Wed, 15 Jan 2003

The neglected agenda

So much to do, and so little time.

This sums up the state of the nation's legislative agenda as the House of Representatives (DPR) resumed its work this week after a month-long recess.

House Speaker Akbar Tandjung left no doubt about the challenges facing the 500 members for the 38 working days ahead, when he officially opened the latest sitting period on Monday: 53 bills to deliberate, many of them requiring urgent attention.

Many of these bills had been carried over from previous sittings. Despite their urgent status, the House failed to finish their deliberations for a variety of reasons: The legislators could not reach an agreement, the bills required further public debate, or, in the majority of cases, the bills were simply neglected because the House members would rather be doing something else with their time than working on the bills.

The House's track record in its legislative task is appalling.

In 2002, it only completed deliberations on a fifth of all the bills that came its way, whether they were drafted by House members or by the government. The number of pending bills have continued to pile up and have then been passed on to the next sitting period. Even so, many of the bills that had been approved could not be implemented because of resistance, meaning that they had not been deliberated thoroughly with all relevant stakeholders.

Yet, the success (or failure) of the national reform agenda hinges, to a large extent, on the nation revamping its laws properly and quickly to conform with the goal of building this nation along the lines of a democratic and humane civil society, and of building stability, peace and prosperity.

If the nation seems to have been stalling in its reform program, we know that a big part of the problem lies with the House, whose task it is to enact the necessary legislations.

One urgent issue, for example, is the preparations for the 2004 general elections, something that cannot be started unless the House completes the deliberation on a number of political bills.

The House has already endorsed the bill on political parties and President Megawati Soekarnoputri has duly signed it into law to allow the parties to make the necessary adjustments.

Still pending, however, is the bill on general elections.

Meanwhile, the government has not even submitted the bill on direct presidential election and the bill on the composition of the People's Consultative Assembly, the People's Legislative Council and the House of Representatives.

This to-ing and fro-ing over the political bills is not only jeopardizing the preparations of the elections, but it could also plunge the nation into a constitutional crisis because the mandate of both the legislative and executive branches could end in October 2004, with their replacements yet to be elected.

The nation's efforts at economic recovery has also been delayed in the absence of badly needed legislations, many of which have been stuck in the many drawers of the House. The absence of clear laws on labor affairs, for example, have meant uncertainties for investors to the point of scaring them away. The end result is that Indonesia has been starved of new investments and the jobs that they would have generated.

We can all forget about hoping that, with 53 bills to deliberate in 38 days, the House will finally get its act together and speed up the deliberations on these legislations.

No sooner had Akbar reminded them of the legislative task, the House members were already piling up other additional tasks, such as reviewing its own decisions to approve the government's price hike policy and the sales of PT Indosat, on top of their own already overloaded work.

Rather than helping to speed up the reform process, the House is increasingly looking like the one that is holding back the national reform agenda.

The legislative branch, which was elected in 1999 on a reform platform, has now become more of a liability and a disgrace to the nation. It does not help the fact that the Speaker is a convicted felon.

Going by the tenor of their public comments, we can all assume that the minds of most DPR members are anywhere but on the bills they are supposed to be deliberating. They seem to be far more concerned about their own positions come 2004.

So much to do in our legislative agenda, so little time to do it, and so little confidence in the ability of the House.

This nation has been condemned to put up with the present pack of largely inept political leaders. Like these politicians, the rest of the nation is also looking to 2004, if only to get rid of them and elect a new batch of more pro-reform politicians in their place.