NGOs call for government transparency in new bill
Erwida Maulia, The Jakarta Post, JakartaThe government has been accused of inconsistency in its promotion of public transparency in its administration.
While President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono declared himself open to criticism, his ministers have attempted to close access to public information, a coalition of non-governmental organizations and press associations said here Tuesday.
It said the move by State Minister for Information and Communications Muhammad Nuh, State Minister for State Enterprises Sofjan Djalil and Justice and Human Rights Minister Andi Matalatta threatened press freedom in the country.
This issue has also prolonged the deliberations of the public information bill at the House of Representatives, which began seven years ago, added the Coalition for Public Information Freedom.
Leo Batubara of the coalition said the three ministers had insisted on sanctions for data misuse and the exclusion of state enterprises from the draft law.
“The President expressed his commitment to transparency when he delivered his first state-of-the-nation speech, but his three ministers have been showing their conservatism by preserving secrecy,” Leo told a news conference as a representative of the Press Council.
Another coalition member, Abdullah Alamudi, said the word “misuse” specified in Article 49 of the public information bill was open to interpretation and was prone to abuse by ruling authorities.
“The article could be used, for example, to send a journalist revealing a government graft case to jail for misusing information in his or her report. This could disgrace the good name of certain individuals,” he said.
Abdullah, also from the Press Council, highlighted the need for access to information about state enterprises that had hitherto been closed to the public.
He expressed concern over reports saying the government provided insufficient information on the performance of state enterprises. Many state enterprises that had incurred losses were subsequently sold.
Bejo Untung from the Science, Aesthetics and Technology Foundation said state enterprises used public funds, so they should make information easily accessible to the public.
Speaking at the same event, Agus Sunaryanto, from the Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW), said the exclusion of state enterprises from the public information bill would allow corruption to continue and thrive.
Based on the ICW’s observations from 2004 to 2006, he said state enterprises saw a rising trend of graft cases with misappropriated funds allegedly hitting Rp 10.4 trillion (US$1.14 billion) during the period.
Agus acknowledged the need to conceal certain information about state enterprises, such as information related to intellectual property rights, commerce secrecy and business protection over unfair competition.
However, he emphasized the need for transparency on many issues, such as procurement of products and services, annual reports on companies’ performances, allocations for investments and corporate actions.
The coalition said most legislators involved in the deliberations had supported its demands for the government to omit Article 49 that specified sanctions for journalists and the exclusion of state enterprises in the bill.
The House is expected to pass the public information bill in March.