Mon, 08 Dec 2003

Factions debate need of information commission

Kurniawan Hari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Factions in the House of Representatives (DPR) engaged in a bitter debate on Saturday on whether to establish an information commission, as stipulated in the freedom of information bill.

The bill, drafted and submitted for deliberation by the House, had recommended the establishment of an information commission to settle possible disputes between the public and state officials over information transparency.

The Golkar and United Development Party (PPP) factions rejected the plan to establish an information commission, saying that any dispute should be taken to court.

"The establishment of an information commission will simply create an additional burden on the state budget," Golkar legislator Paturungi Parawansa told The Jakarta Post on the sidelines of a closed-door meeting at a hotel in Central Jakarta on Saturday.

Ahmad Muqowam of PPP, meanwhile, said that any dispute over information transparency should be settled through the existing institutions. He refused to elaborate.

The legislators grouped in the working group or Panja gathered on Saturday at the hotel to discuss the draft law on freedom of information.

The objections from several legislators were surprising because the draft law was prepared by the House legislation body (Baleg) and had been approved by the House at a plenary meeting.

Article 29 of the draft law states that an information commission should be an independent body tasked to settle disputes via mediation or adjudication.

The commission will be set up at national, provincial and regency levels.

Parawansa said he would defend his opinion and take it to the meeting of the Pansus (special committee). The draft law would be discussed with the communications and information ministry before being endorsed into law.

Paulus Widiyanto, chairman of the special committee deliberating the draft bill, said that the information commission was the soul of the draft bill.

"So, where does that leave the draft without an information commission?" he asked.

Paulus, of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), said that the Panja would table two draft bills before the Pansus because it had failed to reach consensus.

One of the draft laws will endorse the establishment of an information commission and the other will propose to scrap it.

Coordinator of the Coalition for Freedom of Information Agus Sudibyo said that the debate on the issue simply showed that legislators were inconsistent.

He said that an information commission was needed because its functions could not be replaced by a court or ombudsman.

"Besides, the trial process at court would take time and cost much money," he told the Post.

He said that objections by several legislators to the establishment of an information commission could halt the finalization of the draft law.

Agus added that the contribution of an information commission, in terms of transparency and corruption eradication, would be worth much more than the amount of public money necessary to fund it.