4 May 2012
A requesting exercise in Indonesia had only a 46 percent success rate, and generated some recommendations for administrators of the right to information law to address “significant problems.”
The project was conducted by the Alliance of Independent Journalists and the Centre for…
12 March 2012
Two years after implementation of the Indonesian right to information law, several new reports look closely at how exemptions in the law are being handled and how three agencies are implementing the law.
Government officials are still taking the same…
freedom of information: overview
Indonesia’s Freedom of Information Law
(Written by Dr. Brad Simpson, Asst. Professor of History and International Affairs, Princeton University; Director, Indonesia and East Timor Documentation Project – July, 2010)
The Indonesian Parliament first discussed Freedom of Information legislation in 2001, and at the end of 2002 a Parliamentary Special Committee completed draft legislation and sent it to then-President Megawati Sukarnoputri. But neither Megawati nor her successor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, commented on the legislation until late 2005, finally enabling Parliament to begin discussing the draft legislation.
Over the next two years members of the Indonesian Parliament debated the UUKIP, with input from numerous freedom of information and human rights NGOs, some of which received funding from the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the World Bank and other institutions. Discussion of the legislation revealed many disputes over which government agencies would fall under the proposed legislation (and whether state-owned enterprises would be included), how violations of the law would be penalized, what institutional mechanisms would be created to process requests for information and adjudicate appeals, and what exemptions the government could claim in the name of national security or state secrets.
In April 2008 Indonesia’s parliament passed the freedom of information legislation, Undang-Undang Keterbukaan Informasi Publik (UUKIP), or the Transparency of Public Information Law. The law came into effect on May 1, 2010 after a two year government review.
The law defines the relationship between “public agencies” which produce “public information”’ and “public information applicants”’ who request information. It applies to all public agencies at the national, regional and municipal level (including state-owned enterprises), as well as political parties and non-governmental organizations. Public Information Applicants may “submit a request to obtain Public Information to the relevant Public Agency in writing or otherwise,” (Article 22) after which the receiving Public Agency must provide a registration number. The recipient agency has ten (10) working days to provide written notification to the applicant concerning whether or not the request has been accepted or denied and why, as well as the costs associated with obtaining the requested information. Applicants whose requests are denied have several layers of appeal, including access to the courts.
Chapter III (Articles 4-8) defines the rights and obligations of Public Agencies and Public Information Applicants. Chapter IV (Articles 9-16) defines those classes of information that are subject to the law and either must be made available to the public on a timely and regular basis or released upon request by an applicant. Public Agencies subjected to the law will be required to develop internal regulations for processing the documents they create, classifying information accordingly and training agency personnel to respond to public information requests.
Chapter V (Articles 17-20) defines exemptions to the law. Article 17 defines information not subjected to the law (“exempted information”), including information that would: obstruct ongoing criminal investigations; violate intellectual property or personal privacy; “reveal the natural wealth of Indonesia”; “be harmful to the national economic security”; “jeopardize the defense and security of the state” or “be harmful to diplomatic relations,” including “inter-state diplomatic correspondence” and “memorandum or letters between the public agencies or among the public agencies that, based on their nature are confidential.” The exemptions exclude information related to court decisions, examinations of criminal cases by the Attorney General or the Corruption Eradication Commission, and information authorized for release by the President.
Chapters VII and VIII define the scope and membership of the Information Commission, responsible for overseeing policy and adjudicating disputes with Public Information Applicants. The Commission will represent “elements of the government and elements of the society,” its members nominated by the President and approved by Parliament. In theory, applicants whose requests are rejected have three escalating venues for appeal – mediation and non-mediation adjudication via the Information Commission and litigation in the Indonesian courts. Chapter VIII lays out the legal sanctions which can apply to government agencies and employees who fail to comply with the law, as well as private individuals who “deliberately uses Public Information against the law,” including up to a year in prison and Rp 10 million (about US $1100) in fines.
Implications and Concerns:
Freedom of Information NGOs have raised a number of concerns regarding the bill. The first is that often poorly funded agencies at the local, provincial and national level currently lack the procedures and personnel to effectively implement the law, raising questions of how promptly and effectively officials will respond to application requests. Second, the law contains broad exemptions, especially in the area of national security and foreign relations, that could be used to justify withholding information regarding a wide range of government functions and operations. Journalists in particular have raised concerns that the law does not define with enough precision exactly what information ought properly to be classified as secret, though violations of these provisions can carry heavy penalties. Given the frequency with which the government has launched defamation lawsuits against journalists and even ordinary citizens, and the current consideration by Parliament of very broadly worded state secrets legislation, these are not idle fears.
Indonesian information advocates are rightfully celebrating passage and implementation of the country’s first Freedom of Information Law. It represents substantial progress over a New Order-era legal regime and political culture that previously emphasized state secrecy and harsh penalties for those accused of libel, slander, or insulting the state and its officials. However, the impact and reach of the new law is as yet unknown, and will likely be determined by the efforts of civil society activists and ordinary Indonesians in testing its limits.
Links to articles:
“Freedom of Information Law: Transparency Under Secrecy’s Shadow,” Tempo Magazine, No. 37/X, May 12-18, 2010.
“Red Tape Hinders Access To Information,” The Jakarta Post, May 01, 2010.
“Access to info improved despite poor preparations,” The Jakarta Post, May 01, 2010.
“House Won’t Hurry to Define State Secrets, Despite Potential Confusion,” The Jakarta Globe, April 30, 2010.