Sat, 01 Apr 2000

Govt told to put in place freedom of information law

JAKARTA (JP): A law allowing public access to information is essential to create transparent and accountable government institutions, a legislator and an observer said on Friday.

Speaking at a discussion on "Public Accountability of Government Institutions", Deputy House Speaker Muhaimin Iskandar and law expert Mas Achmad Santosa said such a law was necessary to allow the public to observe the institutions.

"The House has had difficulties getting access to information from the government. We need that law," said Muhaimin, who is a legislator from the National Awakening Party (PKB).

The lack of access to information has led to rampant corruption and collusion in government institutions, he said.

Any efforts to make these institutions more accountable to the public would be difficult as long as they remained closed, Muhaimin said.

Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia to have enacted such a law.

Santoso, who also chairs the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL), agreed and suggested that the law provide punishment.

"A government institution could be penalized if it refuses to unveil information demanded by the public," he said in the discussion held by the Indonesian Transparency Society.

He said certain information could be categorized as secret, such as that which concerns defense, trade agreements and medical records.

He suggested that the law recommend an arbitrary body which would decide on whether information was classified as secret or not.

"It remains unclear which information is categorized as secret. It's often the case that certain information is considered secret without legal basis," he said.

Santoso urged the House to revoke the Law No. 7/1971 on national archives, which carries a maximum punishment of 20 years imprisonment for anyone leaking a state secret.

He proposed the information act regulate the procedures to obtain information for either commercial or noncommercial purposes, and their price. (jun)