Fri, 14 Feb 2003

Govt drags heels on telecommunications regulatory body

Arya Abhiseka, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The current telecommunications law should be amended to allow for the establishment of an independent regulatory body in the sector as demanded by the industry players, a senior governmental official said on Thursday.

Jamhari Sirat, Director General of Post and Telecommunications at the Ministry of Transportation said under the Telecommunications Law No. 36/1999, the ministry was still the regulatory body for telecommunications, while the so-called Independent Regulatory Body (IRB) functioned only as an advisor to the ministry.

Several key industry players conceived the IRB, which would comprise representatives from government, industry and experts, to be a powerful and effective agency, with the mandate to monitor telecommunications policy, protect consumers' interests with regard to pricing and maintain healthy competition.

"The establishment of the IRB is thus not as simple as many think. The main problem is how to make it (the IRB) comply with the current law," he said on the sidelines of a seminar on telecommunications.

The establishment of the IRB has become a protracted issue for years as the industry players have kept pushing the government to establish the agency, while the government continues to drag its feet and resist giving up its stranglehold on the sector.

The controversy has now resurfaced after the directorate general said in a press statement last Friday that the need to set up the agency was not necessary as the law stipulated that the IRB "can" give input to the ministry. The IRB thus would be toothless.

The World Bank on the same day issued a counter-statement which said that the IRB should be established to ensure healthy competition in the country's telecommunications sector. Such an agency had proven its effectiveness in many countries, the bank said.

Meanwhile, Roy Suryo, a telecommunications analyst criticized Jamhari, saying that the director general had been trying to avoid his own commitment of establishing the IRB, and trying to twist the meaning of the current law.

Roy insisted that the current law provided an adequate basis for the establishment of the IRB.

"What we need is to have the IRB first. It can become powerful if the government has a political commitment to make it so," he said.

According to Roy, Jamhari promised during a hearing with the House of Representative Commission IV, which oversees infrastructure and transportation affairs, last November, to complete the draft regulation on the establishment of the IRB by the end of the year before raising telephone charges in January.

However, the government broke that promise as they have not finished the draft regulation, even as it decided to raise utility prices in January. The government later postponed the increases until early March due to violent protests from the public.

"We should reject any plan to raise the phone charges in March, unless the IRB has been established," Suryo said.