Tue, 10 Oct 2000

People's access to information limited

JAKARTA (JP): Activists said that regardless of the reform era, access to public information was still limited mainly due to a bureaucratic culture where officials remain reluctant to disseminate information.

Mas Achmad Santosa, a senior Researcher at the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL), stressed the need to establish an information access watchdog to ensure people get the information they are entitled to.

"Many people still find it difficult to obtain data or information from government institutions because the government still perceives information as its personal property," Achmad told a seminar on public information here on Monday.

Achmad recounted how he tried to obtain data on the 10 ways to accelerate economic growth as prescribed by Coordinating Minister for the Economy Rizal Ramli.

"The data was said to be strictly private and confidential. How come?" he said.

Another example, according to Achmad, was how the House of Representatives conducted closed door sessions to draft bills.

"Government shouldn't use its prerogatives as an excuse to deny information to the public," he argued.

F. Sri Hardiyanti Purwadhi, a researcher from the National Aeronautical and Space Institute (Lapan), conceded that the closed bureaucratic culture was still an impediment.

"For example, Lapan has no authority to disclose its innovations directly to the public," she said.

Satellite data on forest fire hot-spots, for example, has to be given to the Environmental Impact Control Agency (Bapedal) which then passes it on to the Ministry of Forestry.

"Data about weather has to be given to the Meteorological and Geophysics Agency. The same thing also happens to other data," Sri said.

According to Achmad, the institution which originally produced the data should have the authority to disseminate it in order to reduce bureaucracy.

Of course there is certain information that cannot be revealed to the public such as information which could endanger the state, business interests and a person's right to privacy, he added.

Also exempted is information whose disclosure would have serious prejudicial consequences, such as violating a person's right to the presumption of innocence, disrupting or threatening the survival of a business, undermining the nation's defense and security and threatening the lives of others.

"These exceptions should be subject to verification," Achmad stressed.

Therefore, Achmad said, there has to be guidelines or a law which clearly defines the exceptions.

"We are also of the opinion that it is necessary to impose sanctions on those who hamper access to public information," he added. (09)