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Jakarta Post

Fishing in troubled waters

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sat, April 4, 2020   /   08:03 am
Fishing in troubled waters Students protest against the planned revision of the Criminal Code and the revision of the Corruption Eradication Commission Law in front of the House of Representatives building in Senayan, Jakarta on Sept. 24, 2019, marking the biggest student movement since 1998. (JP/Anggie Angela)

How can we describe the House of Representatives’ plan to carry on with its plan to deliberate controversial bills amid the health crisis that has sapped the nation’s energy other than fishing in troubled waters?

Fresh from a recess, Deputy House Speaker Azis Syamsuddin announced in a plenary session on Thursday that all House factions and commissions had agreed during a prior consultation meeting to start debating the omnibus bill on job creation and revisions to the Criminal Code (KUHP) and 1995 Correctional Facilities Law.

While many urgent matters, at home and globally, have been deferred to pave the way for an all-out effort to save as many lives as possible from the COVID-19 threat, our politicians seem to regard the pandemic as a rare opportunity to fulfill their own mission, if not ambitions.

Tokyo wholeheartedly agreed to postpone the Olympic Games, the pride of the Japanese people, until next year, as have major sports federations and associations, in a show of support for the global response to the pandemic. The postponement of the Olympics, for example, demonstrates respect for sportsmanship and fairness, the very values epitomized by athletes all over the world, as holding the games this summer would have deprived participants, particularly from countries hit hard by the pandemic, of a level playing field.

It seems fairness is not something many of our politicians, either in the legislative and executive branches of power, believe in strongly. The deliberation of the three bills, which have met widespread opposition given to their contentious articles, will lack public oversight, which is essential, if it takes place while the nation is devoting time and energy to tackling the virus and its repercussions on millions of people’s well-being.

With minimum public scrutiny, perhaps even an absence thereof, the debates in the House will once again open the possibility for the horse trading, quid pro quos and transactional politics that have for so long typified Indonesian democracy.

Mass protests had marked the deliberation of the KUHP and the Correctional Facilities Law amendments last year, which eventually forced the House to call off its approval of the two bills at the last minute. Similarly, the job creation bill had sparked opposition because of the lack of transparency in its drafting process and its content, which labor unions say will do more harm than good despite its intention to create more jobs through improving ease of doing business.

Now that COVID-19 is ravaging, and the government is getting tough with anyone defying large-scale social restrictions, no rallies will be allowed. The police have banned all forms of gathering, including rallies, in the interest of public safety. The police will take “necessary action” against those deemed to have violated the rule.

The House has been very quiet about how to respond to COVID-19. Rather than deliberating the controversial bills, lawmakers would be better engaged focusing on the newly signed government regulation in lieu of law so as to ensure the accountability of every item of public spending on the COVID-19 response and the pandemic’s immediate impact.