The Jakarta Post
Many have questioned the lack of debate during the House of Representatives plenary session on Monday that passed the omnibus bill on job creation, which, despite being drafted to facilitate the creation of jobs needed for the country to achieve its goal of becoming a high-income country by 2045, was fraught with controversy.
The House, turning a deaf ear to nationwide protests and opposition from two smaller parties, endorsed the bill two days earlier than its original schedule, citing the spread of COVID-19 as the reason for the changes to its timetable, much to the dismay of labor unions, which had planned nationwide rallies for Oct. 6 to 8 to stop the passing of the bill.
Many disgruntled labor union members took to the streets and called for a strike Tuesday, despite the risk of arrest. The National Police headquarters ordered last Friday precautionary measures to be taken to prevent rallies from occurring through intelligence operations and law enforcement. The police will act against and charge protesters under the Quarantine Law, the same tactic used to ban mass rallies against the bill last April.
While it is true that mass mobilization is a crime during this pandemic — and the police have practiced what they preach after naming a local politician a suspect for holding a dangdut concert recently, the use of a security approach to fend off resistance to a government agenda only reminds us of the old days under the New Order.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo himself had signaled his intention to play hardball in dealing with whoever threatened to undermine investment in his second and final term in office. Growing in confidence as his coalition controls 70 percent of House seats, he had initially given lawmakers only 100 days to deliberate the draft. Even the COVID-19 pandemic, which in most countries has been the top priority, could not stop deliberations of the omnibus bill.
The bill has been touted as the solution to the country’s low ease of doing business ranking through the removal of bureaucratic holdups and red tape in acquiring business licenses. Indonesia needs investment more than ever, especially as the pandemic is sinking it deep into recession, but the way the policymakers are using the crisis to justify their denying the public a consultative role in the decisionmaking process of an agenda with such overarching consequences is an act of disrespect toward democracy.
Questions about transparency have also been raised after lawmakers and government representatives met at a hotel in Serpong, Banten, on Jakarta’s outskirts on Saturday to agree on contentious articles. Holding a crucial meeting outside the House and on a weekend is suspicious enough, especially with the sudden agreement to pass the bill into law.
Those opposed to the omnibus bill would not have needed to resort to risky moves in the first place if they had been involved in the deliberation process, or at least felt their voices were heard. With so many questions left unanswered and so many aspirations unaccommodated, the noble idea of creating jobs may instead render misfortune for many.