Thu, 22 May 2003

Reform movement will affect political elite

The fall of president Soeharto five years ago resulted in a national commitment to reform. The Jakarta Post's Soeryo Winoto interviewed noted lawyer and human rights activist Todung Mulya Lubis on law reform, the main objectives of which are eradication of corruption and the resolution of human rights violations allegedly committed by government agencies. Below is an excerpt of the interview.

Question: The reform movement is five year old now. In general, do you see that much has changed in the last five years?

Answer: If you look at the five-year-old reform movement you become aware that nothing significant has been achieved in the country. It is true that we have produced new legislation on general elections, with an open and proportional system. We have also amended the article on presidential election in the 1945 Constitution and we have also produced legislation on an anticorruption commission, which is very powerful, plus some other laws. But, frankly speaking, there are more things the government has failed to achieve.

To some extent, we've had setbacks because the government is acutely aware that reforms would affect the political elite. Could you give an example?

Freedom of information. The concept of freedom of information offered by many has been sabotaged by the intelligence body. This is one blatant example.

Political parties, which were expected to bring political optimism, have had their chances to participate in the general election severely circumscribed. The result is that only established political parties will be eligible to participate in the election.

However, the economy is now more stable than it was in the era of Gus Dur (former President Abdurrahman Wahid). However, things should be even better in the economy, because we still lag behind our neighbors, Korea, Thailand and Malaysia.

What about law reform? Could we say it has been a failure?

There are two main areas of focus in the scenario of law reform: Eradication of corruption, including judicial corruption, and respect for and upholding human rights, which means the resolution of rights violations allegedly committed by the government in the past.

The government (the executive), the House of Representatives and law enforcers have all failed to deal with corruption appropriately.

Many people have allegedly stolen state funds, but few have been brought to court.

Transparency International (an independent organization focusing on corruption) has named Indonesia as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, yet we have failed to make serious moves to punish corruptors.

Let's not look at the People's Republic of China, where those found guilty of corruption receive the death penalty. I just want corruptors to be dealt harsh punishment. If necessary, the courts could send them to Nusa Kambangan prison (in Central Java). Why not? Only Mohamad "Bob" Hasan has been sent to the notorious prison for corruption. (Bob Hasan was one of Soeharto's closest cronies, and former minister of industry and trade).

Law enforcement has also been inappropriate, as the legal elite, including prosecutors, judges and lawyers, has manipulated the term "presumption of innocence". Those found guilty (of corruption) by the courts should go to jail. Many have, however, rejected court verdicts simply due to abuse of the term "presumption of innocence".

Once the verdict is handed down -- if the provincial court has upheld it -- a defendant has no option but to go to prison. The verdict could be changed after another, stronger legal decision is issued to annul it. Recently, we have failed to follow the correct legal procedure.

Now, let's talk about human rights violations. We are holding an ad hoc human rights trial on violations in East Timor. But we should not stick only to violations in East Timor. We should also ask if the ad hoc trial is proceeding according to international guidelines or it's just some kind of engineered effort to restart military aid from the U.S. It's not that easy to get the right answer to that.

Worse still, the verdicts have all been more lenient than those required by the law. Given this situation, the next question is how serious is the government in dealing with human rights violations.

If the East Timor ad hoc trials fail to conform to reasonable legal standards, we shall also fail in other cases, such as Aceh, Papua and others.

Do you think that legislation produced during the reform era contains the spirit of reform?

There are two problems here. First, too few legal instruments have been produced within the last five years. This is because the House of Representatives has been unproductive. Second, the few legal instruments produced have not lived up to reform agenda expectations. The anticorruption law is an exception.

We have to acknowledge that the (new) legislation on political parties and general elections is better than what existed previously.

Unfortunately, horse-trading has occurred during the passage of other legislation through the House.

The other serious problem is that institutional reform within the police, prosecutor's offices, the courts and lawyers' organizations has totally failed. This happened because the President did not have the political guts to make drastic change. I see there is a fear that law reform could backfire on the political elite. This has hindered national reform. There are too many political and economic interests obstructing the reform agenda.

What have the political parties done in their attempt at law reform?

Political parties should have become the agents of change: Pioneers. Unfortunately, the parties have not demonstrated their commitment to the reform movement. In summary, we have political parties that are no better than those in the New Order era.

What about the role of the public?

Part of the reason for optimism lies with the media. We have the communities of the media, non-governmental organizations and civil society. I think they have been very active and vigorous over the last ten years. This is our political modality as a nation, although, in reality, they have always bowed to the political elite. But, at least, our civil society and the media are strong enough to force the political elite to behave more responsibly.