National News – February 12, 2005
Kurniawan Hari, The Jakarta Post/Jakarta
A coalition of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) launched a campaign on Friday opposing a proposed official secrets bill, which they said could hamper the effort to establish transparent and accountable government if it were enacted into law.
They also urged the House of Representatives to prioritize the deliberation of a freedom of information bill this year rather than the official secrets bill.
“Essentially, we don’t need an official secrets bill as many provisions on official secrets have actually been incorporated into the freedom of information bill,” said Agus Sudibyo from the Institute for the Study of Free Flows of Information (ISAI) during a press conference held at the House.
He questioned why the government and lawmakers preferred to prioritize the official secrets bill rather than the freedom of information bill, which was drafted three years ago.
Fellow activist Agus Pambagio from the Children of the Nation Vision (VAB) group emphasized that the immediate deliberation of the freedom of information bill was important for ensuring transparency in the management of donations for disaster-hit areas around the country.
He said that the activists, grouped in the Freedom of Information Coalition, planned to meet legislators from the House’s information and intelligence commission.
In addition, Agus Sudibyo added that the substance of the official secrets bill ran contrary to that of the freedom of information bill.
The official secrets bill adopts the principle of limited access to information, while the freedom of information bill adheres to the principle of maximum access to information.
“The principle of limited access means that the state can restrict public access to information by saying that the information is secret,” he said.
According to Agus, the official secrets bill also contained articles that could pose a serious threat to press freedom.
He expressed fears that the plan to deliberate the official secrets bill was part of a government plan to stifle the flow of information, given that the government was simultaneously revision the Criminal Code.
The draft revision of the Criminal Code contains articles that could also adversely affect press freedom.
Separately, legislator Mutammimul Ula, a member of the House’s legislation committee, said that the House has recently included the official secrets bill on its priority list this year based on the readiness of both the government and lawmakers to deliberate the bill.
The committee had targeted the passage of 55 bills in 11 months as part of the National Legislation Program.
The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights’ director general for legislation, Abdulgani Abdullah, has stated that the revised Criminal Code was among the 55 bills.
But given the fact that the revised Criminal Code contains more than 700 articles, the deliberation process could take more than three years.