29 April 2010

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The act upon information

Some people may say that since most Indonesians are not law-abiding people, you need not advocate the law. What is written in the law is not necessarily implemented accordingly.
In some cases, they might be right. But in the Access to Public Information Law, what is happening is completely contrary.
The 2008 law on access to public information was ratified two years ago in April. And as usual, two years after the law is ratified, we should implement it.
The law stipulates that public institutions should disclose its information to the public, moreover whenever the public ask for it. Nongovernmental organizations should also disclose information about themselves.
The process to implement this law is underway. It is not an easy process, since most of the government institutions, particularly those in the regions, are not aware of the law. However, some initiatives from the civil society have made the task workable.

Take a look at the community center in Banten. The center was initiated by Pattiro, a nongovernmental institution, to facilitate local residents gathering, sharing information, discussing their problems openly and looking for solutions (Srimarga, 2010).
The community center has initiated a lot of examples on how citizens can ask for information significant to their lives and act upon it.
Maryati Abdullah (2010) wrote several stories on how citizens can do something about the information which affects their lives. Here is an excerpt of one interesting story.
Abdul Mughni is a resident of Sampangan subdistrict, Pekalongan Timur. He is 53 years old and suffers from a serious problem with his heart and needs a small but essential operation.
As a low-income citizen, he has no access to proper medical treatment or to get an operation and, what makes it worse, he is not registered with Jamkesmas (the public health insurance scheme).
Syakir Ilmi, his neighbor, attended a community center meeting which was discussing the law on access to public information. The local Health Ministry office, which was invited and took part of the discussion, brought the good news that the local budget provides Rp 2 million (US$221.5) for low-income citizens who do not hold Jamkesmas cards. Syakir went back to Abdul and conveyed the message.
After completing all the administrative requirements, including filling in forms for the field survey and obtaining a hospital recommendation, Abdul got the funds. He received Rp 1.9 million — after Rp 100,000 was deducted for administrative fees — and was given an appointment for his operation.
Syakir also disseminated the information to 31-year-old Ima, who needed to have a Cesarean operation to deliver her baby.
This type of initiative is growing in some parts of Banten, and that is really the issue: That people can actively act upon the information they receive and change their own life. One can argue that the story revolves around minor issues, but at least the delivery of information could save those two lives.
It is so unfortunate that the secrecy bill is part of the 2010–2014 national legislation program of the House of Representatives. This bill was not included on the list of bills for deliberation during the previous term of the House due to strong opposition from civil society.
But then it was put as one of the priorities on the 2010 House legislation program, although it was only quite recently that the House took it back from the 2010 list of priorities (Bejo Untung, 2010).
The secrecy act will reverse the Access to Public Information Law. As has happened in most democratic countries, there are exceptions to such Freedom of Information Laws, which are acknowledged in the Access to Public Information Law.
The question is should we count the experiences of Abdul Mughni, Syakir Ilmi and Ima in pursuing the implementation of the law on access to public information?
I think we should. So what should we wait?
This month, two years after we ratified the Access to Public Information Law, is a perfect time to implement it nationally.
And to confirm that the government and the House really care for Indonesian citizens, just delete the secrecy bill from the national legislation program. The bill will only erect yet another unnecessary obstacle to hinder citizens changing their own lives.

Shita Laksmi, The writer is a fellow at the Ateneo de Manila University Center for Journalism.
Opini The Jakarta Post 30 April 2010