Tue, 30 May 2000

House looking for more control in foreign affairs

JAKARTA (JP): The House of Representatives is seeking a greater say in foreign affairs by demanding the government first seek its approval before committing to any international agreement.

In the hearing with Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab on Monday, eight factions in the of the House demanded every international agreement be brought to the House before being executed by the government.

"House approval is needed to avoid the House rejecting an international agreement after already being signed by the government," Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) spokesman Nuah Torong said during the plenary session of the international agreements bill which was submitted by the government last week.

The House's request means that there would be significant changes in the bill presented by the government.

Torong said that consideration by the House was essential to avoid a recurrence of incidents such as East Timor and the recent accord with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

He said his faction also asked the government to seek preliminary House approval before making international loan agreements. A consideration not addressed in the bill.

United Development Party (PPP) spokeswoman Aisyah Amini supported PDI Perjuangan's proposal.

She said her faction suggested international loan agreements between private sectors and international parties also be endorsed by the House.

She argued that so far international loans for the private sector were larger than similar loans to the government.

"The bill is incomprehensive and has many weaknesses," Aisyah said.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs submitted the draft bill on international agreements to the House last week. The draft provides general guidelines of Indonesia's rights and obligations in every international agreement.

In Law No. 37/1999 on International Affairs, issued on Sept. 14, 1999, only the minister of foreign affairs needs to be consulted for any international agreement signed by Indonesian parties.

Commenting on the House factions' objections, Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab said the bill remains very much open to change.

"All the factions' suggestions can be accommodated as long as it is for the nation's interest," Alwi told reporters after the session.

He said the exclusion of House approval in the initial signing of bills was merely based on practical reasons.

Recent Constitutional amendments have given the House a greater say in various international matters, such as oversight on the appointment and acceptance of diplomatic representatives.

However, in the past six months there have been several complaints about the lengthy nature of the proceedings.

Several staff at the Foreign Ministry told The Jakarta Post that they have received several complaints about the snail's pace of procedures going through the House, even for proposing the name of a new ambassador.

"The process can take up to four months, whereas usually if there is no word within two months it could be interpreted as rejection of the foreign representative," a foreign ministry official remarked. (jun/dja)