Budaya-Tionghoa.Net| While all five presidential candidates vehemently flaunt their commitment to upholding human rights and democratization, some members of the House of Representatives and security authorities seem to be throwing spikes down onto the path of civil society toward democratic consolidation, preparing for an ambush.
On May 26, after a meeting with House Commission I, National Intelligence Agency (BIN) chief A.M. Hendropriyono announced the agency was probing into an earlier report concerning the activities of 20 local and foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
These NGOs have allegedly produced reports that could instigate national security concerns during the presidential election. Further investigation to compile more incriminating evidence is also said to be underway.
The government took a rather defensive position in response to the NGOs’ reports and claimed a right to take measures against those who threatened national interests, which probably includes expelling foreign workers from the country.
One House member was quoted as saying: “The activities of those NGOs are harmless, really, but still quite irritating. If we let them be, it would accumulate.” Other House members even encouraged security authorities to prevent and arrest, if necessary, NGO activists who threaten security. Foreign ministry officials and the interim coordinator for political and security affairs also voiced a similar defense.
What is with these unnerving comments on NGO activities? But wait — more demoralizing comments coming through.
BIN’S warning that the government could use “old measures” to deal with this issue, referring to the use of violence to clamp down on government critics under the past New Order regime of Soeharto (The Jakarta Post, May 28), sent a chill of deja vu down the spines of the already fragile Indonesian civil society and democracy.
This is a classic case of some authorities trying to make heroes of themselves. They are creating a crisis, which is nonexistent, between government critics and the national interest.
Six years after the supposed collapse of the New Order regime, the fact that such jaw-dropping statements are able to be made again should raise the alert among civil society. Already, some key figures of civil society have challenged the existence of the NGOs’ reports and have invited security authorities to be open to dialog.
Yet the lack of clarity in regards any actual problems arising from these earlier reports and the lack of goodwill on the part of the government to share information have made it difficult for civil society to engage in a constructive dialog with the government. Instead of providing clear charges with credible proof, the debate condescended to an issue of national interests juxtaposed with some foreign analysts’ critical reports and/or local analysts’ sell-out reports.
The issue is not about the narrow version of security and a one-sided claim for national interest, and goes beyond the extension of work permits for some foreign analysts: This is a matter of constructive engagement between state and society in providing each other with check-and-balances measures — everybody’s homework that is far from done.
Hostility is something that both government and “uncivil” society are capable of meting out to each other, whenever they choose. But what point could hostility serve other than zilch?
A need for constructive engagement between civil society and the government has never been as pressing.
After the progress achieved through the legalization of the act of legislative procedures, which gives the public an actual right to participation in lawmaking, we must not allow state-civil society constructive engagement take one (or more) step back.
Democratization is fostered through freedom of speech and the right to opinion without interference. Reports, be they those made by local or foreign institutions, must be placed and seen under the context of check-and-balances, not of power relations.
Criticisms against the government are meant to push it toward constructive solutions, not to topple it, and if they are if responded to with intelligence, would improve the quality of the concerned government. Responded to poorly, however, nothing will be gained.
Reports from NGOs are imperative in stimulating critical discourse, not simply over the government’s poor performance, but also that of “uncivil” society. An unnecessary defensive attitude by the government will not only tarnish its own substandard reputation, but will also ensue in a backlash upon the progress of democratization.
Will the government again sweep this issue under the carpet until the presidential election is over, so that they do not have to risk tarnishing their image? By the way, have any of the presidential candidates raised this issue and responded accordingly?
Well, never mind, we all know that their comments would be unlikely to rise above the rhetorical. Or would they? Supposedly, only the candidates can answer that.
Competent reports from NGOs are like golden eggs, and can bring benefits to the government and especially — since the timing is appropriate — all presidential candidates in formulating sound policies for the country.
Pathetically, instead of making use of available resources, the government is threatening to cut the goose’s throat because it is honking too loud.
Christine Susanna Tjhin, Jakarta
The writer is a researcher at the department of politics and social change, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)
The Jakarta Post, June 1, 2004
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/budaya_tionghua/message/4037 [by Christine Susanna Tjhin ]
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