Wed, 10 Aug 1994

NGOs oppose govt plans to regulate their activities

By Lewa Pardomuan

JAKARTA (JP): Several outspoken non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are voicing their opposition to the government's plan to monitor their activities through a presidential decree out of fear it will become a tool to restrict them.

"No doubt about it. The government is trying to control us through the decree," Nursyahbani Katjasungkana, chairperson of Solidaritas Perempuan, a support organization for women, told The Jakarta Post.

The chairman of the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH), Luhut M.P. Pangaribuan, says if the decree does restrict the activities of the NGOs it will be "a tragedy".

Luhut cautioned that there might be problems in implementing such a decree because it runs counter to the current trends towards greater political openness. "The government should support the organizations, and not restrict them," he said.

Many NGOs, especially those dealing with human rights, have been at odds with the government, in recent years. Many of them have even gone so far as to suggest that foreign governments cancel their aid to the Indonesian government.

Officials have often criticized the more outspoken NGOs, at times accusing them of selling out the country.

Nursyahbani said she was privy to a draft of the decree when it was presented during a meeting between several NGO leaders and officials of the Ministry of Home Affairs in February.

She said the proposal treats NGOs like mass organizations, therefore making them subject to Law No. 8/1985, which compels all mass organizations in Indonesia to register with the Ministry of Home Affairs. Those who fail to register are considered illegal organizations.

By definition, an NGO is a non-profit institution, which does not have any members, while a mass organization opens itself for membership.

Nursyahbani said an NGO, or a foundation supporting it, is usually established through a notary public act and registered at the appropriate district court.

On the basis of this, any government attempt to freeze an NGO should be carried out through the State Administrative Court because an NGO's existence does not depend on the government's recognition, but rather on the court's registration.

Nursyahbani believes that efforts to force the NGOs to register themselves at the ministry simply show the government's authoritarian approach. "We will just wait and see on what will happen if the NGOs refuse to register," she said.

She also argued against the planned decree on the basis of the 1945 Constitution which guarantees freedom of organization.

The Ministry of Home Affairs last week made public the list of 738 mass organizations registered with the government, stressing that those not on the list are illegal.

The government decided to make the list available to the public so that people would know which ones are legal and which ones are illegal, adding that many organizations that have made news in recent months are not on the list. The SBSI labor organization and the Darul Arqam Moslem organization are among those missing from the list.

Ministry officials also warned that the government is targeting the NGOs next.

Arist Merdeka Sirait, coordinator of Sisbikum, a support organization for laborers, told the Post that the government should understood the fact that NGOs are totally different from mass organizations.

He said the only way the government can dissolve an NGO is through the court. He warned that it could face a tough court battle because stopping the NGOs' activities would not solve the perceived problem. "NGOs work to serve the public," he said.

Sirait believed that the decree would be counter productive because it would create more legal uncertainties.

"NGOs are themselves legal institutions, why should they be regulated by a decree?" he asked. He also said he fears that the decree will become a repressive tool to restrict the NGO's movements.