Oleh: Agus Sudibyo | Maret 10, 2008

Freedom of Info Bill Hangs in Balance

JAKARTA (JP Online/Pacific Media Watch): Observers criticized the government on Wednesday for what they see as its lack of commitment to transparency, as evidenced by its failure to respond to a House-drafted freedom of information bill.

“The government apparently prefers to keep information related to the public interest secret,” Agus Sudibyo, a researcher with the Institute for Studies onthe Free Flow of Information (ISAI), told a discussion.

The House of Representatives drafted a freedom of information bill in August 2004 and submitted it to the executive. However, no response has been forthcoming to date.

Agus said that increasing access to information would benefit not only the public, but also the government, whose branches would be able to access information possessed by other branches and thereby, hopefully, improvecoordination and teamwork.

The recent reports on childhood malnutrition, Agus said, provided a good example of a failure to share information as between government institutions.
“The National Development Planning Board should have been given direct access to Ministry of Health data on poor nutrition and malnourishment in order to enable the government to take action to prevent the situation from escalating into a crisis,” he said.

To promote transparency, the state needed to enact legislation to ensure and guarantee public access to information, Agus said.

Instead of discussing the proposed freedom of information bill with the House, however, the government has instead been promoting its own official secrets bill, which critics fear will make public access to information even moredifficult.
Another panelist, Djoko Susilo, a member of House Commission I, said a House plenary session on July 8 was expected to pen in the freedom of information bill for deliberation during the next session of House.

“But it all depends on whether the head of the state will send a government delegate to take part in the deliberations,” Djoko said.

Djoko said a prolonged delay in the deliberation of the bill would spark fear among the general public of a return authoritarianism.

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