National

Government preparing
regulations on better public
access to information

The Information and Communications Ministry is urging public bodies to coordinate the provision of information to the public as part of efforts to comply with the public information law set to take effect in May 2010.

Henry Subiakto, one of the ministry's expert advisers, said Thursday the ministry would issue a regulation by January next year to implement the 2008 law on public information.

"This will be a radical change in our country, as many government institutions currently provide information only because they have the right to tell the public, not because the public has the right to know," he said at a discussion in Jakarta with representatives of government institutions.

He added the law was being rolled out over two years to give public bodies time to prepare and ensure they comply with all aspects of it once it takes effect.

The law stipulates the public should be informed of any decisions made by officials from public bodies, including on policy, projects, annual expenditure, agreements with other parties, and employee performance that is in the public's interest.

It also stipulates officials from public bodies, including government institutions and law enforcement agencies, who intentionally withhold such information face a maximum prison sentence of one year and/or fines of up to Rp 5 million (US$520).

Meanwhile, those who deliberately damage or destroy documents or records of public interest face a maximum prison sentence of two years and/or fines of up to Rp 10 million.

Henry said although the punishments might not seem heavy, violators would be subject to them each and every time they breached the law.

The law also allows public body officials to withhold information whose disclosure could jeopardize an ongoing case, investigation, or law enforcement exercise, or reveal witness identity during investigations.

"The law forbids public bodies from disseminating information that could potentially go against the protection of intellectual property rights or threaten the country's security or diplomatic relations with other countries," Henry said.

Henry added the ministry had in June this year established a supervisory body, the Central Information Commission, to ensure public bodies implemented the law accordingly.

Henny S. Widyaningsih, the commission's deputy chairman, said the commission had two primary functions: education and conflict resolution.

He said regional information commissions would be set up across the country to supervise regional public bodies.

Henry said public bodies were required to appoint special documentation and information officers to ensure the law was correctly implemented within their respective institutions.

"The officers can be directors general or their deputies," he said, adding they must be capable of giving information correctly and quickly to the public.

State Environment Ministry spokeswoman Aini said top-down coordination should be conducted in all public bodies to ensure all parties were informed of any decisions taken by top officials.

Communications expert Ermiel H. Thabrani said the law's implementation early next year would benefit the public by allowing greater access to information. (nia)

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