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Freedom and Secrecy

While the deliberation of the bill on freedom to obtain public information is under way in the DPR, plans are afoot for the bill on state secrets.

ABOUT 40 members of the Coalition for Freedom of Information had a four-day consolidation meeting at Treva Hotel, Central Jakarta, two weeks ago. Admitted or otherwise, the meeting was held as a reaction against the statement of chief of the State Intelligence Agency (BIN) AM Hendropiyono that the bill on freedom of information could endanger the state. This statement could thwart the coalition's intensified campaign for the bill which, when ratified, would force public agencies to provide public access to their information.

Hendropriyono argued that amid global competition, information would be a weapon in a war of intelligence. "Whoever is in control of information will win the war," he said. Therefore, he insisted that restriction be imposed on access to information.

This restriction, he went on, will actually protect the interests of the public. Apart from protecting matters related to state defence and security, he noted, this restriction will also protect trade information. "If other countries can get hold of this information, it will be troublesome," he added. Therefore, he proposed that the deliberation over the bill on freedom of information and that on state secrets should be handled by one special committee of the House of Representatives (DPR).

To date, only the bill on freedom of information has been proposed to the DPR, said Paulus Widiyanto, chairman of the House's special committee on the bill on freedom for information set up February 18, 2003. That's why the House is now discussing the bill on freedom for information, he added.

In early March, BIN expressed disagreement over the freedom of information bill. "BIN was yet to explain its reason then. It stopped short of mentioning the articles which it thought would rock the situation," Widiyanto said.

In this context, the lobbying coordinator of the Coalition for Freedom of Information, Agus Sudibyo, did not think Hndropriyono was right in his assessment. The bill on freedom of information, he said, does have stipulations about the types of information that must be kept secret such as information related to law enforcement, national defence and security, fair business competition, the right over intellectual property and personal secrecy. Still, Sudibyo said, the act of keeping this information secret must be based on reasons satisfying all parties and pass the test to prove that it is in favor of the public's broader interests. There is no need, he added, for a new law on state secrets.

Sudibyo also said that these two bills were as different as heaven and earth in terms of their paradigm. The principle of the bill on freedom of information is the provision of the widest access with as few exceptions as possible. In many respects, the bill on state secrets is the antithesis to the bill on freedom of information. While the freedom of information bill seeks to provide a political instrument for the public to undertake counter-intelligence over the state, the bill on state secrets tends to restrict the public's chance in this regard. Besides, the copies of the bill on state secrets now in the hands of some House members show that the clause on secret information contains only a general definition. "There is no satisfactory explanation about the definition of state secrets, its mechanism and the authority that will make a decision in this respect," he said.

Sudibyo conceded it was not easy to have this bill on freedom for information passed, especially given the fact that the public, including the press, is yet to show great enthusiasm in support of a campain for this bill. Virtually everybody, in fact, will feel the impact once this bill fails to be ratified or if its content does not reflect the basic ideal of opening up information access to the public. The situation will get worse if it is the bill on state secrets that will be passed, instead. The coalition, he said, fears that public officials can easily use the bill on state secrets as a shield to protect dishonest practices in the government.

As a matter of fact, Sudibyo said, the enemy to face should not be slighted. In this bill on state secrets, the public will directly face the state, particularly BIN. "This is our biggest challenge. We must have this the bill on freedom of information passed," said he. The coalition itself, he added, has intensively made contact with some members of the special committee.

Unfortunately, the bill on freedom of information is yet to solicit considerable support in the House. Djoko Susilo, a member of the special committee, said that only 20_25 percent of the House members would give their all-out support for the bill. Over 50 percent of members will just wait and see, he noted. "The percentage of those supporting the bill may drop sharply unless the public shows their support, too," Susilo, who is from the Reform Faction, said, adding that the progressive group supported the bill while the conservative camp was against it. Unless the public shows a greater support for the bill, the conservative camp will swell in number, he added. Although the bill cannot be revoked, its important articles may be cropped.

In Susilo's estimate, the struggle between the two camps will be fierce as the interest at stake is also big. "For the bill supporters, this bill is like a ray of light under which the rottenness of this country may come to light. For those opposing it, it is just like a malevolent spirit."

Susilo then went on to tell a story about how the Indonesian Transparency Society's request for data of public officials' wealth was turned down on the grounds of secrecy. When this bill on freedom of information is ratified, a refusal like this may be brought up to the Commission of Information, an agency that will arbitrate a dispute like this.

Abdul Manan

TEMPO, MARCH 31, 2003-029/P. 20 Heading National

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