Implementation of FOI Law Found Lacking in Indonesia

21 February 2011

More than two years after passage of the Indonesian Freedom of Information Act, a new study says that implementation efforts are lacking.

The study of one province, Nusa Tenggara Timur, was conducted through Badan Perencanaan Pembangunan Daerah (BAPPEDA) in collaboration with Article 19, TIFA and PIAR NTT.  The assessment was funded by the Government of Australia. It is called: “Fulfilling the Right to Information: Baseline Assessment on Access to Information in East Nusa Tenggara Timur-Indonesia.” (In English.) (In Indonesian.)

“There is a continuing delay in the establishment of the Provincial Information Commission, and mechanisms have not been put in place to publish information proactively and upon request,” according to a press release.

“Currently, challenges to the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act include the low level of awareness of officials about the Act and their role in implementing it, and the lack of public awareness about their right to information,” according to a statement by the head of BAPPEDA NTT- Ir. Wayan Darmawa. “We hope that the result of this research will support the efforts of local governments and other stakeholders in East Nusa Tenggara Province to demonstrate their transparency”

The Indonesian law was passed in 2008 and came into force on May 1, 2010.  It guarantees access to information held by public bodies and requires public bodies to proactively publish information.

Nusa Tenggara Timur (NTT) is one of the poorest provinces in Indonesia, “and it is hoped that effective implementation of the FOIA will enable the local population to obtain the information they need to access public services, and to monitor the use of public funds, thereby contributing to the fight against  poverty,” according to the report.

A key problem, the report states, is that there are still no regulations by the NTT Provincial Government, Kupang Municipal Government and South Timor Tengah (TTS) District Government to govern implementation of the FOIA. A number of local regulations that require local public bodies to disclose information to the public were identified, but “so far, however, enforcement of these local regulations has been weak.” The FOIA does not mandate the establishment of local regulations.

Also lacking is a legally mandated Provincial Information Commission. A budget was allocated, but as of October a selection committee established in May 2010 had not received the official approval necessary to proceed with the selection of information commissioners. “In addition, public bodies have not put in place the mechanisms required to implement the FOIA,” according to the report.

“Most of the local public bodies surveyed” have not taken steps toward proactive disclosure, the report continued. “In particular, information relating to finances and regulations of public interest are rarely published on government websites and publications.”

No internal procedures have been put in place to handle and respond to information requests,” the report said, explaining further, “At present, the decision on whether an information request is to be granted or denied depends largely on the judgment of the head of each respective public body, making such decisions highly subjective. This also means that requesters often have to wait for a long time before getting a response, if they receive one at all.”

Awareness of the new law among public officials and citizens is low, the report also documents. “No outreach activities have been carried out to educate the public on the FOIA,” the report summarizes.

Overall, “Implementation of the Freedom of Information Act is still in its infancy, even though governments and public bodies have had more than two years to prepare for implementation of the FOIA since the law was passed in 2008,” the report concludes. It proceeds with a number of recommendations including the prioritization of adoption of regulations, training, and establishment of a commission.

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