Friday, September 21, 2007
Right-to-know groups grow impatient as the House of Representatives deliberates legislation for sixth year
The nation’s public must pressure legislators to ensure the public information bill works for them, said an information-focused NGO alliance Thursday.
“I hope a lot of people will pay serious attention to the bill because this can shape the way information is treated in this country in the future,” said the NGO’s coordinator Agus Sudibyo.
The Public Information Freedom Coalition was established by several groups with concerns about freedom of expression. Its focus is to remind state institutions about the importance of public transparency.
The public information bill aims to disclose government-related information to the public and has been in discussion for nearly six years since the House of Representatives first agreed to deliberate it.
The NGO coalition first initiated a series of discussions about public information in 2001, submitting all results to the House the same year. Agus said they have sent a representative to almost every discussion on the bill to-date.
House members and the government are about to finish deliberations on the bill and there are allegedly plans to pass it into law soon, despite massive delays.
Agus said however problems remain in the bill, including sanctions for violators, the time needed to prepare legal infrastructure, the legal term of public institutions and whether state-owned corporations are included.
He said the government had neglected to state the maximum punishment for state officials who refuse to give information to the public. A maximum fine of Rp 10 million (US$1.066) is stipulated.
But information consumers who violate the law could end up in prison for two years.
The government has also insisted on stipulating a period of five years for infrastructure preparations endorsed by the House, which means implementation of the bill would be delayed.
“Another important thing is the government is trying to exclude state-owned enterprises from the bill, so … (these) corporations will not be obliged to release information,” Agus said.
But member of the House Commission I overseeing defense and information issues, Hajriyanto Thohari, said the government should not delay passing the bill with endless arguments.
“We need punishments that will prevent anyone from breaking the law and this goal will not be achieved with just a Rp 10 million fine,” he said.
Chairman of the National Law Formulation Agency at the Justice and Human Rights Ministry, Ahmad Ramli, said there was no need to mobilize the public to put pressure on the government. He said the government had a vision for the bill similar to that of the House.
He said the government’s team, led by the Communications and Information Minister Muhammad Nuh and Justice and Human Rights Ministry Andi Matalatta, would work on appropriate forms of punishment for violators during the next deliberation session.
“We disagree with the House consideration to give prison punishments to violators because we already have very limited space in our prisons,” Ahmad said.
“So, we choose to prioritize fines … instead of jail term.”
Ahmad said the government would need around two years to prepare, because they still needed to formulate an implementing regulation.
Date Posted: 9/21/2007