USINDO Brief: A strong and functioning legislative system is considered to be an essential part of a thriving democracy. USINDO sponsored an Open Forum on Indonesia’s legislative system in which Parliamentarians from the Legislative Board of the House of Representatives (DPR) discussed the weaknesses currently facing the legislative system in Indonesia and the main objectives which they aim to achieve.
Dr. Muhammad AS Hikam (PKB), Chair of Legislative Board
Dr. H. Bomer Pasaribu (Golkar), Member of the Legislative Board
Prof. Drs. Rustam E. Tamburaka, MA, PhD
H. Hermansyah Nazirun, SH
Pastor Saut M. Hasibuan
Six members of the Legislative Board, a body within the Indonesian House of Representatives (DPR), are in the U.S. to learn more about the American legislative system in order to address areas of the Indonesian legislative process that are in need of improvement. In the Indonesian system, bills are originated either by the House of Representatives, or the executive branch. Furthermore, under Constitutional amendments approved in 2000, the DPR is the repository of state power, not the executive as had been the case. Therefore, Legislative Board plays a vital intermediary role in processing legislation as well as serving as the forum for the discussion of bills between the House and the government.
Dr. Muhammad Hikam, Chair of the Legislative Board, spoke for the delegation. Dr. Hikam considers the Legislative Board to be a main instrument to strengthen the rule of law and democratization process. Through meeting with U.S. Members of Congress and their staff members during the current visit, they hope to increase their knowledge and improve their legislative system in three main areas:
- Law Making Procedure: The three functions of the House of Representatives are legislation, the budget, and control/oversight. Legislation is considered by the Council to be the weakest of the designated functions. One of the primary reasons is the lack of human resources. In the legislative process, trained personnel are needed to prepare draft bills as well as provide subject matter expertise, for example, regarding the legal system, social affairs or defense. Currently, the House has only 19 parliamentary draftsmen and a mere 6 area experts. This lack of human capacity leads to the inability of the House to create and eventually pass the bills that are needed for Indonesia to continue on its path toward complete democratization. Currently, the House is focusing on 55 bills. For a point of comparison, Dr. Hikam noted that U.S. Congress has over 700 legislative drafters and staff members and passes many more bills than the Indonesian House has the capacity to do.
- Budget: Money is power. Without access to budget funds, it is extremely difficult for the DPR to function quickly and effectively. The House, and likewise the legislative process, is currently under the budgetary control of the government. With the availability of funds limited by the executive branch, the DPR’s and Legislative Board’s operations are impaired. There is also an in-built conflict of interest in which government bodies are given funds for the DPR oversight process, thus agencies subject to legislative oversight in essence “pay the overseers.” For these reasons, Dr. Hikam stressed, an autonomous budgetary process is necessary for the DPR as a whole and for the optimal functioning of the Legislative Board. During the discussion period, Dr. Hikam could not predict when the DPR might be granted its own budgetary authority, commenting that changes to the budget law are always difficult and time-consuming.
- Bills: The Legislative Board acknowledges the need for the DPR to learn how to draft and pass bills in a more efficient manner. The Legislative Board’s functions in this respect are to plan the DPR’s legislative agenda and to establish priorities for which the House to consider legislation, among other things projecting five years into the future. The Board serves as the “consolidation point” for managing legislation. Specifically, Dr. Hikam noted that important bills should be passed in the areas of human rights, investment, education, and technology. Dr. Hikam expressed the desire of the Indonesian legislature to learn from the U.S. about human rights bills, notably anti-discrimination bills and anti-race bills. The Board members have met with the ACLU to gain information about what this organization has done in the United States to further the cause of human rights. Cyber-laws are needed to confront the problems Indonesia is experiencing with the internet and e-commerce. Education bills must be passed to protect teachers’ rights and improve the quality of teaching. Finally, bills must be passed to improve investment in human capital, such as better training in technical skills and improved science and technology applications so that the Indonesian economy can move forward.
Dr. Hikam observed that much of the past year, following the April 2004 parliamentary elections, was spent on internal politicking, the formation of the government, and the realignment of parties due to the Golkar and other political party elections. Through advancements in law-making procedures, enactment of autonomous budget procedures and an improved ability to pass legislation, the Legislative Board hopes that the DPR will mature into a well-functioning legislative body in the near future. In this connection, Dr. Hikam welcomed the Democratic Assistance Commission (DAC) initiative of the House of Representatives and the forthcoming visits of Congressional Staff Delegations to Indonesia in August. (Note: Both a USINDO-sponsored Staff Delegation and a DAC Staff Delegation are scheduled to visit Jakarta in the last week of August.)
Some of the issues that emerged during the general discussion period included:
- The recently-negotiated and about-to-be-signed peace accord with the Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (Free Aceh Movement or GAM) has important implications for the national political process. The DPR was not involved in the dialogue with GAM leaders in Helsinki, but securing the integrity of Indonesia is the most important principle to be upheld. Regarding the provision to allow local parties, and presumably GAM cadres, to compete for election in Aceh, Dr. Hikam, who is also a member of the oversight body for Aceh, said that alternative forms of political party representation should be considered, for example, so-called independent candidates can be supported by existing parties and Aceh’s autonomy law can be changed to strengthen the local political system. He cautioned, however, that the proliferation of local parties, flowing from the Aceh experience, could seriously “narrow the view of national development” by making all politics locally-centered.
- There is general skepticism about the effectiveness of the Anti-Corruption Commission (KPK), mainly due to the fact that despite its good intentions, the commission’s powers and operating procedures are still unclear. Dr. Hikam observed that there has been a proliferation of commissions and semi-autonomous bodies, all competing for budgetary funds, and there is a serious risk that many of them will not prove to be effective; improved DPR oversight of the KPK, other commissions and statutory bodies needs to be improved. He also said that the House of Representatives is nearing final action to ratify the United Nations Anti-Corruption Convention.
- Indonesia is experiencing severe energy shortages and is now a net importer of petroleum products. Indonesia has an ad hoc energy policy and is dealing (ineffectively) with the power and fuel shortages through measures like decreasing electricity and energy usage instead of taking more concrete and long term measures such as pursuing alternative sources of energy (geothermal, for example). He did not see an early solution to Indonesia’s energy problems.
- In its legislative process, the DPR is making efforts to incorporate civil society views through hearings, frequent meetings and discussions with domestic and foreign non-governmental organization representatives. He agrees that this is one important aspect of drafting legislation in an open and democratic society.
- With regard to human rights, Dr. Hikam said that the DPR will ratify the United Nations Convention on Civil and Political Rights, but could not predict precisely when.