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Holding Hostages

POLITICIANS are becoming all-powerful. People may soon need to think deep and hard about ignoring a summons from the House of Representatives (DPR). With the DPR's approval of the Law on the Composition and Structure of the Legislative Assembly (MPR), DPR, Regional Representatives Council (DPD), and Local Legislative Councils (DPRDs) for ratification by the president, last Wednesday, they now have an effective whip called `Holding Hostages.' This power to hold hostage may be applied to anyone, including government officials, who try to wriggle out of an invitation from the legislature.

The articles in this law, which was "cooked" from April 25 through to July 9, grant the DPR truly wide powers. Article 30, clause 1 grants authority to this institution of our representatives to seek explanations from anyone it chooses--or gives it the right of subpoena--from state officials, government officials, through to members of the public. Such an invitation must be complied with. If not, especially without giving all clear grounds, those involved may be held hostage. Whoa!

Cast a glance over Article 30 clause 3. It states that the DPR grants a license to carry out a summons using force. If that is still not heeded, clause 4 of the article provides this new whip: that person may then be held hostage for up to 15 days. Wait a minute. According to Yahya Zaini, former chair of the special committee on this law, it is not the DPR that will do the hostage taking, "but the police."

The whip of the threat of being held hostage may not be used at will. It only applies to a summons when the DPR is using its right of questioning the government. This regulation does not apply for a working meeting. "If it is a working meeting and an official doesn't turn up, and is subsequently imprisoned, that would be rather hard on the official," commented Zaini. To be explicit, it is limited to exercising the right of querying the government. "If it weren't limited, it could be used everywhere." This regulation seems as if offences then demand complaints. If there is no complaint, no one will then be held hostage.

The regulation is not a completely new one. The right of subpoena certainly did exist earlier, and is set out in Law No. 4/1999. The new law, which regulates the issue of the Composition and Structure of the MPR, DPR, and DPRDs, also provides for criminal charges carrying a maximum prison sentence of one year against those who ignore a summons from the DPR, without having any legitimate grounds for doing so.

However, these penalties or threats thereof were not included in the draft bill proposed by the government. Members of the DPR special committee made an issue of this, though. During the discussions on the bill, there were several factions which proposed that it be redrafted to be like Law No. 4/1999. But this proposal was considered to be ineffective. Because, said Zaini, quoting the special committee, there were two weaknesses in the old legislation. First, the legal process of obtaining a final legal decision is quite protracted. So, government officials who were caught under these provisions would continue to face legal action even though they had already been pensioned. This clause was thought to be rather unjust.

The government then proposed including a mechanism for forced summonses. All the factions agreed. The next question was: What if this was also ignored? Several factions proposed penalties as in the existing law, with the threat of criminal charges carrying a one-year prison sentence. Because this was not agreed to in the discussion, Zaini said, the proposal to hold witnesses hostage was then put forward.

The idea of physically holding someone hostage is not a new practice in law. The government has also begun to apply it to delinquent taxpayers who owe taxes. "This is needed to uphold the status of and respect for the legislature. Because, we have no law or regulation on contempt," said Zaini. He then mentioned the case of several officials in the Bulog case who did not appear. They did not then face any consequences under the law, though, because the DPR did not submit any report.

However, many people are surprised by these new rules of the game. A former member of the team that put together the Politics Law, Andi Mallarangeng, said that the right of forced summons is actually provided in Law No. 4/1999. But, he reminded everyone, that is more of the nature of a warning. Andi deplores any moves to change that into the right to hold hostages. "This is just the same as hitting a mosquito with a cannon," he said.

When the new legislation was being passed by the DPR, there were three interruptions, respectively from the People's Sovereignty Alliance faction, Reform faction, and Crescent Star Party faction. They asked for clarification of the formulation of Article 111 on the transition provisions which involve interim replacements for members of the MPR, DPR, and provincial and regency/city DPRDs. It was agreed to come into effect once the new law was ratified, except for those affected by the prohibition of holding double positions that applies to members of the TNI or police.

This article is unquestionably very necessary for these factions. They have an interest in quickly replacing those members of the DPR who cannot now be got rid of because the previous legislation forbad "recalls". This law will also become a bulldozer to be used against those representatives of the public who are considered not to be loyal to their parties. What about forced summonses and holding people hostage? They all unanimously agreed it would take effect from 2004. So, officials may no longer take the DPR lightly, unless they want their careers to end in a tailspin.

Abdul Manan, Yandi (TEMPO News Room)

TEMPO, JULY 21, 2003-045/P. 16 Heading National

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