Wed, 29 Nov 2000

Kamra members plead for help

By Winahyo Soekanto

DENPASAR (JP): Some 40,000 members of the People's Security (Kamra) force across the country may on Dec. 31 lose their low- paying jobs with the cessation of their two-year work contract. Where will they go and what will they do?

The potential social problem caused by the loss of employment of the Kamra members - many of whom were recruited precisely because they were hooligans and had to be kept off the streets - is an example of the consequences when a government too frequently resorts to ad hoc and temporary measures.

Some of the more outspoken Kamra members - who are paid a subsistence of Rp 300,000 per month - have in their respective regions staged demonstrations demanding an explanation as to how the government will help them. The most recent expression of concern was made by eleven Kamra members who, accompanied by Yogyakarta governor, Sultan Hamengkubuwono X, visited the House of Representatives in Jakarta. They demanded that they be recruited into the Indonesian Military (TNI), police or civil service.

Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso responded to the demands by promising to recruit the soon-to-be ex-Kamra members as hansip (civilian guards).

Ironically, neither the police, who for the past two years have been the "user" of Kamra members, nor the defense ministry, which organized the force, has declared any plans for the Kamra.

This is despite the fact that a large section of the public has felt the benefit of the presence of Kamra members--they have been in the front line trying to control brawls, helping to ease chronic traffic congestions and many others.

In addition, the police force has turned Kamra members into all-round helpers - for office administrative work, as couriers to transport criminal evidence from one place to another, or to escort prisoners.

The government established Kamra as part of its social safety net program, recruiting people from crisis-hit sections of the community and giving them employment. Skepticism initially greeted the policy, as well as fears that the Kamra members would serve only as the henchmen of the security authorities (the military and the police).

They turned out doing a good job, giving the credit, however, to the police whose reputation as a corrupt force could not be worse as indicated in an Asian Wall Street Journal report last October.

The Indonesian police - one of the four law enforcement bodies along with prosecutors, judges and legal counsels, as well as the public security apparatus - has yet to be rid of its poor image resulting from decades of subordination by the military.

The Presidential Instruction No. 2/1999 released the police from the military but the police force seems to be still unsure of itself, a fact which presumably comes from years of dependence on the military leadership.

Two other major problems have been identified for poor police performance, namely their poor human resources and limited numbers as well as a severe lack of funds.

The ideal proportion of police officers to the population is 1: 200-300, which means that one policeman is assigned to safeguard only 200 to 300 people. In Indonesia, the prevailing ratio is 1 : 1,400 and observers say it will take the country 30 years to reach the ideal figure.

No wonder the police appear to be helpless when they have to handle crimes committed by military members. They became the national laughing stock when convicted tycoon Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra escaped his jail sentence and disappeared without a trace.

How then will the police answer the question on the future of 40,000 Kamra members?

The government must cease its habit of making temporary, ad hoc policies for problems that are by nature lengthy and need thought-out solutions. Quick-fix solutions have been proven time and again to create fresh problems later on.

The government must also learn to keep its own words and respect the people who are the "customers" of its policies. Formal work arrangements have its own rules and regulations, including fair termination arrangements. The Kamra members are bound to a work contract so the termination of this contract should be arranged fairly.

Hernando de Soto, a Peruvian who was once an advisor to former president Alberto Fujimori, said widespread poverty in many developing countries was attributable to a legal system that failed to respect the poor people's ownership of land, property and work.

It is the government's responsibility to eradicate poverty, so it should respect and appreciate the work contract and the sacrifices made over the past two years by Kamra members.

The government can actually employ the Kamra members to augment the ratio of police to population, turn them into "parapolice" and thus improve its public service. Certainly the government does not need to apply requirements that are for the recruitment of "real" police.

The public has proven its ability to differentiate between the police and these "parapolice" whose main function is to help maintain security and order rather than being part of the criminal justice system.

We can then expect the public to realize that the Kamra are not police but part of the police force with a different mandate.

The Kamra can then be turned into "a civilian face" of the police force because the public realizes that Kamra are indeed civilians. This might help police win back public trust that it had lost over the years.

In addition, recruitment of the Kamra members could be done on a smaller budget. This should be a better alternative to recruiting a large number of new police cadets - a process that actually needs to be overhauled to free it from bribe-taking and nepotistic practices as well as have it adhere to a merit system.

The Kamra or "parapolice" would then be able to maintain their usefulness in the public service sector, and with greater enthusiasm should the government declare their service as an in- service training before recruitment into the police force.

The writer is a lawyer based in Denpasar.