in irrigation system management, and how farmers perceived their position in relation to the idea of management transfer.
    Finally, this thesis emphasizes the need to address the issue of bureaucratic reform within the IMT policy discourse. Apart from the irrigation agency's resistance to change, in Indonesia, the need for bureaucratic reform was recognized at both national and regional levels. The question remains on how to persuade the core policy actors in the agency that they could only sustain their bureaucratic power in the sector's development in the long term, only by allowing themselves to change and adapt to the present development needs.

    Original languageDutch
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Wageningen University
    • Vincent, Linden, Promotor
    • Mollinga, P.P., Co-promotor
    Award date19 Mar 2008
    Place of Publication[S.l.]
    Print ISBNs9789085049067
    Publication statusPublished - 2008


    • irrigation
    • water management
    • management
    • indonesia
    • government organizations
    • government policy
    • corruption
    • knowledge transfer
    • bureaucracy

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