The Jakarta Post
International science Olympiads have featured brilliant young Indonesian participants and winners, bringing pride to their nation even though the enthusiasm is not as fevered as that for our national athletes. The young scientists’ passion belies the otherwise dismal picture of our education, which is not known for generally sparking curiosity and innovation beyond toiling for high grades. Neither is Indonesia known for encouraging the most conducive environment possible for researchers.
Therefore a “milestone” has been achieved, according to Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) head Laksana Tri Handoko, through the passing of the National System of Science and Technology Law on Tuesday, which replaced the old 2002 law. It aims to, among other things, better coordinate research through the establishment of the National Research and Innovation Body (BRIN). Furthermore, the establishment of a trust fund aims to address the glaring shortage of state and regional budget allocations for research.
However, our scientists have also voiced regret at the restrictions on foreign scientists – just as Indonesian academic institutions are starting to be more open in seeking collaboration with foreign researchers and institutions. Even Singapore and Malaysia, generally regarded as having less academic freedom than Indonesia, are more open to foreign researchers than Indonesia, said Chairil Abdini, secretary-general of the Indonesian Academy of Sciences (AIPI).
Similarly, a representative of the Indonesian Young Academy of Science said the valid fear of biopiracy, among other things, would be better addressed by introducing simpler procedures to acquire research permits, rather than leveling criminal charges against foreign scientists.
Lawmakers have defended the law, which supposedly went through the mandatory public review, saying the restrictions and penalties for foreign researchers who broke the rules or who would potentially violate rules were necessary to protect the nation’s researchers and Indonesia’s rich biodiversity.
Time and again reports have emerged of foreign researchers found without proper permits. While the Research, Technology and Higher Education Ministry, for instance, facilitates the issuance of permits through online application, researchers still report prolonged hassles. Some resort to applying for cultural visas, risking charges of immigration violations. Now researchers who cannot show their complete papers could face a fine of Rp 4 billion (US$ 286.58) and blacklisting for up to five years.
Critics say the law overlaps with the Immigration Law, for instance. Furthermore, foreign researchers proven to have damaged any object in Indonesia or caused the death of anyone involved in their research could face a prison sentence of up to seven years and a fine of up to Rp 7 billion.
Many foreign scientists, said a ministry official, have violated the material transfer agreements required to take biodiversity samples out of the country.
The academia and the government must continue to seek a balance toward a much more conducive environment for the growth of science and researchers, including a better environment for collaboration with foreign researchers. The above ministry lists barely 2,000 scientific journals and we are told that thousands more are needed. However, a requirement for the flow of papers would be an environment to inspire and sustain research work without researchers facing the threat of excessive hassles in acquiring permits and worse, the threat of prison.