Fri, 26 Aug 1994

Over-regulation haunts Indonesian NGOs

Indonesian non-government organizations (NGOs), already entangled by a web of regulations, are likely to have one more new regulation soon. Sociologist Kastorius Sinaga argues the existing regulations are more than adequate to control them .

JAKARTA (JP): The government's plan to further regulate Indonesian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) by issuing a presidential decree (Keppres) has gradually developed into a controversy.

Many view this upcoming regulation as counterproductive for the simple reason that it halts the spirit of self initiative, self reliance and independence now apparently growing in society, particularly among the urban middle class. The new middle class supports and runs the NGOs in Indonesia.

Despite increasing public debate on this issue, the draft decree is likely to be finalized soon, particularly for NGOs oriented to human rights, the environment, democracy and labor issues, which are seen by the government as highly politicized. Included in this category are the Legal Aid Foundation, Democratic People Front, NGOs' Alliance for Democracy, Democratic Forum, Indonesian Welfare Labor Union and the emerging Alliance of Independent Journalists.

Rumors have grown along with the plan to issue this new regulation. Some see it as a strategic step to ensure the success of the upcoming APEC meeting, which will be held here in November.

However, if this is true, the existence of such a decree will show the tendency to over-regulate NGOs.

This new regulation is to be added to a set of earlier enacted laws and ordinances. These government regulations and the ministerial decrees on NGOs have been sufficient to control or even restrain the role of Indonesian NGOs thus far.

The existing regulations on NGOs can be placed into two broad groups. In the first group are regulations dealing with the ideological principles, political functions and coordinating mechanisms of NGOs in Indonesia. All of this is accommodated in the Mass Organization Law (UU Keormasan No. 8/1985), PP or Government Regulation No. 18/1986 (as the implementation of UU No. 8/1985) and the 1980 Instruction of the Ministry of Home Affairs or Inmendagri No. 8/1980.

Politica goals

Although UU Keormasan No. 8/1985 and PP No. 18/1986 are in fact intended for mass organizations, they also affect the NGOs even though they have no members and are legally foundations and not associations. The government, however, has judged NGOs by their activities and programs, which are consequently viewed as similar to mass organizations in the sense that they are socially and communally directed.

These regulations have explicit political goals. They are aimed at determining the ideological principles and objectives of all social and mass organizations, including NGOs. All organizations are required to work within the frame of the national development program. According to these regulations, social organizations are required to officially register with the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Supplementing this regulation is Inmendagri Nr. 8/1990 . This directs the coordinating mechanisms of NGOs at the provincial level. With this decree, the Minister of Home Affairs has instructed all governors and heads of districts to supervise, coordinate and protect NGOs in line with their respective regional development programs. And, if needed, to set up coordinating bodies at the provincial and district level to create a conducive climate where NGOs can optimally function as the government's partner in development.

Unlike the political regulations mentioned above, the second group is more technical. They are either presidential instructions, or collective and individual ministerial decrees, such as: Inpres 32/1985 concerning the procedures NGO's must follow with foreign funds; SK Menag No. 77/1978 concerning the posting of technical experts at religion-based NGOs; SK Mensos 77/1983 and SKB Menag & Mendagri 1/1979 concerning foreign assistance to Indonesian NGOs, and SK Mensos Nr. 58/1984 concerning the coordinating body for Indonesian NGOs working in the field of social welfare.

As a result of all these regulations, we have witnessed an increase in the number of coordinating bodies, working groups and cooperation groups existing between the government and NGOs. This has resulted in the emergence of so-called "GONGOs" (Government Organized NGOs). The regulation has curbed the independence of many NGOs in Indonesia, which has consequently decreased the involvement of international agencies.

Negative image

Based on the above conditions and experiences, frankly speaking, the plan to issue a new presidential decree on NGOs illustrates a trend toward over-regulating NGOs. While we concentrate on achieving a positive image on the international level, the tendency to over-regulate NGOs will automatically lead to a negative image of our political landscape among the global community. Particularly in the sense that:

First: Development is undoubtedly controlled by the state. Agencies outside the government bureaucracy, like NGOs, which are interested in "putting the last first" must work within the existing development design.

Second: NGOs orientated toward social equality, human rights and accountability are often viewed as in opposition to the interests of the nation.

Third: A limited party system is the main feature of our political landscape. The government often proclaims that the three existing political organizations, particularly the dominant one, are the legal voices of the population. This has led to a widespread belief that any movement existing beyond this formal political process, lacks authority, or borders on being illegal.

The writer holds a doctorate degree from the University of Bielefeld, Germany, and now works as visiting lecturer at the postgraduate program of Social and Political Sciences, University of Indonesia.